1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: In 2019, Timor-Leste celebrated the 20th anniversary of the referendum that led to its independence, developing into a democratic country in South East Asia region. Despite the well organised elections in 2018, Presidency/Government disagreements over the non-approval of ministerial appointments on corruption allegations persisted, resulting in delays in the adoption of the State budget (with huge impact, given the importance of the government action), also affecting the most vulnerable.
Human rights are overall well respected. However, gender based and domestic violence (GBV) persists, children's rights remain unaddressed, access to justice remains problematic and persons with disabilities face a challenging environment. Domestic violence against women and girls is the most common form of GBV. The efforts of Timor-Leste continued to be based on the National Action Plan against GBV for 2017-2021, aiming at prevention, access to justice for victims, coordination, monitoring and evaluation.
There were incidences of recourse to physical force by law enforcement during demonstrations in the capital. Youth unemployment, poverty, malnutrition, stunting, difficult access to markets, low agricultural productivity and harsh weather conditions remained challenging.
For the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, who visited Timor-Leste on 8-16 April 2019, while Timor-Leste could offer lessons learnt to other countries, customary justice practices needed to be amended to comply with international human rights standards. Timor-Leste improved access to justice by establishing mobile courts, increased prosecutor/court/public defender cooperation and capacity building, by training judicial personnel, including language training.
Since 2003 when Timor-Leste ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, child and maternal mortality has dropped, immunisation of children has improved, children's nutrition has increased. However, half of all children under five years continue to suffer from stunting, are subject to domestic and school violence, lack adequate access to quality education and health services.
The EU deployed an Election Observation Mission (EOM) for the presidential and legislative elections in 2017 and a smaller Expert Mission (EEM) for the early legislative elections in 2018. In the five months period in between, Timor-Leste made serious efforts to address some of the 22 EOM recommendations. An election follow-up Mission is envisaged for 2020 to continue the work on implementing the EOM recommendations.
2. EU action- key focus areas: Following a civil society organisations mapping exercise in 2019, the EU mainstreamed its support to CSOs in its two areas of good governance and rural development including nutrition. As a global champion of SDG 16, as a stand-alone goal, Timor-Leste hosted a 16+ Third Forum Annual Showcase, held on 11-14 November 2019 in Dili, where CSOs demonstrated innovative approaches in implementing SDGs. The EU encouraged networking, structured discussions and consultation over EU aid to Timor-Leste with a view to monitor the implementation of the 2016-2020 EU Roadmap for Engagement with Civil Society in Timor-Leste.
3. EU bilateral political engagement: The EU continued throughout 2019 to work on the improvement of public financial oversight with a view to increasing capacity and strengthening the institutional framework in Timor-Leste through its increased cooperation with the public administration, justice sector, the national parliament and CSOs.
The fifth EU - Timor-Leste political dialogue was held on 21 May 2019 in Dili. Human rights and democracy issues were discussed, including: efforts in fighting corruption; an update on the improvement of access to justice; the state of play of ratification of international human rights conventions on the basis of the Timor-Leste Universal Periodic Review at the UN HRC; the follow-up to the recommendations of the 2017 EU Electoral Observation and 2018 expert missions and the dispatch of an Election Follow up Mission in 2020; priority to address gender equality and persisting GBV with relevant applicable legislation, i.e. the law against domestic violence and the Timor-Leste national action plan on GBV; information on the EU/UN ‘Spotlight Initiative’, aimed at eliminating GBV, also due to benefit Timor-Leste.
4. EU financial engagement: The EU continued to support its engagement through the funding of projects. The 'European Film Festival and Human rights', included the screening of documentaries, and while underlining the relationship between art and human rights, raised issues related to the rights of indigenous peoples and refugees.
Under the project 'Development of Human Rights Education and Research at the National University of Timor-Leste', the first Human Rights Centre at the National University of Timor-Leste was inaugurated in August 2019. The overall project will last for 23 months and focus on capacity building (EU financed and led by the Global Campus of Human Rights, the world’s largest network of universities), aiming at contributing to the promotion of human rights, democracy and development, through post-graduate training on human rights. The project ‘Say No to Gender-Based Violence in Timor-Leste’ (EU/Plan International Finland, implemented from July 2018 to June 2021) contributes to the creation of an enabling environment for women and girls to claim their rights for a life free from GBV; aiming to develop a replicable model to prevent and fight against GBV. TL will receive EUR 12 million under the project ‘Spotlight Initiative’ (EU/UN), aiming at achieving globally significant improvements in the lives of women and girls focusing on ending GBV. The EU cosponsored the campaign ‘Generation Equality: 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence’ from 25 November to 10 December 2019 . A video titled ‘I Have Rights!’ was launched by the EU and UNICEF on 20 November 2019, to celebrate the Universal Children's Day and the 30th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the universality of children's rights.
5. Multilateral context: Timor-Leste maintains a close relationship with the UN system placing a strong emphasis on multilateralism and with agencies such as the UNDP, WFP, IFC, UNICEF, ILO present in the country. Timor-Leste is party to seven of the nine core UN human rights treaties, but has still not taken action to sign or ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED) and the Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities (CPRD), besides the Optional Protocol Under the Convention Against Torture (Op-CAT) and the Optional Protocol Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure (OP-CRC—IC). Implementation remains weak, mainly due to capacity constraints.
At the UN Human Rights Council, the second Universal Periodic Review of Timor-Leste, held in November 2016 to March 2017, led to 154 recommendations, 146 of which wereaccepted by Timor-Leste. The UPR process also provided a useful platform for a joint group of CSOs to express their views including the issue of justice regarding past human rights abuses.