1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: 2020 was a challenging year for Timor-Leste. The COVID-19 pandemic required the declaration of state of emergency in March and although the health crisis was avoided (no community transmission and no deaths in 2020), related measures took their toll on the human rights situation. Despite limited capacities, the National Human Rights Institution/Ombudsperson, called Provedoria, monitored the situation thoroughly. The COVID-19 crisis was worsened by political turbulences and a delayed approval of the 2020 budget, which hampered progress and investment in many areas, including in the field of human rights. The more structural human rights challenges include: widespread poverty and inequalities; gender violence; forced labour of children; high youth unemployment; fraud and corruption; deficient health and education systems; malnutrition and stunting of children; unclear land rights; discrimination against LGBTI persons or inaccessible infrastructure for persons with disabilities and restricted access to justice due to language barriers. 2020 was also a year of achievements, including an active and free civil society and a strong Provedoria including new competences on gender, the adoption of anti-corruption legislation, the Children Action Plan and a working plan on people living with disabilities.
2. EU action - key focus areas: The EU focussed its actions across four key areas:
Protecting and empowering individuals: The launch of the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative in March 2020 was the highlight of the year in terms of advancement for women’s rights. The EU’s role as leading promoter of equality and non-discrimination of LGBTI persons was highlighted at the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on 17 May and at the ‘Diversity Section’ of the EU-supported Dili International Film Festival in October.
Building resilient, inclusive and democratic societies: In 2020, the EU undertook a Civil Society Mapping exercise, which will be used for the update of strategic and programming documents. The EU together with the Portuguese Cooperation marked World Press Freedom Day on 3 May by helping journalists during the state of emergency. Training on hate speech and disinformation was provided and the construction of a Press Centre for the Parliament was supported.
Promoting a global system for human rights and democracy: The Election Follow-up Mission, was rescheduled for 2021 due to the current travel restrictions. It is expected to concentrate on the recommendations of the 2017 EU Election Observation Mission and the 2018 EU Election Experts Mission, namely: consolidation of the electoral legalisation into a single electoral code; restoring the supervisory role of the CNE; ensuring an effective enforcement and accountability of campaign financing; and strengthening the role and capacity of the media.
New technologies: harnessing opportunities and addressing challenges; delivering by working together: The year ended with the extension of the EU’s human rights flagship programme in Timor-Leste, implemented by the Global Campus for Human Rights: the establishment of a Human Rights Centre within the Faculty of Social Sciences at the National University of Timor-Leste (UNTL). The action aims at enhancing the capacity and resources available by engaging existing academic institutions and establishing a Centre devoted to human rights and related areas in Timor-Leste. In the COVID-19 context, the training was reorganised as a ‘blended-education’ activity, which means a mix of e-learning with classic in-class course. This first ever e-learning course at UNTL was done with regional experts and provided entirely in Tetum.
3. EU bilateral political engagement: In the second half of 2020, an important round of policy dialogue took place with government authorities related to the three EU Budget Support Programmes. It offered the opportunity to review with government, civil society, and other stakeholders progress of reforms in public finance management oversight, the advancement of de-concentration/decentralisation of State powers and responsibilities, and the improvement of the country’s nutrition rates, especially for children. The annual political dialogue between Timor-Leste and the EU was postponed to the end of January 2021.
4. EU financial engagement: EU financial engagement under 11th European Development Fund (National Indicative Programme 2014-2020) is in line with the Strategic Development Plan 2011-2030 to transform Timor-Leste into an upper middle income country by 2030 based on inclusive growth enabling it to improve infrastructure, worker skills, education, training and health systems, and combat poverty and malnutrition. Positive results were observed in all areas linked to the priorities of the Human Rights Country Strategy. Under the joint EU-UN Gender Spotlight Initiative’s Pacific window, a country programme has been defined for Timor-Leste.
5. Multilateral context: Timor-Leste is eager to become more integrated into the UN system through enhanced membership, such as in the Human Rights Council and human rights fora. The country is already part of several South East Asian human rights related fora such as the South East Asian National Human Rights Institutions Forum (SEANF) and the South East Asian Network of Women Peace Negotiators and Mediators. Several important reports will have to be presented to the relevant treaty bodies in view of the third Universal Periodic Review that the country will undergo in 2022. Preparations for this upcoming review cycle have already started in 2020.