state of civil and political rights: Partly free
constitution: 22 March 2002
legal system: UN-drafted legal system based on Indonesian law remains in place but is to be replaced by civil and penal codes based on Portuguese law
legislative system: unicameral National Parliament
judicial system: Supreme Court of Justice - constitution calls for one judge to be appointed by National Parliament and rest appointed by Superior Council for Judiciary
religion: 98% Roman Catholic; 1% Muslim; 1% Protestant
year of last executions: 0-0-0
death sentences: 0
international treaties on human rights and the death penalty:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (aiming to the abolition of the death penalty)
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Statute of the International Criminal Court (which excludes the death penalty)
East Timor became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century on the night between May 19 and 20, 2002. In a popular referendum held on August 30, 1999, a 90% majority had voted for independence from Indonesia, which had occupied the territory in 1975 after the end of Portuguese colonial rule. This occupation led to 24 years of fighting between guerrillas of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor - widely known as Fretilin - and the Indonesian army.
The 1999 referendum was held in a tense atmosphere that culminated in two months of infighting. Over 1,000 people died and a further 300,000 people were forced to flee from the destruction of homes and infrastructure.
The United Nations took over the transitional administration of the territory on its path to independence, and on October 27, 1999, the death sentence was formally abolished in East Timor. Witnessed by East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao, then UN transitional administrator, the late Sergio Vieira de Mello signed the first regulation of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). The regulation abolished capital punishment and a string of Indonesian laws on anti-subversion, social organisations and national security.
An 88-member Constituent Assembly, elected on August 30, 2001, drafted and approved East Timor's first Constitution. Articles on democracy and human rights make up the core of the new Constitution. It bans the death penalty and life imprisonment, prohibits organisations of a racist or xenophobic nature, promises the introduction of a system of ombudsmen for administrative oversight and declares unequivocal willingness to grant political asylum in East Timor.
An independent Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation was set up in January 2002 to investigate human rights violations committed during the 25 years of occupation by Indonesian forces and determine which individuals were responsible. Between 100,000 and 200,000 East Timorese are estimated to have died in the early years of the occupation, many from starvation or disease.
Serious crimes - such as murder or torture - will be referred to the country's new justice system. Other offences, such as theft, arson or the killing of livestock, will require the perpetrator to perform "an act of reconciliation," such as a period of community service or a public apology.
The summary executions and forced deportation of civilians carried out by pro-Indonesia militias in September 1999, following the outcome of the referendum, are being investigated by two specially instituted tribunals: the ad hoc human rights tribunal in Jakarta, Indonesia, set up in March 2002 after intense international pressure, and the Dili tribunal in East Timor administered jointly by UN and East Timor officials following a UN mandate in March 2002.
In April 2002, East Timor held its first-ever presidential election. Out of an estimated voter population of 439,000, 86.2% went to the polls. Independence revolutionary and former exile, Xanana Gusmao won the election with 82.7% of the total valid votes cast.
On December 17, 2018, East Timor co-sponsored and voted again in favour of the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.