Subject: WP: Untrained E. Timorese Must Build a Nation From Scratch

Washington Post Wednesday, March 29, 2000

Square One

Untrained East Timorese Must Build a Nation From Scratch

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran Washington Post Foreign Service

DILI, East TimoróLouis Nkopipe spent last week in the sweltering Dili courthouse conducting a crash course on elementary legal principles. "Defendants are presumed innocent," intoned Nkopipe, a French lawyer, at the start of one lecture. "And they have the right not to incriminate themselves."

The audience of 23 middle-aged East Timorese men and women was engrossed, diligently scribbling into notebooks as each of Nkopipe's simple declarations was laboriously translated into Portuguese, then into Tetun, an indigenous language. For the students, many without previous legal education, the class is the only schooling they will receive before becoming the nascent country's first judges, prosecutors and public defenders.

"We do not have a lot of legal experience here," said Joao Calvalho, a former mid-level employee in the governor's office who was selected to be an investigating judge. "I've never been a judge or a lawyer before. In fact, I have never done anything like this."

Almost seven months after East Timor's overwhelming vote for independence from Indonesia and its subsequent devastation by militia groups backed by the Indonesian military, the East Timorese people and the U.N. administrators now in charge are finding the task of rebuilding from ground zero far more complicated than they ever imagined.

Consider the whitewashed courthouse building three blocks from Dili's beach. Although it was not burned to the ground like most of the structures here, the windows were smashed, the computers were stolen, the furniture upended, the files pilfered, the law books removed and the judges' robes were nowhere to be found.

All that is being slowly replaced by the United Nations and foreign donors, but the people who worked in the building are another matter. During the 24 years that Indonesia ruled this former Portuguese colony, no East Timorese were appointed as judges or licensed to practice law. Those jobs went to Indonesians, all of whom fled to Indonesian-controlled western Timor and other parts of the archipelago after last August's referendum.

"We are starting the court from scratch," said Louis Aucoin, a Boston University law professor who is the United Nations' acting director of judicial affairs here. "We have a courthouse, but there's not a lot inside. Most of our judges and lawyers have no practical experience with the law whatsoever."

East Timor faces a similar dearth of skilled labor in every other civil institution and every part of its infrastructure. The water and power services lack engineers. Schools lack teachers. Hospitals lack doctors.

For now, U.N. specialists and international aid groups are filling the vacuum. The British organization Oxfam International, for instance, is repairing the water system, and the French group Doctors Without Borders is helping provide medical care. But some aid experts worry about what will happen when humanitarian assistance dries up and the United Nations withdraws several years from now. Even if there are new schools, hospitals and water works, they wonder if anyone will have the expertise to operate them.

Some critics of the U.N. administration contend the organization is not recruiting enough East Timorese to work alongside--and learn from--international specialists. Although the U.N. transitional authority has set a goal of 12,000 East Timorese working for the government, fewer than 1,000 have been hired.

"We appreciate the help of the international community, but the East Timorese people need to be allowed to take a greater role in our own affairs," said Joao Carrascalo, acting president of the National Council for Timorese Resistance, the political wing of a pro-independence rebel group that has refashioned itself into a social assistance organization.

Carrascalo points to the more than 80 percent unemployment rate and daily gatherings of hundreds of young job seekers outside U.N. headquarters, warning that "if the U.N. doesn't get its act together soon, very soon there will be big problems with social unrest."

"The euphoria of independence is beginning to wear off," he warned. "People are becoming frustrated."

U.N. officials maintain they are trying to hire people as quickly as possible, but they say their efforts are hindered by the lack of a qualified labor pool. Part of the solution, they believe, is to encourage some of the former Indonesian government workers to return, even if they voted against independence. And, the officials say, training programs need to be bolstered.

This week, as a step in that direction, the United Nations plans to open East Timor's first police academy. But interest is far outpacing availability; officials received more than 12,000 applications to join the first class, which is limited to 50 recruits.

The U.N. special representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello, effectively East Timor's leader until general elections next year, has pledged to set firm deadlines for integration of East Timorese into government jobs. "We are here to give birth to a genuine East Timorese administration that is a product of the gradual acquisition of maturity," he said in an interview. "But I cannot guarantee that in some areas we will not behave in a paternalistic kind of way."

But U.N. officials insist they do not intend to solve the unemployment problem by giving thousands more people government jobs, as the Indonesians did when they ruled the territory. Instead, they want to foster small businesses and encourage rural residents to plant cash crops, such as coffee, the country's primary export.

"We are doing everything to get things started, but the world needs to understand that we are starting from almost nothing," said Fernanda Borges, the U.N. director of economic affairs here. "This will take a long time."

At the courthouse, though, time is not something the new judges, prosecutors and public defenders have. There are 83 cases, most involving murder or rape charges stemming from the post-election violence, that must come to trial soon.

U.N. officials considered bringing in outside judges to handle the first trials but decided against it, concluding that it would be an important symbol of reconstruction to have East Timorese presiding. Still not ironed out is whether foreign judges might sit on three-judge panels with their East Timorese counterparts, who were jointly selected by U.N. officials and East Timorese leaders.

Having foreign judges sitting on the same bench is an idea that the new judges here do not like much, arguing that the international jurists should serve instead on an appeals court. The new judges have begun to make procedural decisions about how the court will operate. Although there is no television station in East Timor as yet, they have banned TV cameras in courtrooms. Defense attorneys will be allowed to question witnesses directly, something that is not allowed in Indonesian courts.

"They don't want to create a system that is as repressive as it was in Indonesian times," Aucoin said.

Because it would take too long and be too complicated to draft new laws, the country plans to use Indonesian laws. But in a break with Indonesian rules, the new court will provide public defense attorneys. Their first task will be to defend militia members accused of participating in the burning, looting and killing here last year.

"As human beings, it is difficult for us to defend them," said public defender Vital Dos Santos, former manager of a trading company. "But we have to follow the law. We also have to defend their rights as human beings."

U.N. officials are hoping the first trial will begin next month, although they acknowledge that timetable might be optimistic. The judges and lawyers, for their part, say they're eager to get down to work but would welcome more training.

"The first time I sit as a judge, it will be like taking an examination," said Judge Maria Natercia Gusmao, who used to work for Indonesia's land development authority. "It will be a little scary."


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