The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Timor-Leste is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Timor-Leste is not a party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
There is not yet a regional human rights treaty to which South-East Asian nations can adhere, although a non-binding human rights declaration was issued by the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2013. Paragraph 24 of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration provides that: "Every person has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly." Timor-Leste is seeking to accede to ASEAN.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Section 42 of the 2002 Constitution of Timor-Leste governs the right of peaceful assembly:
1. Everyone is guaranteed the freedom to assemble peacefully and unarmed, without a need for prior authorisation.
2. Everyone is recognised the right to demonstrate in accordance with the law.
A 2006 Law on Freedom of Assembly governs assemblies in Timor-Leste. The Law allows every citizen to exercise the right to assemble and demonstrate peacefully and unarmed without the need for prior authorisation. Assemblies must be notified at least four days in advance.
Under the 2006 Law, public assemblies are prohibited
in public places, or in places open to the public, within less than 100m (one hundred metres) from offices of organs of sovereignty, residences of officeholders of organs of sovereignty, military and militarised installations, prison buildings, offices of diplomatic missions and consulates, and offices of political parties.....
... It is equally prohibited to hold demonstrations in places within less than 100m from ports, airports, telecommunications facilities, power stations, depots and storage facilities of water, fuel and inflammable substances.
Article 6 stipulates that demonstrations shall only take place between 8:00 am and 6:30 pm.
Assemblies or demonstrations can be dispersed by the police
if it is realised that the initial objective of the assembly or demonstration was shifted by actions that are contrary to the law or that violate ... restrictions [under the Law].
In the course of the 2016 Universal Periodic Review of Timor-Leste, Amnesty International stated that the national police continued to interpret the Law on Assemblies as requiring the organisers of a demonstration to obtain a permit and had banned a number of peaceful gatherings linked to demands for accountability for past crimes, as well as to corruption by government officials.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Police use of force during assemblies is governed, in part, by Article 5(1) of the 2004 Law on the the Organic Structure of the Timor-Leste National Police (PNTL):
In the case of disturbance of public order and peace, the use of force is authorized, and where this is insufficient, other means can be used to overcome illegitimate resistance against members of the PNTL, in the performance of their duties.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
Domestic legislation does not appear to regulate the use of firearms during assemblies.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Timor-Leste has not come before the Human Rights Committee.
Views of Civil Society
CIVICUS reported that on 1 September 2020, Timor-Leste Defence Forces commander Major General Lere Anan Timur threatened to arrest the leaders of a newly formed movement – National Resistance in Defence of Justice and Constitution of Timor-Leste – which had planned a peaceful march to call for the resignation of President Francisco Guterres Lu-Olo.
The group claims that the President had disrespected the Constitution and acted in favour of his political party after he refused to swear in several members of the largest party in the winning coalition of the 2018 elections, the National Congress of Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), of Xanana Gusmão. Military personnel were also posted around the movement’s headquarters, decried by its leaders as ‘dictatorship behaviour’, and a clear sign of intimidation.
Angela Freitas, one of the spokespeople for a newly created political movement that has been threatened with arrest, said: “We heard the statements of commander Lere. These threats to a civilian are a crime. We are in a democratic country and I have every right to express my dissatisfaction with what I consider to be violations of the Constitution”. Representatives of the three ruling parties in the Timorese parliament said the members of a movement to challenge the president were “subversive”, although they agreed that the issue should be resolved by the police.
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Timor-Leste:
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed, and while it is generally respected in practice, some laws can be invoked to restrict peaceful gatherings. Demonstrations deemed to be “questioning constitutional order,” or disparaging the reputations of the head of state and other government officials, are prohibited. Demonstrations must be authorized in advance, and laws restrict how close they can be to government buildings and critical infrastructure.