Domestic Violence Law Passed in Timor-Leste
Date: 6 May 2010
Dili — The National Parliament in Timor-Leste passed a long-awaited law on domestic violence on 3 May. UNIFEM provided support to the Government in drafting the legislation and worked with the Parliament to inform legislators about the issue.
Domestic violence is prevalent in Timor-Leste, and the most common form of gender-based violence reported to the police. Over 400 cases of domestic violence were registered in 2008, but as in many other countries, the majority of cases go unreported. A baseline study in two Timorese districts, supported by UNIFEM and published in 2009, found that domestic violence was a ‘normal’ occurrence for many Timorese women. It further revealed that many people viewed domestic violence as a private or family matter.
The passing of the law culminates a long and laborious process. Work on the draft law began in 2003 and it was first submitted to the Government for approval in 2005. Although the draft legislation defined domestic violence, it had no power to criminalize it – only possible through the country’s penal code. As such, the draft was shelved.
Four years later, in 2009, domestic violence was entered into the penal code, making it a punishable crime for the first time under either Timorese or Indonesian rule. Importantly, its classification as a public crime gives power to people other than the victim to report incidences of domestic violence to the police.
Throughout this time, UNIFEM has worked with the Timorese Government in ensuring that the country’s commitments under theConvention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) are fulfilled, particularly in regard to domestic violence. UNIFEM’s work has focused on support to the Secretary of State for the Promotion of Equality, responsible for preparing the draft law. UNIFEM also worked with the National Parliament through its Gender Resource Centre.
In addition, UNIFEM has collaborated with numerous local organizations and international agencies in raising awareness among the public and the authorities of domestic violence as a serious threat to the lives and dignity of women.
The National Parliament passed the law with 30 votes in favour and three abstentions. Yet, further steps must be taken to change public attitudes, to ensure that women’s legal rights are respected in practice.
During public consultations, some participants argued that the law went against Timorese culture and the sanctity of the family – a claim which supporters of the law strongly deny. “We can’t use culture as a justification to commit violence. Violence is a crime. Timorese culture does not teach us to be violent,” emphasized Fernanda Borges, President of the Parliamentary Committee for Government Legislation, at a public consultation in Baucau.
For more information, please contact Jennifer Ward, Communications Officer, UNIFEM Project Office in Timor-Leste, jennifer.ward[at]unifem.org.