Minister threatens to sack foreign judges


Media release

Friday 5 October 2007

Minister threatens to sack foreign judges

Timor Leste’s new government has renewed its attack on the
independence of the judiciary, with Minister of Justice Lucia Lobato
threatening to terminate the contracts of United Nations-appointed
foreign judges ‘who are not performing well.’

FRETILIN Member of Parliament Domingos Sarmento today called on
Lobato to withdraw her threat and apologise to the judiciary. “If she
refuses to apologise then Prime Minister Gusmao must dismiss her from
the ministry,” said Sarmento, a former Justice Minister and liberation

In an interview with Timor Leste television TVTL on 3 October,
Minister Lobato said her government would ‘evaluate the performance’
of foreign judges and terminate the contracts of those who were not
performing well.

Domingos Sarmento said: “It is not the government’s role to pass
judgement on the work of the judiciary. That is the job of the
Superior Council for the Judiciary mandated as an independent body
under the constitution.”

Sarmento said Lobato appeared determined to interfere with the
judicial process relating to Alfredo Reinado, the army mutineer and
prison escapee who led an armed band in a violent coup attempt against
the FRETILIN government last year.

The Dili newspaper Suara Timor Lorosae on 3 October reported Lobato as
saying the government had ‘formed a task force to find a solution
acceptable to all parties, including Alfredo Reinado.’

A United Nations Independent Special Commission of Inquiry in October
2006 recommended Reinado be prosecuted for his role in leading an
attack on government troops in which five people were killed and 10
seriously injured. Reinado remains at large but he and his co-accused
have been indicted and are scheduled to be tried in December this

Domingos Sarmento said:” Minister Lucia Lobato appears to understand
nothing about the separation of powers and shows no respect for the
independence of the judiciary.

“Reinado’s case ought to be judged according to law and proper
judicial procedure and not by a process of negotiation between the
fugitive and politicians who have benefited from his support.”

Sarmento said Minister Lobato took her first swipe at the judiciary on
the first day of the new government, 8 August, when she blocked a
judge’s order allowing a jailed former minister to travel abroad for
medical treatment.

“Minister Lucia Lobato prevented the former minister’s aircraft from
leaving Dili and then tried to insist that the former minister’s two
children remain in Timor Leste as virtual hostages pending his return
from treatment.

“The judge who issued the order, Justice Ivo Rosa had to issue a new
direction saying the Justice Minister could be in contempt of court if
she prevented the former minister from travelling.

“The new government’s actions are in sharp contrast to the former
FRETILIN government which scrupulously avoided interfering with the
justice system,” Sarmento said.

For more information, please contact:

Jose Teixeira (+670) 728 7080,


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