November 23, 2007,
Australian military commander under fire in East Timor
The Australian military commander in Timor Leste (East Timor), Brigadier John Hutcheson, has been criticised by a judge and the country’s main opposition party, FRETILIN, in a growing controversy over the failure to arrest the fugitive rebel leader and accused murderer Alfredo Reinado.
FRETILIN Vice President Arsenio Bano criticised Brigadier Hutcheson’s announcement that his forces had halted their operation to arrest Reinado on the instructions of President Jose Ramos Horta.
Bano said today the Australian decision to ignore a judicial warrant for Reinado’s arrest called into question Australia’s stated commitment to democracy and the rule of law in Timor Leste.
“The Australian military’s changed stance on Reinado has created great uncertainty among the population, jeopardised public order, emboldened Reinado and his supporters and made the problem much harder to solve,” Bano said.
“Fretilin’s position is not to persecute anyone or deny them their legal rights but to uphold the rule of law and ensure no constitutional entity, be it the president, the government or the parliament, is permitted to interfere with the independent administration of justice.
“This is the only way to guarantee peace and stability in our country.”
During a public rally with armed followers in the district capital of Gleno yesterday, Reinado threatened to “lead my soldiers down to Dili” unless the government reinstated army mutineers dismissed last year.
In a written notice of ruling on November 9, Judge Ivo Rosa condemned as illegal President Ramos Horta’s instruction to call off the search for Reinado despite the court issuing an arrest warrant.
Justice Rosa, a United Nations-recruited judge from Portugal, said President Ramos Horta had “manifestly interfered” with the independence of the judiciary and “violated” the constitutional guarantee of separation of powers.
The president had no constitutional power to alter, impede or enforce non-compliance of judicial decision, Justice Rosa said.
“The illegal decisions handed down by Mr President of the Republic, the attitude revealed by both the Australian forces and UNPOL (United Nations police), with the acquiescence of the United Nations, place at risk the independence of the judiciary, contribute to the irregular functioning of democratic institutions and compromise the functioning of a democratic state with the rule of law,” Justice Rosa said.
Reinado led an armed revolt against the former FRETILIN government in May 2006 which helped force the resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and his replacement by Ramos Horta.
Reinado is charged with rebellion, eight counts of murder and 10 counts of attempted murder. He and several co-accused are due to face trial in Dili on December 3 but have been at large since escaping from prison in August last year. He evaded recapture on March 4 when five of his supporters died in a shootout with Australian troops.
Ramos Horta and the newly elected government of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao now claim to be engaged in “process of dialogue” with Reinado.
However Justice Rosa said Reinado “is an accused like any other, with the same rights and with the same duties” and “cannot demand and it should not be conceded to him any other right which is not consecrated in article 60 of the Criminal Procedures Code.”
Justice Rosa’s notice of ruling “personally notifies” Brigadier Hutcheson and the Timor Leste police commissioner that they should immediately take steps to arrest and detain Reinado and warns that any negotiation for his voluntary surrender must result in his unconditional detention.
Arsenio Bano said President Horta’s illegal instruction “demonstrates clearly that the rule of law has almost been lost in Timor Leste. Justice is no longer functioning in accordance with the constitution but is functioning pursuant to the wishes of President Ramos Horta.”
Bano said: “Our Australian neighbour speaks a lot about democracy, law and order and the rule of law but their security forces are not performing their role in accordance with the law, or promoting a respect for the rule of law in Timor Leste. Instead they act in accordance with one person’s wishes as stated by (Brigadier Hutcheson) in relation to Alfredo Reinado’s case.”
Justice Rosa’s censure of the President dominated Portuguese media coverage of Ramos Horta’s official visit to Portugal last week, but has gone largely unreported in Australia.
President Horta told journalists in Lisbon on November 15: “I advise the foreign judges in my country to show more respect for the Timorese head of state”.
For further information contact (in Dili): Arsénio Bano (+670) 733 9416 or Jose Teixeira (+670) 728 7080.
For an English translation of the full text of Justice Rosa’s notice of ruling contact Arsenio Bano or email email@example.com