ASSEMBLY ON VERGE OF PASSING FINAL REVISED CONSTITUTION
East Timor’s Constituent Assembly today debated and passed the final amendments to the text of the territory’s first Constitution. Final approval of the complete document and preamble is expected in the coming days.
The Assembly’s Systematisation and Harmonisation Committee has spent the past week producing a consolidated text incorporating 46 proposed changes to the provisional draft Constitution approved by the assembly in early February.
These changes reflect suggestions made by a wide range of UNTAET, East Timor government and civil society organizations, as well as input from a week of public consultations held in districts throughout the country.
Among the adopted amendments recommended by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General Sergio Vieira de Mello were five articles in which language protecting “citizens” was broadened to include “all persons;” the addition of “language” as a ground of discrimination; and the establishment of an independent electoral body.
In apparent response to a theme repeatedly raised by people in the districts during the public consultation process, a section of Article 12 stating, “There shall be no official religion of the State,” was removed.
Final amendments adopted by the assembly today included the incorporation of a reference to both “God” and “the people” in the oath of inauguration for the President, the recognition of “Pátria Pátria” as the national anthem, and minor variations to the colour of the national flag.
UNHCR REPORTS UPSURGE IN WEST TIMOR REFUGEE RETURNS
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has announced an upsurge in the number of refugees returning to their homes in East Timor from camps across the border in West Timor, Indonesia.
Close to 2,000 refugees have returned to East Timor so far this month, compared with 900 last month and 400 in January. Interviews with returning refugees indicate the increase can be directly attributed to the many reconciliation meetings and “go and see” visits facilitated by the UNHCR and its partners, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNTAET, over the past few months.
While no exact figures exist, it is estimated that there are no more than 70,000 refugees remaining in West Timor. The UNHCR, which is organizing the repatriations along with IOM and other groups, is hoping to maintain and improve upon this new found momentum in the weeks immediately preceding and following East Timor’s 20 May independence.