Fall 2009

Landmark Poll Gauges Public Opinion on Law and Justice in Timor-Leste


This summer, The Asia Foundation released findings from its landmark opinion poll, “Law and Justice in Timor-Leste: A Survey of Citizen Awareness and Attitudes Regarding Law and Justice – 2008.” The report reveals that confidence in traditional justice mechanisms remains slightly higher (85%) than in the newer formal court system (76%), yet confidence overall in the justice sector has decreased.

The nationwide poll compared citizens’ perceptions of law and justice today against their perceptions as documented in a 2004 Asia Foundation survey. The two surveys are the only records of their kind for comparison of the establishment of rule of law in Timor-Leste. While there have been a range of notable achievements in the formal justice sector since the country’s official declaration of independence in 2002, serious challenges remain. It is widely believed that coordinated government and international assistance efforts have improved citizens’ access to justice. The public now desires a greater presence of local courts: 85% of the 2008 survey respondents say they would want an official from the formal court system to come to their area, compared to just 54% in 2004.

However, formal legal frameworks of the state have not reached many. When asked, “Who is responsible for making the rules that govern people’s lives?” two out of three respondents say that traditional leaders versus state institutions are responsible. Attitudes condoning domestic violence have worsened. In the 2004 survey, 75% of respondents said a man who hit his wife is categorically wrong. In the 2008 survey, only 34% felt this way.

“The survey gives policymakers insight into people’s perceptions about their options and obstacles for accessing justice in Timor-Leste, and we can’t progress as a country without knowing that,” says Fernanda Borges, a Member of Parliament and Chair of Parliament Committee A: Constitutional Affairs, Judiciary, Public Administration.

The survey was supported by the Justice Facility (a bilateral program of Timor-Leste and Australia) and the U.S. Agency for International Development; designed by The Asia Foundation; and conducted by Insight Consulting, a local organization. A copy of the survey is available on our website.

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