Friday, April 10, 2009

Bringing Justice to the People

Most Americans have a basic understanding of how the justice system works here. We know about the right to a fair trial, innocence until proven guilty, judgment by a jury of our peers, and other basic concepts of the American legal system. Many of us know some things so well its as though we were born with them, like the beginning of the Miranda warning: "you have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law". Even if we learned it from watching too many episodes of Cops rather than actually studying the law, it still demonstrates the widespread public awareness that we sometimes take for granted.

Unfortunately not everywhere is lucky enough to be able to take this for granted. One such place is troubled Timor-Leste. Although the violence that followed its declaration of independence in 1975 was mostly brought to an end by 2002 when it finally achieved international recognition, its fledgling government still faces many challenges. Today the UN is working to rebuild the civil institutions, like the justice system, of this fragile nation. On April 6th the UNDP Justice System Program undertook its first outreach campaign in the city of Pante Makassar. Government officials, judges, lawyers and members of the public were brought together in a forum for open discussion. Participants were provided with informational materials, and were able to ask questions about the issues that affect their lives everyday.

The UNDP Justice System Program will be continuing its campaign, helping build the capacity of the courts and ministry of justice, and bringing its open forums to districts around the country.

Find out more about UNDP's work in Timor-Leste by clicking here.