COVID-19 Op-ed

Emergency Declaration for COVID-19 in Timor-Leste: Inefficiency, Reasons, and Resolution

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Joanico G. AlvesStudent, Asia
Pacific MA Human Rights and Democratisation
Global Campus
of Human Rights Asia Pacific
Institute of Human Rights
and Peace Studies, Mahidol University

Nowadays, the world faced deadly Coronavirus or Covic-19 which
already contracted more than one million people and killed more than half of
a million in this world (European Centre for Disease Prevention and
Control,2020). Timor-Leste is one of the countries in Southeast Asia with low
number of confirmed cases: six positive (GMN TV, 2020). To protect the lives
of Timorese people from Covic-19 the Timorese president H.E Francisco
Guterres “Lu’Olo” declared the “state of emergency” on March 28 to respond to
Covic-19 (UCAN,2020). The regulations of the state of emergency include
cancellation of public transportation, restriction of public gathering,
personal and business hygiene, quarantine and surveillance, etc. Although
state of emergencies seems necessary to help protect people’s lives, but the
evidence shows that the many communities do not comply, especially the
restriction to movement. In response, the military general ordered the PNTL
to beat those who violate the laws, which also risks violating human rights
laws. Therefore, I want to know why the laws do not work to limit peoples
from travelling. Why do communities risk violating the law of the state of
emergencies?  Also, from a human rights perspective, why is the
declaration of the military general (un)justified?These violations include
that street vendors do not respect the social distance between them and customers,
and they do not wear a mask while working. Also, even though the law
prohibits from taking more than one passenger in one private vehicle, some
vehicles took more than one people (PDHJ,2020).Those communities violate the
laws because the law threatens their survival: informal workers such as
street vendors, farmers, and drivers, who need to support their families with
their daily activities as well as customers who need to buy the food for
their family.  Take farmers for example, more than 60% of the population
are farmers, who provide substance to 80% of the population (Oxfam
international in Timor-Leste,2020). However, their life depends on the
weather and the harvest. If they cannot sell their produce, they will have no
money to put food on the table. Street vendor, which is part of informal
workers, which constitutes more than 60% of the population, are hand-to-mouth
workers. The driver who constitutes 2% of the working adults (Oxfam
International in Timor-Leste,2015). Costumers also need to buy basic
necessities to support their families. Although the government gives out
relief packages, for example, $15 electricity credit for free per household,
it does not really help solve the problem of food and financial insecurity of
communities since most of them are depending on daily cash income.Concerning
about the frequent violations of laws by the communities, Major General of
Timor-Leste’s Army Falintil Forca Defesa Timor-Leste (F-FDTL) “Lere Anan
Timur” oriented National Police of Timor-Leste to beat and slap those who do
not obey the rules. He also informed the general commander of PNTL Mr.
Faustino da Costa that he has the competence to implement the law seriously.
In response, general commander of National Police of Timor-Leste acknowledged
that the public transportation seems to become normal, and “we will be
checking all the private vehicles which often go out to get basic needs or
others destination” (GMN TV,2020).Ombudsman for human rights and justice
(PDHJ) as an independent national human rights institution in Timor-Leste is
responsible for monitoring the situation of state emergency. On April 6-8,
2020 it accused that the communities constantly violated the law of the state
of emergency. For instance, PDHJ claimed that “community does not have a
conscience to follow the rules of the state of emergency”, such as social
distancing and wearing masks, etc (PDHJ,2020).While the military general
pushed to enforce violence to punish community violating the law, PDHJ didn’t
ask further why the community violated the law. It is problematic since the
law does not take communities’ concerns of food and income into
consideration.From the legal perspective, both request and accusation from
the military general and PDHJ seem unfounded in international human rights
law. First, UDHR article 25 states that “right to a standard of living
adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,
including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social
services…”. Second, the Timorese government adopted the International
Convention of Economic and Social Rights in 2003 states that “The States
Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an
adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate
food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living
conditions” (Human rights bodies,2020).It also conflicted with the
Constitution of RDTL Article 25 No.5, which says that the government has to
limit fundamental rights of each citizen to protect the lives, although it
does not legalize violence and discrimination against citizens: “the right
not to be subjected to torture, slavery or servitude, the right not to be
subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the
guarantee of non-discrimination” and food also seems to be a restricted cause
of movement restriction (constitution of RDTL,2002). If police and military
need to force communities to comply the laws, such a behavior will be
unconstitutional.Policy that does not respect people’s fundamental and
inderogable (cannot be taken at all costs) will not work and face resistance
from the ground. State of emergency prioritize the importance of public
health, but it fails to consider other aspects of rights which are equally
important as right to health. A street vendor in Becora Terminal said that
she as a single mother to feed the sixth children says that she has to come
out every day in order sell (Anonymous, April 5, 2020).  State of
emergencies may limit people’s movement but it cannot compromise right to
life and food, which are central to their survival.  Otherwise,
communities, especially those who are vulnerable in the society, will soon
face a hard choice, die from hunger or from virus. Policy must cover both
aspects of mitigating the pandemic through social/movement restriction as
well as the fundamental rights (life and food) or this policy is not
efficient and respected by people.Reference:  European Centre
for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), 2020. Situation update worldwide,
as of 10 April 2020. Available at;
GMN TV, 2020. Timor-Leste’ confirmed case of Covic-19. Available at;
UCAN,2020. Timor-Leste president declares state of emergency. Available at;
MACAUHUB,2020. Government of Timor-Leste considers withdrawing US$250 million
from Oil Fund. Available at;
GMN TV,2020. Don’t obey the state emergency, Mr. Lere, orients PNTL has to
beat. Available at;
GMN TV,2020. Facebook pages on PDHJ. Available at;
Oxfam international in Timor-Leste,2020. Agriculture assessment. Available
Helio Mau-Quei & Michael P. Cameron, 2019. “The
Characteristics of the Informal Sector in Timor-Leste
,” Working Papers
in Economics
19/05, University of Waikato. Available at;
TIMOR-LESTE. Available at;
Human rights bodies,2020. Treaty-based bodies. Available

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