IFES Project Monitors Election Violence in East Timor

June 27, 2007 - IFES

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A new report from IFES and BELUN raises concern about the high level of election-related violence in three communities in East Timor, officially known as Timor-Leste, and urges authorities to do more to prevent such attacks.

At least nine people were injured in clashes between rival political supporters in Dili and Manatuto in the last few days before the June 30 parliamentary elections. A new party led by former President Xanana Gusmao hopes to gain seats at the expense of the ruling Fretilin party.

Two people were killed and 37 wounded between May 28 and June 12, according to the first report issued by the Election Violence Education and Resolution or EVER initiative. The majority of those attacks occurred in the communities of Baucau, Viqueque, and Ermera.

EVER is a joint project of IFES and its partner BELUN, a Timorese nongovernmental organization working to prevent conflict in Timor-Leste. The United States Agency for International Development and the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor fund the project.

IFES created the EVER methodology which produces objective data on election-related violence in order to recommend ways to prevent it from happening in the future. IFES has used this methodology successfully in countries such as in Guyana, Ghana, Iraq and Kyrgyzstan.

IFES Research Officer Lisa Kammerud explains the definition of election violence to EVER monitors in Dili.

IFES Research Officer Lisa Kammerud said IFES is proud to lend support during this critical election cycle, the first one managed by Timorese officials. Previous elections occurred under the auspices of the United Nations.

"With the EVER project, IFES is helping to ensure that the voices of the Timorese voters -in their election choices and in their calls for peace- are heard."

The EVER team consists of Timorese citizens who will monitor election-related violence in all 13 districts through the end of August. The monitors collect data from election commission officials, leaders of community groups, local government officials, and law enforcement officers, as well as by monitoring media reports and attending campaign rallies, political events and peace activities.

Concern about Post-Election Period

During the first reporting period, the EVER team recorded a total of 34 incidents of election-related violence. The report indicates that half of the incidents occurred during the first week of the campaign, with incidents verified in 9 of the 13 districts. About a quarter of the incidents occurred in Baucau.

Political party supporters are the most likely to be involved in election-related violence, either as victims or perpetrators, and post-campaign gatherings and convoys are the most common sites for such attacks.

BELUN's Miguel Mau Soares answers questions during a group activity at EVER training.

"Election violence creates fear among the population," said Suni Vyavaharkar, BELUN's capacity building manager. "When there is election violence, it can prevent voters from choosing freely in what rallies they attend, or who they will vote for."

Kammerud said the patterns of violence observed in Timor-Leste are similar to that of the pre-election phase in most countries in which EVER had been implemented in that few people were killed, but low-level violence such as intimidation is more frequent. The real concern is the post-election period, which is historically the most violent in Timor-Leste.

"The EVER team hopes that all parties and supporters, and all communities in Timor-Leste will accept the results and that the installation of the newly elected parliament will proceed peacefully," said Kammerud.

Recommendations to Reduce Violence

In their report, BELUN and IFES recommend that authorities increase security around convoys and before and after campaign activities to reduce and prevent violence. Other recommendations include:

  • Political parties should participate in multi-party dialogue activities to demonstrate cooperation and effectively share party platforms with communities.
  • Parties and their supporters should adhere to the Electoral Campaign Regulations approved by CNE by ending campaign activities by 6:30 p.m.
  • Local government, community leaders, election officials, and security officials should meet regularly to increase cooperation, to address violence that has occurred and to prevent escalation.

After the election, IFES and BELUN plan to issue micro-grants through a competitive process to community organizations who propose peace-building activities that address issues raised in the EVER reports. The partners hope the EVER project will help build a wider conflict tracking and early warning system in Timor-Leste for various types of conflict and violence.