Protecting witnesses and whistle-blowers in Timor-Leste

Following a regional workshop and a national roundtable in Cambodia, UNODC supports Timor-Leste to develop national protection systems for reporting persons

Posted on 16 November 2018.

Multiple studies in different countries and sectors have shown the value of whistleblowing to detect fraud, corruption and other misconduct and its importance is often rated equally high as internal audits or due diligence checks. At the same time, challenges in reporting are very high and acts of corruption remain largely under-reported, both by direct witnesses and by whistleblowers who come across alleged wrong-doing in the workplace. Studies show that potential whistle-blowers do not believe in appropriate follow-up to their report, they are afraid of retaliation ranging from negative consequences for their career to physical threats, they are afraid of civil or criminal liability and that they would not know where to receive advice.

Under the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), States parties are encouraged to adopt appropriate measures to protect whistleblowers, witnesses, experts and victims (articles 32-33 of UNCAC) and to establish reporting channels, including for anonymous reporting (articles 8(4), 13(2) of UNCAC). In the ASEAN region, following the first review cycle of the UNCAC Implementation Review Mechanism, most of the countries received recommendations to consider strengthening whistleblower protection measures, and to strengthen witness protection.

To follow up on this issue UNODC has delivered a number of awareness-raising events and trainings in Southeast-Asia, including a regional workshop in 2016 and a national roundtable in Cambodia in 2017 which also helped developing a draft Whistle-blowers and Witnesses protection law. On the 17-18 of April a training on the subject was conducted in Timor-Leste, gathering representatives from the Commission Against Corruption, investigators, prosecutors, judges involved in protection of reporting persons or witnesses, Ministry of Justice as well as private sector actors and civil society organisations.  

This training developed participants' understanding of frameworks needed for protecting reporting persons and witnesses and it enabled a discussion on specific challenges in establishing these systems in the country. Timor-Leste currently has no whistle-blowers' protection legal framework; a witnesses' protection law was enacted in 2009 but the operating procedures and institutional arrangements to operationalize the law are still missing. The event resulted in a series of recommendations on how to develop these arrangements; Timorese authorities requested follow-up support from the UNODC to establish the needed systems at the national level.