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East Timor's constitution protects religious freedom

East Timor's political leaders have approved a constitution that enshrines respect for religious freedom in their soon-to-be-independent country, where Catholics form more than 85% of the population.

The signing of the national charter took place on last Friday, after a six month drafting process, and paves the way for the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor to hand over sovereignty in May to a national government.

The strong vote for independence in August 1999 reflected many people's feeling that respect for human dignity was lacking during the 24-year Indonesian occupation (from 1975) of the former Portuguese colony. Constitutional provisions to protect equality among religious, ethnic and social groups stand out in light of the prominent role ascribed to the Catholic Church in protecting human rights during Indonesian rule.


27 Mar 2002