East Timor takes Australia to UN top court on raids

East Timor has instituted proceedings in the United Nation’s top court in relation to ASIO raids on the office of a Canberra lawyer representing the tiny country.


The domestic spy organisation ASIO in early December raided lawyer Bernard Collaery’s office and seized documents relating to a dispute with Australia over a $40 billion oil and gas treaty.

East Timor on Tuesday began proceedings in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague over the seizure and detention of the documents which it says “belongs to Timor-Leste and/or which Timor-Leste has the right to protect under international law”.

A statement issued by the court on Wednesday makes clear that East Timor wants the ICJ to declare that the ASIO seizure “violated the sovereignty of Timor-Leste and its property and other rights under international law and any relevant domestic law”.

The documents relate to East Timor’s challenge to the Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS).

Dili has accused Australia of bugging its cabinet office during 2004 negotiations on the treaty.

Attorney-General George Brandis approved warrants for the December 3 raid on Mr Collaery’s office and another raid on the home of a former spy who is a key witness in East Timor’s pre-existing case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Mr Collaery told AAP earlier this month that the documents seized included legal opinion by international law experts Sir Elihu Lauterpacht and Professor Vaughan Lowe along with his own correspondence with East Timor’s Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

Dili is now arguing at the ICJ that not only was the seizure of the documents unlawful but so too is their continuing detention.

“Australia must immediately return … the documents and data and destroy beyond recovery every copy of such documents and data that is in Australia’s possession or control,” East Timor is demanding according to the ICJ statement.

East Timor also wants a “formal apology”.

East Timor wants the court to rule that all of the documents seized be immediately handed over to the ICJ.

It also wants a list of which documents have been passed to which people and their job description.

Finally, Dili is demanding that Canberra not spy on East Timor.

“Australia (must) give an assurance that it will not intercept or cause or request the interception of communications between Timor-Leste and its legal advisers whether within or outside Australia or Timor-Leste.”

Mr Collaery has previously told AAP he’s considering legal action against ASIO boss David Irvine over his involvement in the alleged 2004 bugging of Dili’s cabinet office.

Mr Irvine was then director-general of Australia’s overseas spy agency ASIS.

Mr Gusmao condemned the early December raids as “unconscionable and unacceptable conduct”.

But Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended the ASIO raids as necessary to protect Australia’s national security.

“We don’t interfere in (court) cases but we always act to ensure that our national security is being properly upheld – that’s what we’re doing,” he told reporters at the time.