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III. Background

After almost twenty-five years of brutal occupation of East Timor by Indonesia, in September 1999 the Indonesian National Army (TNI) and Timorese militias went on a campaign of extreme violence when the people of East Timor voted for independence in a U.N.-administered referendum. An estimated 1,400 East Timorese civilians lost their lives in the months before and the days immediately after the voting. Approximately half a million people were forced from their homes or fled to seek refuge.

The violence was part of a systematically planned policy by elements of the Indonesian government and TNI to prevent the people of East Timor from freely participating in the referendum, and to punish them for voting for independence. The crimes committed against East Timorese included mass murder, torture, assault, forced disappearance, mass forcible deportations, the destruction of property, and rape and other sexual violence against women and children. These crimes were part of a pattern of gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, which, in many cases, constituted crimes against humanity.

Indonesia’s subsequent withdrawal in late 1999 left not only a country devastated and traumatized by occupation and conflict, but it also left an institutional vacuum at all levels of civil administration and government. Many of East Timor’s former civil servants were Indonesian or pro-Indonesia, and thousands left the country after the referendum. After four hundred years of Portuguese and then Indonesian occupation, the colonial legacy left to East Timor was one of very few functioning institutions, a huge human resource deficit, and an overwhelming and urgent need to build a government from scratch. 

The most effective environment in which to build functioning public institutions is a secure and stable one. Although East Timor benefited from a relatively stable and smooth transition from occupied territory to independent state under the stewardship of the United Nations, the country still faces a myriad of post-conflict problems.  It remains one of the world’s poorest countries and ranks as one of the lowest on the Human Development Index (HDI).8 Unemployment and underemployment are estimated to be approximately 50 percent,9 while recent figures estimate the annual per capita gross domestic product (GDP) to be equivalent to only U.S.$370, falling to as low as U.S.$150 in rural areas.10 The population is largely rural, and infrastructure for basic social services, health care, and economic support outside the capital, Dili, is extremely limited. Much of the population remains traumatized by the Indonesian occupation, and the six years since it ended have left people dissatisfied and frustrated by the slow pace of reconstruction and development.

East Timor has made formal commitments to human rights: The constitution includes important human rights protections and, on the first International Human Rights Day after independence (December 10, 2002), East Timor’s parliament approved accession to seven major international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.11 Ratification and reporting on these treaties is a key priority for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There is also a human rights advisor permanently appointed to the Prime Minister’s office who, in 2004, convened an inclusive government and NGO working group to discuss the drafting of a Human Rights Action Plan for East Timor (to include public consultations on what should be included). In 2005 East Timor established a Provedor’s Office (see below), similar to an ombudsman institution in other countries.

Establishing the East Timor Police Force

Establishing a new police force for East Timor was one of the priorities for the United Nations before sovereignty was passed to the new state in May 2002. Under a clear mandate to provide security and maintain law and order throughout the country, successive U.N. missions in East Timor were instructed and authorized to help enable the rapid development of a credible, professional and impartial police service.12 U.N. Civilian Police (CivPol) began recruitment drives for the new East Timorese police service in early 2000 and basic training commenced on March 27, 2000, under the auspices of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). The initial graduating class of the newly inaugurated Police College numbered 1,700, the first fifty of whom took up their functions as police officers on July 12, 2000.13 Just over a year later, on August 10, 2001, the East Timor Police Service was officially established, working alongside CivPol.14 It later changed its name to the Timor-Leste Police Service, before finally adopting its current title of the Policia Nacional de Timor-Leste (PNTL).

The joint policing arrangement between the new East Timor police and CivPol lasted into the initial independence period, and it was not until independence, on May 20, 2002, that an agreement was signed outlining the terms and timetable of the handing over of full policing duties from CivPol to the PNTL. This process started with the PNTL successively taking over control of policing district by district. Foreseen for a shorter timeframe, the process eventually took eighteen months, the PNTL finally assuming responsibility for general day-to-day policing for the whole country on December 10, 2003, when the handover of policing duties was effected for the thirteenth and final district, Dili.

UNTAET’s successor mission from May 2002, the U.N. Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), was also mandated to provide interim law enforcement and public security, and was authorized to assist in the continued development of the PNTL. Originally envisaged to last one year, UNMISET’s mandate was twice extended (in May and November 2003), partly reflecting the fact that the critical threshold of self-sufficiency in key government institutions was taking longer than originally anticipated. It was at this juncture that the East Timorese national government finally assumed full responsibility for nationwide policing with the transfer of all executive responsibilities for policing, internal and external security from the U.N. to the Government of East Timor as of May 20, 2004.15

In May 2005 the U.N. Security Council replaced the Support Mission of UNMISET with a much smaller special political mission, the U.N. Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL).16

Composition of the East Timor Police Force

The Organic Decree-Law of the National Police of Timor-Leste was promulgated by the President in May 2004.17 It is the legal instrument governing the structure and role of the Policia Nacional de Timor-Leste (PNTL), and specifies the role of the police in relation to the army, Falantil-FDTL, in internal and external security. ThePNTL is divided into the regular police and five specialist units. A July 2005 government press release stated that the PNTL had a total force strength of approximately three thousand officers. The focus of this report is the regular police force.

(Two of the special units are nevertheless of particular interest and are mentioned elsewhere in this report: the Rapid Intervention Unit—Unidade Intervensaun Rapida, UIR—and the Border Patrol UnitUnidade de Patrulhamento de Fronteira, UPF.18  The function of the UIR is to respond to civil disorder, particularly in urban areas, while, as its name implies, the Border Patrol Unit is primarily concerned with the security, patrol, and management of the border regions.19 Therefore, both internal disturbances and border security remain under the auspices of the police and the Ministry of Interior rather than with the military.20 As of July 2005, there were 292 officers in the Border Patrol Unit and 217 in the Rapid Intervention Unit.21)

The passing of the police decree-law was followed by the adoption of a disciplinary regulation in June 2004.  Neither the disciplinary regulation nor the police decree-law was subject to parliamentary scrutiny or public debate. Instead both pieces of legislation were submitted to the President by the Council of Ministers and duly promulgated. Oversight mechanisms (such as those outlined below) are not mentioned in the police decree-law or the disciplinary regulation.

The police continue to have a number of institutional weaknesses including limited professional skills and experience, particularly in the areas of policy and law. The force is hampered by a lack of professional expertise in many administrative and management functions, and continues to face problems due to a lack of logistical capacity and a general lack of resources for equipment and infrastructure development.

It is also a very new and fragile police service which remains dependent on foreign aid for equipment and training support. There is a serious need for institutional strengthening across the board, but particularly in the area of mainstreaming human rights and ensuring that all police powers and procedures meet with international standards, and are implemented in accordance with them. (This is explored in detail in section V.D of this report).

Responsibility for Training, Discipline, and Investigating Police Abuse

Replacing a Code of Conduct for the East Timor police adopted by the United Nations administration during UNTAET,22 the disciplinary regulation of June 2004 sets out the duties of PNTL officers, imposes limits on police powers and outlines the disciplinary processes that would follow any breaches of the standards set out in the regulation. In its own words, the regulation claims to provide “a systematized corpus of rules and principles… to guide the action of [PNTL members]… thereby guaranteeing the professionalism and prestige of the institution.”23 Fifteen Rules of Organisation Procedures (ROPs) have also been prepared in areas including use of force; community policing; preliminary investigation of crime; search and seizure; handling of child abuse cases and handling at-risk children; investigation and reporting of traffic accidents; police vehicle operation; court duties; and training.24

There are three main bodies in East Timor that have responsibility for police oversight. First, the internal police Professional Ethics and Deontology Office (PEDU, formerly the Professional Ethics Office, PEO) is charged with investigating allegations of police misconduct or abuse (which are usually made by members of the public). The results of any investigations, together with any recommendations for discipline, are sent to the Minister of Interior, who decides what action should be taken.25 Second is the office of the Inspectorate, comprising representatives from the Ministry of Interior, the police, the office of the human rights advisor to the prime minister, and the prosecutor general’s office. Created in August 2003 in accordance with the Decree Law on the Organic Structure of the Ministry of Interior,26 this body has disciplinary competence over all structures and institutions subordinate to the Ministry of Interior, including the police (although the legislation is not explicit on the mandate of the Inspectorate to deal with police disciplinary matters).27 Third, there is the Office of the Provedor, the only external oversight mechanism, which has far-reaching powers to investigate and report on complaints against government officials and institutions, including the police.28 (Analysis of the PEO/PEDU and the Office of the Provedor is provided in Section V.B of this report.)

The Ministry of Interior retains operational control over the police force, and ultimately all members of the police force, including the police commissioner, are answerable to the minister of interior.29 The police commissioner has the authority to recommend dismissals of members of the police force found guilty of human rights and other violations, but the power to enact the dismissal lies solely with the minister of interior.

[8] Despite significant improvements, East Timor’s HDI is still the lowest among all ASEAN members, and is lower than the average for all least developed countries. See: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “Human Development Report 2005,” (New York: United Nations Development Programme, 2005).

[9]  World Bank, “World Development Report 2006”, 2005.

[10] The equivalent figure for GDP per capita measured using Purchasing Power Parities gives a figure of $732. See: United Nations Development Program, “Timor-Leste Human Development Report 2006, The Path out of Poverty: Integrated Rural Development,” 2006, pp.10-12.

[11] The other treaties to which accession was approved  on December 10, 2002, were the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC); the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR; the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW; the Optional Protocol to the CRC on involvement of children in armed conflict; and the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

[12] United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1599, S/RES/1599, April 28 2005; UNSCR 1543, S/RES/1543, May 14, 2004; UNSCR 1480, S/RES/1480, May 19, 2003; UNSCR 1473, S/RES/1473, April 4, 2003;  UNSCR 1410, S/RES/1410, May 17, 2002; UNSCR 1338, S/RES/1338, January 31, 2001.

[13] “First group of UN-trained East Timorese police officers take up duties,” UNTAET Press Release, Dili, July 12, 2000.

[14] UNTAET Regulation 2001/22, UNTAET, Dili, August 10, 2001.

[15] “Timor-Leste making steady progress towards self-sufficiency, but continued international assistance needed, Security Council Told,” U.N. Press Release SC/8172, August 24, 2004. See also UNOTIL website:

[16] U.N. Security Council Resolution 1599, S/RES/1599, April 28, 2005, p. 2.

[17] Although called a “Law,” it is actually a Decree-Law issued by the executive.

[18] Other departments include General Command, the Criminal Investigation Unit, the Maritime Unit, the department of Traffic and Road Safety, the Community Protection Unit, the Migration office, the PNTL Intelligence Service, the VIP Protection Unit, the Police Academy, and the Reserve Police Unit. See: Organic Law of the National Police of Timor-Leste, Decree Law No. 8/2004, art. 6 (May 5, 2004); and Internal Security Act Law, East Timor (2003), [online], (retrieved April 4, 2006).

[19] While the Border Patrol Unit assumed border management responsibilities on May 20, 2004, its relationship and cooperation with the Indonesian armed forces is still developing. The UPF has not yet gained sufficient experience, confidence and capacity to manage border affairs without the support of the United Nations Military Liaison Group. Moreover, the approximately three hundred-strong unit remains considerably under-resourced and inadequately matched in comparison with the 1,500-strong Indonesian border units. UNOTIL staff members continue to assist the Border Patrol Unit.  See: “Tangible Progress Made Building Timor-Leste’s Democratic Institutions, But Major Challenges Remain, Security Council Told,” U.N. Security Council Press Release SC/8323, New York, February 28, 2005.

[20] Constitutionally there is a clear separation of mandates. A clear and conscious political decision was made to place border control under the exclusive auspices of the police via the UPF, in the interests of ensuring non-threatening relations between Indonesia and East Timor. Nevertheless in the event that Indonesia or any other third party launched an invasion across the border, it is likely that the military would seek to take lead responsibility. Section 147 of the constitution places responsibility for ensuring the internal security of citizens with the PNTL, while under section 146.2, the F-FDTL is charged with guaranteeing “national independence, territorial integrity and the freedom and the security of the population against any aggression or external threat.”

[21] “Government corrects report about ammunition purchases for the National Police,” Media Release, Government of East Timor, Dili, July 7, 2005. A third special department, the Rapid Deployment Service, also known as the Armed Banditry Combat Group, was initially envisaged as a unit to counter the security threat posed by militias, especially from West Timor. It has since been replaced by the Police Reserve Unit, which is authorised to intervene in non-urban areas “in situations of declared violence, where the resolution of such violence demands more than the normal capabilities of police action.” It currently numbers approximately eighty persons.

[22] PNTL Code of Conduct, adopted in March 2003.

[23] Disciplinary Regulation of the National Police of Timor-Leste, Decree-Law No. 13/2004 (June 16, 2004).

[24] United Nations, “Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights in Timor-Leste”, U.N. Document E/CN.4/2005/115, 2005.

[25] Organic Law of the National Police of Timor-Leste, Decree Law No. 8/2004, art. 13 (May 5, 2004).  Since the establishment of the Inspectorate in August 2004, the ministry now conducts inquiries through that office. 

[26] Organic Structure of the Ministry of Interior, Decree Law No. 3/2004, art. 11 (April 14, 2004).

[27] United Nations, “Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights in Timor-Leste”, U.N. Document E/CN.4/2005/115, 2005.

[28] OHCHR, “Asia and Pacific Region: Quarterly Reports of Field Offices,” June 2005.

[29] “Though having their own legal personality, the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL) and the Police Academy are institutions subordinate to the Ministry of Interior.”  See: Organic Structure of the Ministry of Interior, Decree Law No. 3/2004, art. 5 (April 14, 2004).

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