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IV. Police Abuse

Since independence in 2002, police abuse has become one of East Timor’s most worrying human rights problems. Police officers regularly use excessive force during arrests and beat detainees once they are in custody. The police and other state institutions have often failed to respond to incidents of police abuse with appropriate disciplinary measures or criminal proceedings.

In the course of our research the number of accounts of severe ill-treatment, including torture that former detainees and prisoners described to us at the hands of police officers was striking. Several people whom Human Rights Watch interviewed had had to be hospitalized because of the severity of their injuries.30 While this level of severity of abuse may not yet be systematic or systemic in East Timor, the ease with which we found illustrative cases was alarming.

In his February 2005 report to the Security Council on the United Nations mission in East Timor, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that major problems within the East Timor police force remained a cause for concern, and that “reports of police misconduct, including excessive use of force, assaults, negligent use of firearms and various human rights abuses, have increased since May 2004.” He continued that “lack of transparency and a slow-paced investigation mechanism have contributed to a poor level of police accountability.”31 Six months later, he again noted that “although the skills and competencies of the East Timorese police have been considerably enhanced, instances of excessive use of force and human rights violations by police officers, including against members of political opposition groups, continue to be reported.”32

Human Rights Watch interviewed Mario Sarmento, who was badly beaten by police officers in Dili in January 2005 after a fight between some youths on a bridge. The police were using a microphone to instruct residents to remain inside their houses while they searched for the suspects. Mr Sarmento, worried about his son, Justo, went out looking for him. He described what happened:

I called out for my son two times, called his name. Then the police, two cars, came at great speed to where I was standing. Both cars stopped right in front of me. [One car then continued and the other stopped.] They got out of the car straight away. At first two of them came in my direction. I thought they wanted to ask me some questions but they punched me straight away in the chest—one person, without any words. After that I was ready to apologize, and asked what was the matter, and asked them not to hit me. Two more people got out of the car and one of them punched me again in my chest. Then they all took out their sticks. They were wearing full police uniforms. I said “I don’t accept actions like this, I ask you to give me your names.”

After I said that they got more vicious and then they put one of the sticks under my neck. Four men, all of them carried out a beating. I was propped up against the wall. Then because it was so chaotic my wife arrived from the house, heading in my direction to try and stop what was happening. After my wife arrived she asked for their forgiveness and said that her husband had not done anything wrong and not to hit him. The four of them just continued their actions. My wife grabbed my wrist to pull me so that they would not hit me. One of the policemen grabbed the other wrist and was pulling me one way, with my wife pulling me in the other. Then the policeman pulled me strongly so that my wife fell down with my four-year-old child onto the ground.

Then Vincent [another son] arrived to intervene in this incident. He talked to the police politely and asked them not to hit his father. They didn’t listen and hit him, two of them hit him. They kicked him one time in his chest. Their faces were not clear because it was dark. So he fell, finally they took out handcuffs, and wanted to handcuff my son, and started threatening, “This uniform is not scared of anyone!” I went over to my son. I asked them to help not make him a victim. They released him and they faced me again. This all lasted about thirty minutes… Then the streetlights came on. After the light came on they stopped their action.33

Arbitrary Detention

Arbitrary detention is a recurring problem in East Timor. Human Rights Watch interviewed many individuals who described their arrest by the police as illegal. Many were not told by arresting officers what the allegations against them were. East Timor criminal procedure allows for a suspect to be held without charge for up to seventy-two hours, whereupon he or she must either be charged or brought before a judge to have the detention extended. Human Rights Watch found that people were regularly held for more than the seventy-two-hour period without charge or appearance before a judge.

One young man was picked up by police officers after he had shouted coarsely at them. It appears that his detention was as punishment for his words, even though he had committed no recognizable criminal offense. He told Human Rights Watch:

After that they took me to the cell in Baucau. For seventy-two hours I was detained in the cell in Baucau. On the second night, it was Sunday, [officer D, name withheld] called for me. After I was called, another police officer, [officer E, name withheld] hit me in the chest, through the bars of the cell. [Officer D] called for me to come to the front of the cell and put my hands up. [Officer E] then hit my chest. That night I didn’t eat. My chest was hurting. After that on Monday, after seventy-two hours, I was released. There was no hearing or investigation. I was just let go and went straight home. That’s it.34

Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that everyone “has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.” To ensure freedom from arbitrary detention, Article 9 further requires that detention must be examined for its lawfulness by an impartial adjudicator.  East Timor’s constitution also states in Section 30:

2. No one shall be arrested or detained, except under the terms clearly provided for by applicable law, and the order of the arrest or detention should always be presented for consideration by the competent judge within the legal time frame.

3. Every individual who loses his or her freedom shall be immediately informed, in a clear and precise manner, of the reasons for his or her arrest or detention as well as of his or her rights, and allowed to contact a lawyer, directly or through a relative or a trusted person.35

One reason for illegal detention in East Timor is the failure to implement key training on this issue. A senior U.N. police advisor, Nuno Anaia, told Human Rights Watch that some targeted training had been devised to address this issue, and that the result was a demonstrable decrease in the number of illegal detention complaints that they were receiving. Anaia told Human Rights Watch:

This is a good example of how provision of resources and training can have an effect. In the first six months of UNMISET, we received sixty-two complaints about violations of the seventy-two hour rule. We then designed the training for investigators and called in the prosecutors etc. to explain that the seventy-two hours was not for investigations… So, in the last six months only three cases have been reported, and those are mostly because of holidays [causing non-availability of judges] etc.36

However, another key problem with meeting the maximum seventy–two-hour detention rule remains the weakness of East Timor’s criminal justice system, and basic lack of resources. Outside of the capital the courts are seriously understaffed and their workers under-resourced, and limited availability of judges and public defenders means that hearings to rule on detention being continued beyond seventy-two hours do not take place, or take place without the suspect having legal representation. This represents a real operational problem for the police’s compliance with legal provisions for holding and detaining suspects. At a more basic level a lack of resources such as cars, fuel, and car maintenance is contributing to unlawful detention and inadequate investigations simply because, without transportation to meet with victims and witnesses, police may resort to prolonging a suspect’s detention without charge until such time as they can conduct a basic investigation.37

The under-resourcing of the judiciary may affect not only suspects who are held unlawfully beyond the seventy-two hours without charge, but also persons who are properly remanded in pre-trial detention. Some accused can spend six months in pre-trial detention with no judicial oversight, or without an indictment being filed against them.38

Mario’s wife also described the incident to Human Rights Watch, adding: 

I don’t know why they began to hit straight away, I don’t understand those people. They beat a lot that night. That night the back of my husband was all black, he was really sick. He was bruised all over, from that police stick. There were many witnesses. The community was standing in the road. There were so many witnesses.  The police took out their guns, took out their sticks, then the lights came on and they left very quickly.39

Mario Sarmento has repeatedly tried to find out what is happening with a case he has lodged against the police. He told Human Rights Watch:

I have already checked four times at the district court but there is not yet any explanation… I like it if you use my name because we want to improve the PNTL so that they can’t do things like this again. I have given a report to the police, the process is taking a long time. Because the investigation is long I also submitted a complaint to the Professional Standards Unit. I went to the hospital to get my surat keterangan [doctor’s note],for the bruises on my back. I got some letters asking me to be a witness in a different case; I believe this is manipulation to stop the process in my case. The process is still with the prosecutor in Dili district. Last time I went to check he said that my case was still being processed. The police had been summoned, but the first time they did not come. Then the keterangan was in Indonesian so it is still being translated [into Tetum] to go to the court. I have not yet heard if there is a process with the perpetrator; he is still free, not detained. There has been no action from the commander.40

Another man, Cristiano da Costa, thirty-four, told Human Rights Watch about an incident that happened in November 2004 after some policemen accused him of hitting a government minister’s car with his truck and then not stopping, on a road just outside Dili. He told Human Rights Watch that there were two policemen who had followed him to his home in Taibesse, Dili, where they wanted to arrest him. He agreed to go to the police station with them to try and resolve the matter in the presence of his boss, who worked for Perkumpulan HAK, a human rights organization in the capital.  Cristiano told us:

They wanted us to all go in the police car and I said it was better if I took my truck to the station so that we would know better if there was any damage. They said you take your truck, you in front, us behind. My house is on top of the hill. We drove down until we got to the river. Everything was dark, it was about 10 or 11 at night. They flashed their lights and told me to stop there. I thought maybe they wanted to take my truck and I would go in the police car. That is what I thought. They got out of their car, and I was still in my truck. They told me to turn off the engine, and turn off the lights. They ordered me to open the door, saying they wanted me to get out. I opened the door and before I had even got my foot on the ground I was hit. Once on my [left] cheek and two times in my chest. It was one of the policemen, with his hand. Then he said, “If you do anything you will be killed.” Then they put me in the police car, one of the policemen drove my truck to the police station in Caicoli…  I told the commander that I had to go to the hospital. My cheek was injured.41

Perkumpulan HAK has been assisting Cristiano da Costa with his complaint against the police for assault and arbitrary detention. They told Human Rights Watch:

The case has already had a hearing in the court. The result of the investigating judge’s decision is that the two perpetrators would have an unconditional release [i.e. charges dropped]. Until now there has been no action from the PSU [Professional Standards Unit, now called the Professional Ethics and Deontology Unit]. On March 17, 2005, the prosecutor’s case went to the court. At the time of the hearing Cristiano was not present. He was not informed, not allowed to attend. Since that hearing there have not been any further developments in the court, and the perpetrators still continue their duties as police. There are many cases like this. There is an incident, but then there is no process.42

In August 2004, several men who had been involved in a fight with residents of a rival village were arrested and taken into police custody in Maliana police station. One described what happened to him that night in the cell:

At midnight, police from Maliana arrived and called for me in the cell. They said for me to come out to get some medicine. However, as soon as I started to stand up, then they hit me—kicked me on the stomach and punched me on the chest. [The interviewee gives the first names of the first officer to hit him and of two others who hit him when he came out of the cell.] Then they ordered me to go back into the cell. In the morning I was taken to Maliana hospital for treatment.43

One man who witnessed this told Human Rights Watch:

They took him out of the cell and took him right in front of the cell. I witnessed the beating. They used their fists and punched him in the stomach. When they ordered him to leave the cell, it was said it was to take some medicine but after he exited he was ordered to raise his hands and put his back against the wall. Then he was beaten by those two policemen. Maybe for about fifteen minutes. We didn’t call out. We were just quiet.44

Maliana hospital records seen by Human Rights Watch show that the victim was admitted to the hospital in August 2004 with a “cut on the head (above the right ear). Approximately 3cm. Scratches on the left side of the head.”45

Several of the men submitted a complaint to the police regarding excessive use of force at the time of their arrest and ill-treatment during their detention in Maliana police station in August 2004. One of the victims told Human Rights Watch:

The three of us went to Maliana to initiate an investigation against the PNTL in Maliana. We don’t yet know the result. We went again on March 17, 2005, and were told to wait for the result of the investigation. We are not satisfied with the actions of the police. We do not accept it because their violence is as if Indonesians are still here in East Timor.46

In August 2004, a man from Dili was detained with about fifty other members of his martial arts group while on a group visit to the district of Ainaro, about forty kilometers from Dili. The men believe they were targeted merely for membership in the martial arts group.47 They were told they had been arrested on suspicion of burning down a house in a nearby village the night before. Human Rights Watch talked to one of the men about what happened. He recounted:

The police met us in the road and immediately searched us. We had knives—they took all of them. There was a friend of mine who was wearing a PNTL uniform but he is not PNTL. He was ordered to do push-ups by the police and the UIR [Rapid Intervention Unit] for about thirty minutes. After that we walked for about a hundred meters. We passed by the house that had been burnt and they hit us. I was beaten on my back and kicked. We were handcuffed first and then ordered to run to Ainaro town…  about forty-five of us were handcuffed. When we got to Ainaro police station we were ordered to line up and take off our clothes—trousers, everything, just left in our underwear. Then we were ordered to stand on one foot with our arms stretched out to the sides. If we put our foot down we were beaten. We were also tortured with pepper spray sprayed directly into our eyes. I was beaten on the chest. I was hit four times. We arrived there at 3:00 p.m. At 10:00 p.m. we were finally put in the cell… We were detained for three days, then in the morning of the fourth day we were released to return [i.e. to be transferred] to Dili. We went in the cells again in Dili. Forty-five of us were in a cell in Dili for another seventy-two hours.48

Human Rights Watch interviewed several men who were victims and witnesses of excessive police force at an incident in Bobonaro sub-district on August 13, 2004. A meeting to settle a land dispute turned violent after a police officer allegedly hit someone present at the meeting. At least two police officers were attacked and fled the scene. Police backup was then called into the village. One man told Human Rights Watch what happened next:.

The [extra] police to arrive were from Bobonaro. They straight way started arresting and beating people here. The police were kicking my father and beating him with the police stick. They hit him on the left side of his body. There were about seven or eight men. After they beat my father, my older brother arrived and told them that there was no need to beat his father. If they wanted to beat someone they should just beat us. Then the police let go of my father, didn’t beat him anymore, and started beating my brother with a stick and a bulletproof vest. They beat him on his head, until it started bleeding.49

The man’s brother told Human Rights Watch what happened to him:

After they let go of my father they started beating us. First they beat me with a bulletproof vest that they were carrying. The policeman kicked me with his feet, and beat me with his fist and the vest. Hit me on my head until it was bleeding. He kicked me in the chest. There were also other people hitting me from behind. Then the police from Maliana said that they were there to calm the situation not to beat up victims. So, the police from Maliana were able to save us. I think if the Maliana police had not arrived, we would have been half dead.50

Unauthorized Use of Firearms

The most high profile example of excessive use of force and resort to lethal force remains the police response to riots in Dili in December 2002. At that time hundreds of rioters smashed and looted their way through Dili and burnt several buildings to the ground. In several instances the response of panicked and poorly trained East Timorese police officers was to use tear gas and open fire on members of the crowd with live ammunition. This resulted in the death of two young men and the hospitalization of another thirteen people with gunshot wounds. Several victims of the shootings claimed that they were shot and wounded when police drove through the streets and fired directly at suspects.51

The government report into the incident was not published until nearly a year later, in November 2003. It confirmed the number of casualties, but was inconclusive as to the identities of the perpetrators of the shootings. Although an earlier internal police investigation had identified and suspended six UIR members who had discharged their firearms during the riots, they were not held responsible for the fatalities and injuries caused.52 The U.N. account of the episode criticized the “high incidence of contradictory statements” by police, which had hindered resolution of the matter.53 To date, there has been no clarity on the status of any disciplinary action against police officers involved in the riots of December 2002.

Likewise, the fatal police shooting of one man during disturbances in Baucau one month earlier has yet to be satisfactorily resolved, and to date no one has been held accountable for the killing.

Although not yet a widespread problem, Human Rights Watch found other more recent incidents of disproportionate, unnecessary, and illegal use of firearms by police in East Timor.

One twenty-two-year-old man described his experience to Human Rights Watch. On July 12, 2004, he had been involved in an early morning fight with other men in the town of Tilolai. He told Human Rights Watch that the fight had only lasted about twenty minutes and no one had been injured. That afternoon the police arrived at his village:

We were playing football in the field here at about four o’clock in the afternoon. Then the police—not with a patrol car, with a normal car—arrived in a passenger minibus. They got out of the bus and we saw the police. They said, ‘Hey! Stop!’ then they took out their guns. We were scared and so we ran. I don’t know how many policemen there were. I just saw one policeman get out of the bus. As soon as I saw the gun I started running. My friends who had not been involved in the incident did not run. Just the three of us ran. The police straight away shot at us. They shot four times—I didn’t see it because I was running but I heard it. [None of the three were injured.] We have not yet reported to the police about the shooting. I’m scared they will want to arrest us again.54

Another man described an incident that occurred in January 2005. He and his nephew were out picking fruit and vegetables when they came across a PNTL officer who accused them of having stolen cattle. He told Human Rights Watch:

We went up to the hill at about ten o’clock in the morning.  It was January 23, 2005… When we got to the top we met this PNTL man.  They [the PNTL officer and family] were looking for cattle. They said someone had stolen them, and then they met us.  When they came across us he readied his gun. The PNTL, one man, with his family, four of them altogether. He was wearing normal clothes. He was ready to shoot and told us not to do anything… We were carrying one bag and two umbrellas, and two small machetes. The PNTL ordered us to give them to him. He put all the things in his waistband. Took all of it. He also took cigarettes and some tobacco. I had a small amount of tobacco wrapped in some plastic. He took all of it. After that he told us to walk. He forced us to walk. He was holding his gun at the ready, behind us. We were in the middle. His family was in front. After we had walked maybe two hundred meters we saw cattle footprints. Two sets and we had to follow them. The PNTL was behind, always behind…. We were walking for about twenty minutes and it was raining really hard. We saw the prints again and then maybe less than one hundred meters later we found the cattle. The PNTL was maybe half a meter behind me and then he shot his gun. I don’t know where he shot it. I was still looking forward and the PNTL was behind me. He fired his gun one time and said, “If you don’t want to die, then leave.” When he fired his gun the two cows ran off.… We were looking for the cows for maybe three hours. It was already afternoon by the time I went home… He is very wrong using a weapon that belongs to the government.55

The man went to file a complaint with the police but later agreed to meet with the police officer to resolve the matter informally. Had the system been working properly the officer would have been disciplined by his superior officer, who knew about the case but took no action.

Regarding the case above, the chief of the PEO office in Bobonaro told Human Rights Watch that once the perpetrator had made peace with the community then maybe there would also be a disciplinary measure imposed by the PNTL on this officer (he suggested that this might be a two-month suspension, or whatever the commander decided). When asked about the unauthorized use of the firearm, as if to explain, he responded:

Normally pistols are distributed in the morning and in the afternoon they are returned to the stock room. In this case the officer came in the morning, received his gun, then went home for breakfast. He changed his clothes and then heard about the cattle. That’s why he had his gun.56

As with other types of violations the failure to discipline and hold officers involved accountable is undermining efforts to enforce strict adherence to use of firearms policies in the police force.

The U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials state that firearms may only be used in very specific circumstances: “Law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defense or defense of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury [or] to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life.”57

According to the Basic Principles, “Governments shall ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offence under their law.”58 Although the Code of Conduct and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms are not binding international law, they constitute authoritative guidance for interpreting international human rights law regarding policing.

When Human Rights Watch asked the Bobonaro sub-district police commander about this incident, he stated:

The PSU [Professional Standards Unit] is already investigating this. I have already given them all of my reports. The result is still being processed in the PSU. It is still being considered where the truth is. It is not yet resolved… Am I a perpetrator or a victim? This is not a small case, this case has gone all the way up to the minister [of interior]. My members [officers] didn’t eat for a week afterwards [i.e. after the incident] because their faces were so swollen. The community think because it is already a democracy they have the right to do anything at all. They also have to recognize that the police have the rights to defend themselves. If the U.N. Human Rights Unit or HAK come here I don’t receive them. They document differently and always conclude that the police are the perpetrators.59

Human Rights Watch then interviewed the head of the Professional Ethics Office in Bobonaro who was overseeing the case. He told us that the case had already been processed and they were waiting to send the details to Dili. He confirmed that allegations had been made against four PNTL officers from Bobonaro sub-district police station, and one from the Maliana police station.60

Elisio Dominggos da Piedade, of Baucau district, told Human Rights Watch about an experience in late July 2004. He said he was arrested for an incident involving two policemen and another man who had borrowed his motorbike. On the day in question he was at work, with his motorbike outside, when two police officers in a patrol car arrived. He was mistakenly identified as the suspect, handcuffed, and taken to Baucau police station. He told Human Rights Watch:

All the way there I was asking, “Why are you arresting me?” The two men just told me to be quiet. [He identified the two officers, one by name.] As soon as they released the handcuffs, [officer’s name withheld] sprayed pepper spray in my eyes. I was standing and he was nearby, very close to me. He sprayed me once in the eyes. After that they took me to the interrogation room and I was kicked in the chest. It was [name withheld] again. He kicked me here [shows chest] and I fell backwards against the wall. Then he kicked me again. I fell again onto the wall in front of me. I don’t know how long he was kicking me for, maybe for about ten minutes.  He didn’t ask anything at all, he was still annoyed [jengkel] with me. Then I was put in a cell for seventy-two hours. It was completely empty. I didn’t report [the assault] to anyone at the station. My eyes are still sore because of the gas.61

Baucau hospital records show that a doctor’s note was written for Elisio’s case detailing his injuries. It shows that Elisio was given medication for a medical complaint over a period of three days in July 2004 for a trauma to his back caused by a beating.62

The charges against Elisio were dropped but during the criminal proceedings against Elisio at a court in Dili he did submit a complaint about his ill-treatment during his time in police custody. He has subsequently repeatedly sought accountability for the abuse. He told Human Rights Watch what he did after he was released from detention:

I submitted a complaint about [the policeman whom he alleges beat him and sprayed him with pepper spray, name withheld]. It is already being investigated by the police but has not yet finished. At the time of my hearing in Dili I also complained to the court [about the abuse]. I feel sad because it has not been submitted, and the process is still ongoing. About the original incident, no one was ever arrested for it. Just me and it was a mistake. Because I was wrongly arrested I was unconditionally released. After the decision in my case my defense lawyer Pedro asked the prosecutor and the Baucau police to investigate the wrongful arrest and abuse. So, after the letter of request to the police and the prosecutor, they said we have to wait for the process to proceed. Until now it has not been brought to court. I am dependent on the process. If it is investigated then [name withheld] has to be brought to justice. My opinion is that I am ready to go to court.63

Elisio’s father, who works at the district hospital, complained to Human Rights Watch about the lack of movement on his son’s case:

My son was beaten in the prison (cell) but he was not taken to the hospital. I asked them to take him to the hospital, to be given medicine, but they didn’t take him. Until now we are still waiting for the case to be resolved. It has not yet been resolved, we have not yet received any information.64

Another young man, who did not wish to be identified, told Human Rights Watch about what happened to him when he was arrested in his village in Holsa:

On June 25, 2004, I was arrested by the PNTL, and put in a cell for two days and two nights. I was continuously tortured, sprayed with pepper spray, beaten, and drenched with water. They constantly threatened me saying, “If you oppose the police then you will know the consequence.” Three police came into the cell, locked the door, took off their jackets, then hit me. They were all Maliana PNTL. They were the night guards, and were wearing PNTL uniforms. On the first night they beat me at around 1:00 a.m., on the second night they beat me around 3:00 a.m. Both nights were different people, but both times they were beating me. The first time I was in a cell with my friends. The three of them arrived and called for me, “[name withheld], you come with us.” They took me alone to another cell. When we got there they started beating me. For about an hour they were beating me. They hit me with a shoe, and kicked me on my back and on my feet. They were wearing police boots. The light was off. I was shouting for help but no one came. When they finished they took me back to the cell. I couldn’t walk so they lifted me into the cell. Then they went back to their office. I was injured.


On the second night we slept until 3:00 a.m., then they came again. They arrived, called for me again, and took me again to the cell—that torture room. They beat me until I was unconscious. I collapsed and they took me to the hospital... When we got to the hospital the doctor said, “This man is almost dead, you are still doing things like this?” The doctor examined my ribs. Here [points to right side of forehead] my head was cut and bleeding. The doctor continued examining me and said that I had to spend the night in the hospital. The police said, “Let him die, die in the police station.” Then they took me back to the police station and put me back in the cell.65

One thirty-five-year-old man detailed a traumatic encounter he had with a police officer in May 2004 in his village in Batugade, Bobonaro. He told Human Rights Watch:

I saw a man standing in front of my door, he was wearing a black top and it had “police” written on the back of it. I also saw that he was carrying a gun under his left armpit. After I shone my torch he ran in my direction and took hold of my right hand. He said, “Do you know me or not?” I saw he had a gun so I told him I knew him and apologized to him but he straight away hit me once in the chest with his hand. I asked for his forgiveness three times and then he hit me again and took me from my house to my brother’s. When we got to the front of my brother’s house I called for him to come out and my brother asked the policeman not to beat me anymore. He said if there was a problem with us then we could resolve it in a manner which was better. And then the PNTL kicked my brother… My brother was scared and ran away. So I was dragged and hit again in my stomach. It was a severe beating and I fell backwards and my head collided with the asphalt, and then I was dragged again. I was already unconscious. There was lots of blood on my head and I only came to when the PNTL dragged me to stand up again. I was dragged about a hundred meters and I fell. I was unconscious. The policeman held my hands and stamped on my stomach, and then took out a sangkur [type of bayonet/knife] and wanted to stab me. He ordered the community to say if anyone knew me or not, if no one knew me he was going to stab me because I was a militia [militiaman]. My brother ran forward and said, “I know him. He is my brother.” The policeman released me and my family took me to my brother’s house.

The PNTL member left and my brother waited with me until four o’clock in the morning and then went to rent a car from Balibo to take me to the hospital in Balibo. At the hospital the healthcare official gave me some medicine. I then went to Balibo police station [to make a complaint]… The police called the PNTL officer and ordered him to go to the Balibo police station. I heard them do it when I was in the station. My head was spinning but I heard. Because the PNTL [officer] did not arrive, I went home.66

This man is still suffering from trauma brought on by the event. He told Human Rights Watch that he is too scared to go out by himself now, and therefore a member of his family has to accompany him everywhere he goes. It appears that the perpetrator may have been punished for the offense, but the victim has not been given any information on his complaint. He told Human Rights Watch:

The next morning [after the incident], about 8:00 a.m., the commander from Mota’ain visited my house. He promised that the next day he would meet me and we would go to Maliana. After two days I waited, he didn’t arrive, and on the third day he arrived. The police commander together with the perpetrator came to my house to resolve things. At that time I said that I didn’t want to, I am an ordinary citizen, I want the problem to be resolved from above, in the court. As an ordinary citizen I know the legal process. So, I went to the Dili court to give a complaint and also to Yayasan [i.e. Perkumpulan] HAK…. The result? I don’t know. I don’t know where the perpetrator is, I haven’t been told. I came home and until now I only heard that the perpetrator is in prison but I haven’t seen it myself. No one has come here to tell me, not from HAK either.67

In April 2004, Baltazar Fatima Correia, a twenty-two-year-old from Mulia village in Baucau district, was picked up by several drunk police officers, beaten and threatened. He told Human Rights Watch:

The five police were drinking tuak putih [palm wine] with my father and their friend [name withheld] at the police checkpoint. After they finished drinking tuak the five police wanted to return to Baucau. I’ve known them a long time. They arrived at the place where I was sitting on the road. I called out to my younger brother in a coarse way whether or not he also wanted to go to Baucau. But the police thought I was provoking them, they interpreted me wrongly. The car stopped. One PNTL [officer A, name and rank withheld] got out from the car. Four of his friends were still in the car. As soon as he got out of the car he straight away kicked me in my chest. After that I fell to the ground. There were two other PNTL, they got out of the car. [The interviewee names these two, officers B and C, names withheld, and a third officer who punched him once on the back of his neck.68]

After that [officers B and C] handcuffed my hands behind my back and put me in the car and took me to Baucau police station. When we got as far as the river—it’s not far, maybe about a hundred meters—[officer B] said to his friends, “Is there an empty house here or not? If there is we can let him out and torture him here.” There was no response. About 500 meters later at the cemetery [officer A] said, “Turn the car back,” then [officer C] responded, “No, it’s better if we take him to Baucau first.” When he replied he then burned me with his cigarette, under my left wrist [shows scar]. I was at the back on the floor. They were constantly kicking me. They were sitting above. After he burnt me, [officer C] shouted at me, “If you do anything I will shoot you.” 69

One man in the village who witnessed the event told Human Rights Watch what he saw:

We were working here for Easter, about nine or ten o’clock in the morning. I was here, working at the church, and saw the car. I saw [officer A] get out of the car and straight away hit Baltazar… Then he was hit by [officer B] who hit him and grabbed his head and smashed it on the car. At the time I was about twenty meters away. I saw it and ran over. I told [officer B], I said, “Why is that kid being hit. What has he done wrong?” After that they didn’t hit him anymore. They put Baltazar in the car. I saw them going to Baucau but I couldn’t say anything because the PNTL were very emotional… They were wearing uniforms and driving a TATA Sumo car with “police” written on it. There were lots of people around, tens of people.70

Over a year after the original incident, Baltazar Fatima Correia is still trying to get some redress for the treatment he experienced in police custody. He told Human Rights Watch:

I went to the prosecutor’s office and he promised he was ready to take the case to the police, but there has been no result. Only [Perkumpulan] HAK sent a letter to the PSU but it has not yet been investigated. This case is already at the prosecutor level, but has not yet had a hearing [disidang]. It is with the PSU in Dili… I often go to the Baucau police about my case. The police only chase me out [mengusir] and threaten me saying, “Just go back, go back home, don’t come here, if you come here I will shoot you or hit you.” I have already been three times to check my case there. The last time was September 2004. I’m not afraid to go back, the problem is the money to get to Baucau.71

When Human Rights Watch questioned Baucau’s police commander about this case he stated, “About the Mulia case it has already been resolved. There is no evidence that they [police officers] were involved. It went all the way to court and there was no evidence. They were all released. It was a long time ago. All the files are in Dili.”72

Impunity for Rape

The failure to hold anyone accountable for the rape of a teenaged girl, allegedly by nine PNTL officers on May 10, 2004, is another example of the effective impunity that police officers have come to expect in East Timor. In this case, the nine policemen were originally arrested and charged with rape, accused of taking the girl in an official police vehicle to a police training compound in the Tasi Tolu area of Dili, where they sexually assaulted her; there was also a tenth man, a civilian, who was charged in relation to having “procured” the girl for the police officers.73 Following preliminary hearings, six of the suspects were conditionally released pending trial while four (three PNTL and the civilian) were kept in custody.

The preliminary hearings in June 2004 and the trial in April 2005 were monitored by the East Timorese NGO Judicial System Monitoring Programme (JSMP), which reported deep concerns about the unorthodox manner in which the proceedings were conducted and factors which demonstrated, in their view, that  “neither the rights of the accused to proper legal representation, nor the expectations of the victim and the community to have an independent tribunal hold a proper trial in regard to her allegations, have been respected.”74 JSMP noted that during the hearings on the continued detention of the men, a substantial number of PNTL members were present in the courtroom and court compound. They also reported that police officers, under questionable authority, cordoned off the public court building, reportedly harassing and verbally abusing the victim when she left the courtroom.75 One report quoted a judge as saying that “justice was powerless since the government kept intervening in the process.”76 JSMP has also noted that “[t]he investigating judge assigned to the case told JSMP monitors that he could not control their [PNTL and UIR officers present at the court] conduct.”77

When the case came to trial only the three police officers and the civilian in custody were tried, with the outstanding charges against the six police officers conditionally released seemingly ignored. At the trial session of April 13, 2005, both the defense lawyers and the prosecutor claimed to have had no prior involvement in the case and to be ignorant of the evidence. The presiding judge then decided that the defendants should be released due to lack of evidence against them, and the police officers were set free. No further charges against any accused have been pursued, and no one has been held accountable for the rape.

The failure to prosecute this case is just one example of an unwillingness to tackle police abuse, as well as demonstrating that violence against women is often not treated with appropriate seriousness by the formal justice system.78

In its human rights report for 2005, the U.S. Department of State noted that there had also been “no significant developments in the September 2004 case of an off-duty police officer who forcibly entered the home of a twelve-year-old girl who had allegedly been statutorily raped by the officer’s nineteen-year-old brother.” It appears that the Professional Ethics Office had initially opened an investigation, but by the end of 2005 no further action had been taken.79

Legal Standards on Torture and Other Physical Mistreatment

Even if an individual is guilty of a criminal offence, the use of torture and other forms of mistreatment against that individual is wholly prohibited under East Timorese and international law. Few prohibitions in international human rights law are as clear as the ban on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. A large body of international legal authority exists that prohibits any derogation from the prohibition on the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The prohibition, which forms part of customary international law, is to be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,80 and is also entrenched in Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).81  East Timor acceded to the CAT in April 2003 and to the ICCPR in September 2003.

East Timor’s constitution also explicitly prohibits the use of torture, stating that “no one shall be subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”82 The constitution also specifically refers to East Timor’s obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties.83

The Convention against Torture defines torture as intentional acts by public officials that cause severe physical or mental pain or suffering for the purpose of obtaining information or a confession, or for punishment, intimidation, or discrimination.84 In cases where beatings and humiliation of detainees and prisoners by police do not rise to the level of torture, they may nevertheless constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Cruel and inhuman treatment includes suffering that lacks one of the elements of torture or that does not reach the intensity of torture. Particularly harsh conditions of detention, including deprivation of food, water, and medical treatment, may also constitute inhuman treatment. Degrading treatment includes treatment that involves the humiliation of the victim or that is disproportionate to the circumstances of the case.85

In addition to binding treaties on torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, the United Nations has developed detailed principles, minimum rules, and declarations on the actions and use of force by police. The U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials limits the use of force by police to situations in which it is “strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.”86 Similarly, the U.N.’s Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials states that law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms.87 When the use of force is unavoidable, law enforcement officials must, among other things, “(a) exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved;… [and] (b) minimize damage and injury.”88

[30] Human Rights Watch does not rule out the possibility that some of the torture is for the purpose of extracting confessions, but our research showed an overwhelming number of cases where violence was inflicted on detainees for what appeared to be punitive reasons, or officers’ demonstrating authority or power over individuals. 

[31] United Nations, “Progress Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor,” U.N. Document S/2005/99, February 18, 2005.

[32] United Nations, “Progress Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Office in Timor-Leste,” U.N. Document S/2005/533, August 18, 2005.

[33] Human Rights Watch interview with Mario Sarmento, forty-six-year-old victim, Aldeia Loron Matan, Sucu Rainakadoko, Dom Aleixo sub-district, Dili, May 23, 2005.

[34] Human Rights Watch interview with Baltazar Fatima Correia, twenty-two-year-old victim, Desa Mulia, Aldeia Sialimu, Baucau, May 17, 2005.

[35] Constitution of the Democratic Republic of East Timor, 2002, sections 30.2 and 30.3.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview with Nuno Anaia, U.N. technical advisor to the PNTL Commissioner, Dili, May 31, 2005.

[37] One NGO monitoring police abuse in East Timor reported that of the four district police stations they visited in Lospalos, Baucau, Manatuto and Viqueque none had more than two cars for the whole station. Human Rights Watch e-mail correspondence with Forum Tau Matan, March 14, 2006.

[38] For more information on this see: JSMP, “JSMP concerned about illegal detentions in East Timor,” January 16, 2003; OHCHR, Asian and Pacific Region Quarterly Reports of Field Offices,” March 2004, p. 24; and, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, “East Timor: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2004”, February 28, 2005.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview with wife of Mario Sarmento, Aldeia Loron Matan, Suco Rainakadoko, Dom Aleixo sub-district, Dili, May 23, 2005.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with Mario Sarmento, Aldeia Loron Matan, Sucu Rainakadoko, Dom Aleixo sub-district, Dili, May 23, 2005.

[41] Human Rights Watch interview with Cristiano da Costa, thirty-four-year-old victim, Dili, May 23, 2005.

[42] Human Rights Watch interview with Perkumpulan HAK staff, Dili, May 23, 2005.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with thirty-two-year-old victim (name withheld), Bobonaro sub-district, May 25, 2005.

[44] Human Rights Watch interview with twenty-nine-year-old witness (name withheld), Bobonaro sub-district, May 25, 2005.

[45] Maliana Hospital Admissions Record for August 2004, viewed by Human Rights Watch in Maliana Hospital, East Timor, May 26, 2005. The hospital records did not show a specific date in August 2004.

[46] Human Rights Watch interview with thirty-two-year-old victim (name withheld), Bobonaro sub-district, May 25, 2005.

[47] There are several large martial arts groups in East Timor. The groups consist mainly of young unemployed males who have also been known to fight one another in gang-style clashes. The government of East Timor sees them as a security concern and has increasingly sought to regulate them.

[48] Human Rights Watch interview with forty-two-year-old victim (name withheld), Caicoli, Dili, May 28, 2005.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview with twenty-nine-year-old witness (name withheld), Bobonaro sub-district, May 25, 2004.

[50] Human Rights Watch interview with thirty-two-year-old victim (name withheld), Bobonaro sub-district, May 25, 2004.

[51] Mark Baker, “East Timor At Flashpoint As Disillusionment Sets In,” Sydney Morning Herald, December 24, 2002.

[52] UNMISET, “Transcript of News Conference with SRSG Kamalesh Sharma and UNPOL Commissioner Sandi Peisley,” Dili, November 18, 2003.

[53] Jill Jolliffe, “UN Failed to Act Effectively in Dili Riots, Inquiry Finds,” The Age, November 19, 2003.

[54] Human Rights Watch interview with twenty-two-year-old man (name withheld), Baucau district, May 17, 2005.

[55] Human Rights Watch interview with forty-year-old victim (name withheld), Aldeia Tas, Bobonaro district, May 26, 2005.

[56] Human Rights Watch interview with Simao Lopes, PEO chief, Maliana, Bobonaro district, May 26, 2005.

[57] U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, General Provision 4.

[58] Ibid., General Provision 7.

[59] Human Rights Watch interview with Commander Atanasio Barreto, Bobonaro sub-district police station, May 25, 2005.

[60] The latter officer subsequently died of causes unrelated to the incident. Human Rights Watch interview with Simao Lopes, PEO chief, Maliana, Bobonaro district, May 26, 2005. 

[61] Human Rights Watch interview with Elisio Dominggos da Piedade, Aldeia Trilolo, Baucau, May 17, 2005.

[62] Surat Keterangan Sakit [Doctor’s Note],Baucau Hospital Records, Baucau, viewed by Human Rights Watch on May 18, 2005. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch. 

[63] Human Rights Watch interview with Elisio Dominggos da Piedade, Aldeia Trilolo, Baucau, May 17, 2005.

[64] Human Rights Watch interview with Augustino Ximenes Cosme, Baucau hospital, Baucau, May 18, 2005.

[65] Human Rights Watch interview with twenty-three-year-old victim (name withheld), Suco Holsa, Aldeia Belico, Bobonaro district, May 24, 2005.

[66] Human Rights Watch interview with thirty-five-year-old victim (name withheld), Aldeia Lotan, Suco Batugade, East Timor, May 26, 2005.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Names on file with Human Rights Watch.

[69] Human Rights Watch interview with Baltazar Fatima Correia, twenty-two-year-old victim, Desa Mulia, Aldeia Sialimu, Baucau, May 17, 2005.

[70] Human Rights Watch interview with twenty-eight-year-old witness (name withheld), Desa Mulia, Aldeia Sialimu, Baucau, May 17, 2005.

[71] Human Rights Watch interview with Baltazar Fatima Correia, Desa Mulia, Aldeia Sialimu, Baucau, May 17, 2005.

[72] Human Rights Watch interview with Pedro Belo, Baucau district police commander, Baucau district, May 18, 2005.

[73] “National Police Accused of Raping Girl,” Timor Post, June 2, 2004.

[74] “Dili District Court Acquits three PNTL Officers in Rape Case,” JSMP Press Release, April 14, 2005.

[75] “Dili District Court Releases Detention Decision in Rape Case Against PNTL Officers,” JSMP Press Release, Dili, June 3, 2004.

[76] “Women’s Network Protest Against Police Officers,” Timor Post, June 3, 2004.

[77] “Dili District Court Releases Detention Decision in Rape Case Against PNTL Officers,” JSMP Press Release, Dili, June 3, 2004.

[78] For more on the issue of judicial responses to violence against women in East Timor see JSMP reports: “The law of gender based violence in Timor-Leste: April – November, 2005,” February 2006; “Analysis of Decisions in Cases involving women and children victims: June 2004 – March 2005,” April 2005; and “Police Treatment of Women in Timor-Leste,” January 2005.

[79] Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, ”East Timor: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005”, March 8, 2006.

[80] The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, A/RES/217, article 5 (December 10, 1948) states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

[81] For the scope of the prohibition under ICCPR Article 7 (Prohibition of torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) see Human Rights Committee General comment No. 20 (1992).

[82] Constitution of the Democratic Republic of East Timor, 2002, sec. 30.4

[83] Ibid, sec. 23: “Fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution shall not exclude any other rights provided for by the law and shall be interpreted in accordance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights”; and, sec. 9.2: “Rules provided for in international conventions… [such as the Convention Against Torture] shall apply in the internal legal system of Timor-Leste following their approval, ratification or accession by the respective competent organs and after publication in the official gazette.”

[84] Under Article 1, torture is: any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

[85] See the jurisprudence of the Human Rights Committee on Articles 7 and 10 of the ICCPR e.g. de Buton v. Uruguay, No. 37/1978, CCPR/C/12/D/37/1978 of March 27, 1981; Estrella v. Uruguay, No. 74/1980, CCPR/C/18/D/74/1980 of March 23, 1983; and Marais v. Madagascar, No. 49/1979, CCPR/C/18/D/49/1979 of March 24, 1983. For general commentary on the prohibition in Article 7 of the ICCPR, see Manfred Nowak, U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, CCPR Commentary (Khel: N.P. Engel, 1993), p. 131.

[86] U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, General Assembly Resolution 34/169 of December 17, 1979, article 3.

[87] U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, General Provision 4.

[88] Ibid.,

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