<<previous  |  index  |  next>>

V. Reforms, Institutions and Practices Needed to Create Police Accountability in East Timor

The police are not brave enough to investigate cases where there are police involved. Cases where there are beatings of civilians are not investigated. Sometimes police who have beaten or threatened people are not investigated, so they do not want to open an internal investigation.
—Tiago Amaral Sarmento, head of the nongovernmental Judicial System Monitoring Programme in East Timor89

It is clear that police abuse is a serious and pressing problem, yet initiatives to address it have been inadequate. Existing oversight mechanisms are weak and need further support and strengthening, and new institutions and practices are needed to effectively eradicate this problem.

In March 2005 the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) identified many of the problems when it stated in its report to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights that:

Accountability mechanisms remain unclear and inadequate. The result is an emerging pattern of impunity for PNTL abuses. The Professional Ethics Office (PEO) of PNTL is increasingly unable to investigate cases of misconduct due to lack of resources for field work and at times political interference. For unclear reasons, some cases are dealt with by PEO, while others, sometimes cases with particular sensitivity, are investigated by the Ministry of Interior. A number of allegations of criminal acts are addressed through the administrative process only and are not subject to any criminal processes. Delays are reported in investigations and decisions on disciplinary action. Disciplinary actions are not always in proportion to misconduct.90

Two studies published in 2004 show mixed public views of the police. One survey commissioned by the Asia Foundation in East Timor encouragingly found that “of the only 11 percent of respondents who had brought disputes to the police, most did so because they considered their dispute to be a serious matter and they believed that they would be treated fairly by the police.” However, these perceptions are not likely to remain static. The survey also found that “many feel the laws are not actually enforced, particularly those laws enacted to protect anyone arrested and accused of a crime. Less than half the public (49 percent) believe the law requiring court approval to detain a suspect for more than three days is respected, and only four in ten think the law genuinely protects the accused from police brutality or allows them access to a public defender.” Most telling is one of the survey’s conclusions that “confidence levels in East Timor’s new and inexperienced police force are likely to drop dramatically unless they are effectively trained and professionalized.”91

The second study, undertaken jointly by the Dili Institute of Technology and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), found that the public’s respect for the work of the police was still quite high at 69.6 percent overall, but much less in the districts of Baucau, Bobonaro and Viqueque.92 In Bobonaro the figure was only 32 percent, perhaps reflecting negative attitudes towards the police in a district with a high number of reported cases of police brutality.

Although neither study can be used as conclusive indications of public perceptions of the police, the results do show already mixed feelings toward East Timor’s new police force. One conclusion that could be drawn is a general public reluctance to criticize the PNTL as a force. However, more specific questions on detention and abuse resulted in quite negative responses indicating that when people have come into direct contact with the police their experiences have been less positive. Another caveat is that although community confidence is generally a good indicator of the level of police abuse, the results may just reflect an attitude that the PNTL is far less abusive than the Indonesian police force—a pretty low threshold for professionalism. However, the surveys are useful in highlighting what communities believe are positive elements within the police force. The challenge for the East Timor government will be to build and support those positive elements, whilst also addressing the problem areas.

A. Addressing Impunity

Police abuse can become a serious problem when police officers and their superiors enjoy impunity for their actions. One of the most common reasons that police abuse can become commonplace within a police force is the effective impunity enjoyed by police officers and their superiors who participate in, order, or ignore it. In East Timor effective institutional mechanisms for accountability are essential if impunity is to be tackled. More robust and effective enforcement of existing legislation and stronger media vigilance and independent monitoring of the problem will also be key. 

The early indications are that East Timor risks allowing impunity to become a grave and systematic problem if it does not respond appropriately. In spite of the kinds of abuses documented in this report, thus far meaningful sanctions for police officers involved in serious human rights violations have been rare. According to the OHCHR, in March 2005 the East Timor police commissioner reported that ten police officers had been dismissed from the service.93 However, it was unclear whether the dismissals were linked to human rights violations or mere criminal activity. An international advisor to the minister of interior told Human Rights Watch that for the period from January to March 2005, fifty-five cases had been reported through the PEO.94

The U.S. Department of State, in its annual human rights report on East Timor noted, for example, that for 2005 “[s]ome officers were punished for relatively minor misconduct, and in several cases police officers were convicted and sentenced for assaults committed while on duty; however, by year’s end, no action had been taken in a number of cases involving serious misconduct. There were allegations that personal connections within the police force or the Ministry of Interior were a factor in some cases.”95

The failure to properly investigate police misconduct undermines the police force’s credibility in holding its members accountable. This is as true for high profile incidents as for day-to-day violations. For example, in July 2004 a group of approximately one hundred persons, including many Falintil veteran resistance fighters, staged a protest outside the main government building in Dili. On July 20, the second day of their protest, police officers, together with members of the elite Rapid Intervention Force, used tear gas to disperse the crowd, and subsequently arrested over thirty people. Although many of those held were detained for more than thirty hours, the exact grounds under which they were held were never clarified. Television footage showed at least one police officer beating a protester, and there were several other reports that several detainees were beaten in police custody. Ironically, many of the demonstrators’ banners, trampled under foot by the security services, had proclaimed messages calling for greater democratization and reform of the police force.

This incident received much attention at the time from the government, the United Nations in East Timor, and the media. However, once again there has not yet been a satisfactory outcome either in respect of disciplinary measures against the police officers responsible for excessive use of force, or in respect of the arbitrary detention of over thirty protestors. In his February 2005 progress report on UNMISET, the U.N. secretary-general noted the negative consequences delays in accountability could produce, commenting: “…the report of the special investigation into the incident of 20 July 2004, in which the police used excessive force to disperse a largely peaceful demonstration, has not yet been completed. These delays are perceived by the community as voluntary inaction and hence undermine the general trust in the professionalism of the police.”96

Yet at least part of this problem is a legacy of the U.N.’s failure to prioritize police disciplinary measures. Few strategies were implemented at an early stage in the U.N. transitional administration to stop inappropriate police behaviors before they became too entrenched. (Deficiencies in the UNPOL training regime are explored in detail in section V.D of this report.)

Human Rights Watch spoke with Police Commissioner Paulo Martins, who conceded that there was a problem and that this had implications for creating a culture of impunity. He was clear in his understanding that proper punishment for violators would be an effective deterrent:

We are trying to improve this which is not very good within the police. We already have a police disciplinary regulation and have taken strong measures against those who commit abuse or violence against the people… I don’t think it is because of training but an increase in understanding from the commanders and the communities that the police have to respect human rights. And also because the police officers realize that sanctions are heavy… if they commit an abuse.97

The tardiness of an appropriate response to the police violence at the July 2004 demonstration shows that there is some way to go before the commissioner’s words about internal disciplinary processes translate into concrete measures. 

There have, however, been encouraging signs that some things can be done right. For example, in April 2005 several thousand people joined anti-government demonstrations in Dili. They were protesting a proposal by East Timor’s Council of Ministers to designate religious education as an optional subject in some primary schools. Police were deployed to patrol these demonstrations, which they did in a manner widely regarded as professional and restrained. This display of professionalism has improved the public image of the police force, and significantly also appears to have given a confidence boost to the police force itself, which saw the positive outcome from implementing the standards provided by appropriate training. Looking to the future, attitudinal change within the police force is going to have to be a priority and will need a long-term strategy to have impact. Combined with training there needs to be a strong system of discipline, effective leadership and support by the management of PNTL over time, together with positive reinforcement for appropriate police behavior, for that attitudinal change to take place. 

B. The Development of Oversight Institutions

Professional Ethics and Deontology Unit

The first port of call for investigating police violations is usually the PNTL’s internal oversight body, the Professional Ethics and Deontology Unit (PEDU, formerly known as the Professional Ethics Office, PEO, and before that the Professional Standards Unit, PSU).98 Staffed by serving police officers and working under the general commander of the PNTL, the unit is charged with investigating allegations of police misconduct or abuse. Such allegations are usually made by members of the public, although, according to the police Organic Decree-Law, the Ministry of Interior can also order the PEDU to conduct inquiries, especially in sensitive cases. The results of any investigations, together with any recommendations for discipline, are sent to the minister, who then decides what action should be taken.99

Unfortunately, the PEDU lacks institutional authority over the various branches of the police. One then-PEO officer in Dili told Human Rights Watch that although in theory PEO officers could investigate police officers of superior rank to themselves, in practice it was the district commanders who ultimately decided which cases would be investigated in the district, which ones would be sent to Dili, and which ones would be set aside.100 Another problem is the lack of understanding by police of the rights and interests of those filing complaints. It seems little thought or consideration has been given to the rights of the victims in this process, with the PNTL disciplinary regulation not even envisaging that complaints could come from outside the force.

The PEO/PEDU has also been weak and very slow to take action, if at all. In cases where complaints have been taken up by the PEO/PEDU, punishments for police officers have often just been temporary suspensions, transfers, or, in some cases, transfers followed by promotions. There is no automatic suspension for police officers under investigation for alleged offenses.

As one example, Simao Lopes, the chief of the then-PEO office for Bobonaro district, told Human Rights Watch about an incident earlier in 2005 when a uniformed police officer in his district had fired his gun in the air at the market in Maliana. Lopes recommended that the officer be discharged from the police force, but instead he was only transferred to Dili.101

At a more basic level the PEO/PEDU continues to be restricted by a lack of human and financial resources. In some cases PEO/PEDU staff do not have access to transport to conduct investigations, or to return to complainants to update them on the status of their case.102 As Carlos Moniz Maia, the deputy head of the then-PEO national office commented:

We have several problems. First of all are the limitations in personnel and transport. The statistics of cases involving the PNTL every year is increasing. Cases from 2001 to 2003 have already finished being investigated, but there are still about 50 percent of cases from 2004 which have not yet been resolved because of restrictions of transport and staff. Likewise for 2005 we’ve finished about twenty cases and still have about seventy left.103

One U.N. police officer in Bobonaro district had a poor opinion of the then-PEO in Maliana, pointing out to Human Rights Watch that the previous experience of its chief, as a patrol officer within the occupation-era Indonesian police force, did not provide him with the skills necessary to lead investigations or manage staff. In his opinion, a change of personnel in the office would improve the office’s strength.104

When he was interviewed by Human Rights Watch the chief of the PEO office in Maliana conceded that he lacked essential experience, but he was keen to stress his willingness to receive more training in the area of internal investigations. He told Human Rights Watch:

Before I was with the PEO I was a community police officer. I received just two days’ training from the PNTL. We would be happy to participate in more training. I ask you to recommend for us to have more training about the role of the PEO so that we can understand it in more depth. We want to work but we do not get strong enough support.105

It appears that lack of faith in and/or fear of the new police force is already preventing people going directly to the police to register complaints. One young man who was severely ill-treated in police detention told Human Rights Watch that he was too scared to seek accountability for the abuse he suffered at the hands of three police officers in Maliana police station. He said, “I have not yet submitted a complaint because they threatened me. I do not want to go back to Maliana police station. I don’t want to be summoned again by the PNTL.”106 A U.N. police advisor told Human Rights Watch that he heard a district police commander threatening a man who had come to complain about the police treatment of some people involved in martial groups in the district. The U.N. officer heard the commander tell the man that they wanted to solve the matter through traditional dispute mechanisms. When the man protested the commander issued a stark warning, stating, “Go to the U.N. human rights unit then and see what they will do. The U.N. will leave soon and then it will just be us.” The U.N. advisor told Human Rights Watch that in his opinion it was clearly a threat.107

Tiago Amaral Sarmento from JSMP told Human Rights Watch, “If there are violations the communities don’t know who they can report it to. They are scared and just stay quiet. The police are a strong institution. The communities don’t yet know or understand that they can report to someone.”108 Where such knowledge exists, the lack of resources and experience resulting in delays and incompetence of the PEO/PEDU in dealing with complaints has led to frustration amongst affected communities about lack of transparency and efficiency in dealing with their cases. This has only further increased the distrust people have in the impartiality of the office.

The Office of the Provedor

The East Timor constitution provides for a special office to scrutinize human rights practices throughout the territory. A law to establish such a position, the office of the Provedor de Direitos Humanos e Justicia, was promulgated in May 2004, although as parliament initially found it hard to agree on a candidate, the position of provedor was not filled until Sebastiao Dias Ximenes was inaugurated in the post June 16, 2005. The Office of the Provedor has far-reaching powers to investigate and report on complaints against government officials and institutions, including the police. Issues within the purview of the office include abuse of power, maladministration, lack of due process, nepotism, collusion and corruption.109

In his August 2005 report to the United Nations Security Council on the U.N. Office in Timor-Leste, the U.N. secretary-general noted that the Provedor’s Office “provides an important legal instrument to address inter alia, the continued reports of human rights violations by the East Timorese police, including excessive use of force, ill-treatment and arbitrary arrest and detention.”110  In a previous report he had expressed concern at the delay in electing the provedor, “especially in light of the recent increase in reported cases of abuse of police power, including assaults and threats, which are not being adequately addressed by internal disciplinary processes and are rarely taken up by the Public Prosecutor for institution of criminal proceedings.”111

In June 2005 Human Rights Watch met with Sebastiao Dias Ximenes shortly before his inauguration as provedor. Already aware of the limitations of his new office, he discussed his main concerns and what he saw as the priority challenges of his new role:

The Provedor has limits. I can give recommendations but not follow up. It’s a problem. I don’t have the power to make decisions, just recommendations. We also have limited human resources. We need training and maybe comparative studies so that we can increase our experience and knowledge. The budget for the Provedor is small. We are an independent institution but receive our budget from the government. Our program cannot go forward if we don’t have facilities or a budget. But what is most important is the people and all the communities. If they don’t work with the Provedor, this office cannot be a success without their support.112

By the end of 2005, the Office of the Provedor had still not been fully established or staffed.

As a relatively new body, it is hard to accurately gauge the effectiveness of the Provedor’s Office. It is to be hoped that the office will contribute to an increased culture of respect for human rights and accountability. Its strengths are that it can undertake investigations on its own initiative, without waiting for a complaint, and has the power to order a person to appear for questioning.

However, there are concerns about the capacity of this new institution to comprehensively or effectively carry out the role of a police oversight body, considering the many other functions it has also been tasked with. Another major weakness of the office is that it does not have the power to make enforceable decisions—any of the provedor’s recommendations can be ignored. The office can also only make recommendations to the relevant bodies such as the police, offer to act as a mediator between the complainant(s) and representatives of the public body involved, or refer a grievance to a competent jurisdiction or other recourse mechanism.

(For comment on the need to formalize coordination and cooperation between the various institutions entrusted with acting as oversight mechanisms, see below.)

C. Legal Gaps

The process leading to the establishment of the PNTL led to the existence of a range of different and sometimes competing rules, procedures and practices which govern the PNTL. The promulgation of the Organic Decree-Law in May 2004 went some way towards clarifying the legal framework for the police, but there remains little knowledge and understanding by the police about definition of crimes under the Criminal Code, or police powers under the Criminal Procedures Code and the Rules of Organization Procedures.113 There is also little training on these areas made available to the police force.

At quite a basic level, the June 2004 disciplinary regulation is only available in Portuguese, a language not understood by most PNTL personnel; as a result, the authorities continue to use the previous U.N. Code of Conduct. Even if the disciplinary regulation were available in Indonesian or Tetum, languages understood by most police officers, it has been criticized by police experts for being incoherent. Ray Murray, advisor to the minister of interior, told Human Rights Watch that the disciplinary regulation “has a formula to determine discipline that is virtually unusable and cannot be understood by the vast majority of the PNTL including trainers and advisers.” 114

Equally important is for the PNTL to finalize its Rules of Organization Procedures (ROPs). While many ROPs have been finalized (see above), more need to be finished, including ROPs on the treatment of vulnerable persons, including persons with mental illness and victims of gender-based violence.115 

While there have been some developments at addressing the legal vacuum, including a new policy introduced in 2003 restricting the use of force, and the 2004 regulation providing a new disciplinary code for police, there now seems to be an urgent need to formalize coordination and cooperation between the various institutions entrusted with acting as oversight mechanisms for the fledgling police force. Legislation or regulations need to be adopted to clarify the various responsibilities of the PEDU, the Inspectorate and the Office of the Provedor. There is substantial overlap between the different agencies, which is not necessarily a problem but leads to a certain amount of confusion among the public about how to report incidents or hold the PNTL accountable.

The U.N.’s senior police advisor, Saif Ullah Malik, told Human Rights Watch in May 2005 about a working group established to harmonize all the different institutions including the then-PEO, Provedor and Ministry of Interior, and that this group would also include participation from the PNTL, the Inspectorate and the U.N. Human Rights Unit.116 However, at the time of writing it was understood that this group had not met since March 2005.

D. The Need for More and Better Training

Although not a solution on its own, police training is an important tool for addressing human rights violations by the police. Reports of human rights violations and inappropriate behavior by officers, combined with the lingering legacy of Indonesian policing techniques, mean that continued strengthening of the human rights dimension of training for experienced officers, trainees, and police academy graduates is essential.

Unfortunately, during both UNTAET and UNMISET the fledgling police force received largely inadequate and sometimes contradictory training from UNPOL and CivPol personnel. The first batch of new cadets received three months of basic training at the rehabilitated Police Academy in Dili followed by six months of on-the-job training in the field. Former POLRI officers (members of the Indonesian police force responsible for security in the territory before the vote for independence in 1999, who comprised 350 of the first 1,700 East Timorese police academy graduates) simply underwent a four-week “Intensive Transitional Training Course.”117

Standard training for new recruits is now a four-month training course at the Police Training Academy in Comoro, Dili, followed by nine months of field training. In these courses, there is some training in specialized areas of investigations, intelligence gathering, and community policing. The curriculum at the academy has also been recently re-written by an Australian/U.K. police training team (see also below), with human rights material incorporated throughout the course. After graduation a further six months of formal field training is undertaken for probationary officers, who do not become full PNTL officers until after successful completion of this additional training.118

The U.N. Secretary-General noted in February 2005 that U.N. civilian police advisors were providing training to the East Timor police through a skills development plan which was based on the results of a national survey of police officers to identify gaps in capacity, but that “of the approximately 1,700 police officers who completed the first phase of the plan in December [2004], only half were able to achieve the desired level of competence.”119

There is still a huge lack of management and mentoring capacity in the police force, and a need for a great deal more specialized skills training, including in the area of internal investigations of police misconduct.

There is also little awareness of the appropriate treatment of women, children, or other vulnerable groups, or mainstreaming ideas such as the method of investigation into gender-based crimes. One child protection officer with UNICEF in East Timor told Human Rights Watch:

There is a notion that if children are victims there is an awareness of special treatment from the VPU [Vulnerable Persons Unit] and rights, etc. But, if they are offenders, those rights are not always recognized… It is not entirely clear within the police who is doing what. Not all children will be dealt with by the VPU, just normal investigators... We are trying to encourage children to be aware that if they have a problem they can go to the police, but you run the risk that you are not exposing children to greater risks by going to the police.120

Police in East Timor rely heavily on confessions as their sole means of “solving” crimes. This inherently creates an incentive to resort to excessive use of force to extract a purported “confession” from a suspect, and undoubtedly contributes to the current climate where beating of suspects is routine. More intensive training in basic investigation and forensic techniques, including the use of other sources of information and evidence, not only offers the police an alternate and better way to do their job, but would help reduce abuse of power. To reinforce this message it is essential that the judiciary rigorously and consistently refuse to allow evidence where there are credible allegations that it was obtained through illegal use of force by the police. 

When Human Rights Watch met with the head of Dili’s Police Training Academy he was emphatic about the volume of human rights materials included in the basic training package taught at the academy, and the good cooperation the Academy had with the U.N. Human Rights Unit, UNDP and UNICEF, all of whom had provided materials for the training courses. However, he was also quite frank in admitting how much further they had to go. He told Human Rights Watch:

There is a Code of Conduct for the PNTL. It has already been socialized [disseminated] to all the Commanders but not yet fully to all members of the PNTL.121 Because of that we are less sure that the Code will hold [be put into practice]. There is not yet a course about it. We need a course for the PEO [now PEDU] so that they can carry out their duties well... However we are still new. The education that they receive here is still a little.122

E. Problematic Past Training Approaches

The majority of U.N. training during UNMISET was conducted by UNMISET police advisors at the district and sub-district level, the focus being on the training of trainers in the field. A problem affecting this approach is one that is common to most U.N. police missions around the world: The U.N. civilian police staffing the mission were from a wide range of countries, each with varying adherence to international standards on policing. Their experience and consequently their teaching was therefore not standardized, so PNTL officers were exposed to different approaches to policing and not all were consistent with what was being taught at the Academy, or with international standards. There had been a recommendation from the Ministry of Interior that before this program started the UNPOL officers should be given a “training of trainers” course, so that the training delivery could be uniform across the country.123 As most of the UNPOL were police officers and not trainers, this would have improved some of the training delivery, but this recommendation was not followed. 

A UNOTIL staff member was extremely critical of the support which UNPOL had previously provided:

I don’t think UNPOL knew what they had to do when they were in charge. What we have now is the result of a lack of training. It would have been better to have one police force from one country, rather than a mix without any common members to work.124

Further problems with the UNPOL training of East Timorese police recruits and officers included communication difficulties caused by language problems that restricted the ability for training sessions to be participatory and inclusive, rather than taught lecture-style. It also limited interaction between U.N. and East Timor police, and implementation of training scenarios.

Quite crucially the six-month rotations for U.N. police personnel also hindered the effective development or long-term implementation of policies. For peacekeeping this approach may be appropriate, but for institutional development it had negative consequences. 

There is a sense that the U.N. was in crisis management with no coherent strategic development plan for the PNTL. Their key goal was to set up and handover to an East Timor police force, with no coherent plan for establishing oversight mechanisms and enforcement of disciplinary measures against police officers. A senior diplomat in East Timor commented: “The biggest criticism of UNPOL is that they’ve been here for four or five years, so you would expect four or five years of training. But they just ticked a box.”125

This diplomat identified the further problem that “the government never refuses aid, so there is a problem in trying to coordinate all the training,” and that combined with the tick-the-box approach of UNPOL meant that “their counterparts don’t have a clue.”

There are two other main reasons why current training has taken such a long time to halt police abuses. The first is that current training has failed to address the overall institutional culture of policing methods. The second is that there are few penalties if the officers do not implement what they learn in training and few incentives to follow it. In other words, for training to be meaningful, there must be consequences for failing to abide by it. Vice Minister of Interior Alcino Barris told Human Rights Watch that amongst the police force “there is still very little real understanding of what human rights are.”126 While it is important to teach human rights, it is equally important to train officers about their responsibilities to act professionally, something that the minister also acknowledged. Ray Murray, the international advisor to the Ministry of Interior, told Human Rights Watch, “You should not only teach on what should be done, but also on why it should be done.”127

F. Current Initiatives

Recognizing the urgent and ongoing need of the PNTL for further training and assistance, a large part of UNOTIL’s mandate is in the area of continued support and development of the East Timorese police. In establishing UNOTIL in May 2005, the Security Council authorized the deployment of up to forty police training advisors, primarily targeted at the specialist police units such as the Border Patrol Unit and the Rapid Intervention Unit. Assistance has also been given to the Professional Ethics Office. Human rights training and courses have already been provided by these advisers.128 The UNOTIL Human Rights Unit has also been working in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior to provide human rights and use of force training to the national police, most recently through a ”training of trainers” course and the launching of a training manual on human rights for the police in mid-2005.

International funding also plays a critical role in East Timor in all areas, not least the development of the police service. There is a wide range of bilateral international assistance to the PNTL, including training programs as well as equipment and infrastructure support. Amongst the international support, Canada and Japan have both provided small grants and provided equipment. Indonesia has been hosting a series of exchange programs for PNTL officers to visit and acquire in-house training with the Indonesian police force. At various stages Malaysia and Portugal have also extended training to various units of the PNTL. The United States is funding specialized training courses for supervisors and investigators.

One of the problems with this approach is that, as with the U.N. under UMISET (see above), the training is inconsistent in standards, with different countries’ domestic procedures being taught. Recognizing this problem, the U.K. and Australia have embarked on a joint development program for the PNTL focusing on mainstreaming international policing standards across the board over the long-term. When UNPOL leaves (currently scheduled for May 2006), the U.K./Australian initiative will fill the vacuum on advice and training created by UNPOL’s departure.

Part of the joint U.K.-Australian plan is to integrate standard operating procedures into all aspects of the training. The first phase will concentrate on training of trainers. Noting the wide variety of bilateral and U.N. training currently underway with the PNTL, Kevin Raue, team leader for the U.K.-Australian initiative, concedes that “bad” training was a problem. He commented “There is a problem of inconsistency in the standard of training. That problem is not yet resolved. There is a need also to avoid duplication of training and inappropriate training.”129

G. Monitoring

The presence of human rights officers here, and our readiness to report on human rights violations to the international community, does constitute a deterrent to perpetrators.130
—Special Representative of the Secretary-General Sukehiro Hasegawa

A critical issue for the future will be to ensure independent monitoring of police behavior in East Timor. Though, as noted, there are formal internal and external oversight mechanisms of the police, for most victims of police brutality the first place they turn is normally either the U.N. Human Rights Unit or an East Timorese human rights NGO, primarily Perkumpulan HAK or FOKUPERS, the two biggest rights organizations in East Timor and the main Timorese bodies in the country monitoring police abuse.

With the U.N. Human Rights Unit due to close with the end of UNOTIL’s mandate (foreseen for May 2006), the urgency of strengthening civil society mechanisms to provide human rights monitoring and reporting has never been greater. Training for the police on the role of civil society, and the valuable place it has as a counterbalance to government, will also be crucial to ensure mutual respect and cooperation. A lack of monitoring will create a vacuum in which violations will be committed with impunity. As the head of the JSMP told Human Rights Watch:

I think that if the U.N. leaves and there are no more advisors the police will increase committing violations in the future. They will think that their behavior is correct because there will be no one to give the recommendation that they have to be processed and brought to justice.131

The senior U.N. Police Advisor in East Timor, Saif Ullah Malik, concurred, saying: “We need support in terms of training, monitoring and in terms of advance training. After the withdrawal there will be a big gap in monitoring. The U.N. cannot stay forever. Local civil society needs to be activated.”132 He continued: “As an exit strategy we are incorporating local NGOs to monitor the human rights situation in each district. The U.N. Human Rights Unit will be trying to visit districts at least once a week.” Indicating that lessons had been learned from the experience of shortcomings in U.N. training of PNTL, he added: “We have adopted an approach, consistency of guidance, for example my technical advisors in the districts are advising the same thing across the board.”133

NGOs, donors and the East Timor government need to work more closely together to monitor the broad range of human rights violations, for multiple purposes: to remedy individual abuses, to identify patterns and perpetrators, and to highlight structural problems that allow human rights violations to emerge in the first place. Seen in this light, human rights violations by the PNTL are just one symptom of a much broader nationwide problem, and until this is analyzed and addressed then the possibility is that police abuse can only be minimized at best. The weakness of the judiciary, and emerging corruption issues, are just two areas that directly impact on police abuse and remedies for it. A participatory, partnership approach including the wide range of actors in civil society such as the media, communities of interest, and others would be the most successful way to devise an action plan for ending human rights abuse in East Timor. 

[89] Human Rights Watch interview with Tiago Amaral Sarmento, head of Judicial System Monitoring Programme, Dili, May 27, 2005.

[90] 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, March 22, 2005,.

[91] Asia Foundation, “Law and Justice in East Timor: A survey of Citizen Awareness and Attitudes Regarding Law and Justice in East Timor”, February 2004.

[92] Centre for Applied Research and Policy Studies, Dili Institute of Technology, “Survey on Public Perceptions of The East Timor National Police’s Work,” September 2004. 

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

[94] Human Rights Watch e-mail correspondence with Ray Murray, international advisor to the Ministry of Interior, March 9, 2006.

[95] 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. 

[96] 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.

[97] Human Rights Watch interview with Paulo de Fatima Martins, PNTL Commissioner, Dili, June 3, 2005.

[98] The renaming is very recent, and the unit is still widely known by its former name of PEO.

[99] 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. 

[100] Human Rights Watch interview with PEO officer, Dili, June 1, 2005.

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

[102] It should also be acknowledged that some reported cases do not progress very far due to lack of clarity in the complaint. For example, complaints are often made weeks after the event about a PNTL officer without a name, registered number or description.  

[103] Human Rights Watch interview with Carlos Moniz Maia, deputy head, national PEO, Dili, June 1, 2005.

[104] Human Rights Watch interview with U.N. police advisor (name withheld), Bobonaro district, May 24, 2005.

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

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

[107] Human Rights Watch interview with U.N. police advisor (name withheld), Bobonaro district, May 24, 2005.

[108] Human Rights Watch interview with Tiago Amaral Sarmento, head of Judicial System Monitoring Programme, Dili, May 27, 2005.

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

[110] 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.

[111] 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.

[112] Human Rights Watch interview with Sebastiao Dias Ximenes, provedor, Dili, June 2, 2005.

[113] At the time of writing the new revised Criminal Code had not yet been promulgated. 

[114] Human Rights Watch e-mail correspondence with Ray Murray, international advisor to the Ministry of Interior, March 10, 2006.

[115] 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, March 22, 2005.

[116] Human Rights Watch interview with Saif Ullah Malik, U.N. senior police advisor, Dili, May 31, 2005.

[117] Recruitment of former POLRI officers amounted to 12 percent of the total PNTL personnel in 2003. This, amongst other problems, has caused a certain degree of resentment amongst members of former combatant groups excluded from the police. See: Amnesty International, “The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste: A New Police Service”, July 1, 2003, pp. 20-21.

[118] Human Rights Watch e-mail correspondence with Ray Murray, international advisor to the Ministry of Interior, March 9, 2006.

[119] United Nations, “Progress Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor”, U.N. Document S/2005/00, February 18, 2005.

[120] Human Rights Watch interview with Johanna Eriksson Takyo, project officer, Child Protection, UNICEF, Dili, May 31, 2005. 

[121] In East Timor, the term “to socialize” something is often used to indicate when there has been dissemination or distribution of materials or information on a given subject. However, as the advisor to the Ministry of Interior pointed out to Human Rights Watch, “True socialization is far more complex than providing a copy of the ROP and giving a day workshop on it. This is why so many systems fail. True socialization includes assisting each of the areas in developing systems and procedures required to make the ROP work in their district command or police station, as well as changing or introducing forms, removing old forms and systems, follow up to ensure complete understanding and monitoring from headquarters to ensure information, procedures and data flow according to the ROP or regulation, and provision of training materials to identified district or command trainers.” Human Rights Watch e-mail correspondence with Ray Murray, international advisor to the Ministry of Interior, March 9, 2006.

[122] Human Rights Watch interview with Julio da Costa Hornay, head of Police Training Academy, Dili, May 27, 2005.

[123] Human Rights Watch e-mail correspondence with Ray Murray, international advisor to the Ministry of Interior, March 9, 2006.

[124] Human Rights Watch interview with UNOTIL staff, East Timor, May 19, 2005.

[125] Human Rights Watch interview with deputy head of mission, foreign embassy (identifying information withheld), Dili, May 30, 2005.

[126] Human Rights Watch interview with Alcino Barris, Vice Minister of Interior, Dili, June 2, 2005.

[127] Human Rights Watch interview with Ray Murray, international advisor to the Ministry of Interior, Dili, June 1, 2005.

[128] For example, on October 17, 2005, twenty-five officers completed a six-week unit-specific UNOTIL Master Trainer program.  See: “Completion of PNTL Master Training Course,” UNOTIL Press Release, October 17, 2005; and U.N. Document S/2005/533 “Progress Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Office in Timor-Leste”, August 18, 2005.

[129] Human Rights Watch interview with Kevin Raue, AMC team leader, Timor-Leste Police Development Program, Dili, June 2, 2005.

[130] Human Rights Watch interview with UNMISET SRSG Sukehiro Hasegawa, Dili, May 27, 2005.

[131] Human Rights Watch interview with Tiago Amaral Sarmento, head of Judicial System Monitoring Programme, Dili, May 27, 2005.

[132] Human Rights Watch interview with Saif Ullah Malik, U.N. senior police advisor, Dili, May 31, 2005.

[133] Ibid.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>April 2006