ABC News 23 August 2008 12:42pm AEST - Judicial authorities in East Timor are investigating more than 40 allegations that armed forces have used violence, intimidation, and death threats against civilians.
A United Nations report documents a litany of human rights abuses by local police and army officers in the course of their work.
The UN says it is a sad fact that nations emerging from serious conflict often fall into a culture of violence, particularly in the armed forces, which could take years to stamp out.
Aid worker Mark Green has witnessed at first hand the sort of violence that has become all too common in East Timor's armed forces.
As he drove towards Dili one day, he saw a motorcyclist pulled over by local police, the PNTL. With 20 or so officers watching on, two police began bashing the man for no apparent reason.
"The motorcyclist began to cower and then the PNTL officer began to beat him with his fists; he was hitting him in the chest and abdomen," he said.
"There are a number of PNTL officers who have resorted to that kind of behaviour. PNTL officers who you talk to about it themselves would say some of their colleagues are unprofessional."
That beating is one of 44 cases of human rights abuses under investigation by East Timorese authorities
A United Nations report says violence and mistreatment by security forces has risen markedly in the past year
"What we're talking about is some bad apples within the military and the police who used excessive force in arresting civilians, in beating people indiscriminately, in intimidating people, in issuing death threats to people and individuals and also communities," said. UN human rights representative in Dili, Louis Gentile.
He says it is a harsh reality that countries emerging from conflict, like East Timor, will experience a pattern of violence, typically in the armed forces.
"I think if you can answer that question - what inspires people to use excessive violence when they have a powerful position vis-a-vis their fellow citizens anywhere in the world - then you have the answer to that question here in Timor as well," he said.
The UN report is all the more disturbing, given it was tensions within the armed forces that took the nation to the brink of civil war two years ago
Mr Gentile says East Timor has at least avoided the example of some nations where police routinely torture and murder innocent civilians. But he says without stronger vigilance it could take years to change
"The whole point is that, that kind of behaviour is not acceptable, and people who have committed those kinds of abuses need to be held to account," he said.
"And if they're not held to account, then the real concern is the kind of abuses will become a pattern and will continue."
Based on a report by Anne Barker for Saturday AM