ETLJB 13 January 2009 SYDNEY - The government of East Timor has ridiculed a warning from opposition party Fretilin about the purchase of silencers for security forces weapons to be used when firing rubber bullets into riotous crowds. In a press release on 12 January, the Secretary of State for Security of Timor-Leste, Dr. Francisco Guterres explained, “In a public riot where the situation is out of control, it had been recommended that silencers be used when firing rubber bullets under extreme circumstances to maintain public order. The concern is that the sound of rubber bullets could be confused with the sound of real bullets which has the potential to escalate a situation that is already volatile.”
Dr. Guterres continued, “In response to Fretilins’ media release dated January 9, 2008, I can only respond by saying it is time for the PNTL to be respected as a non political entity and praised for their efforts in stabilizing the nation rather than being used in political manipulations. The AMP Government, UNPOL, The Australian Federal Police, the GNR and many other international contributors have worked tirelessly to strengthen our security forces. Collectively, we have made giant strides in professionalizing the force. Fretilin should join the Government in applauding their efforts in maintaining law and order.”
Since the IV Constitutional Government took over in August of 2007, reform to the security sector was the main priority in stabilizing the nation. Reforms to the PNTL emphasized both professionalizing and depoliticizing the force by increasing wage structures, implementing an international ranking system for advancement of officers while providing expert training and education on a range of activities to ensure best practice public safety management, including rapid intervention to prevent civil unrest reminiscent of the 2006 crisis.
The successes are evident in that fact that while UNPOL is present in the thirteen districts of Timor-Leste, the PNTL is now responsible for the 64 sub districts and 442 sucos of the nation. Guterres concluded by saying “Since August 2007, our record thus far is strong in public safety and while we have made giant strides, we have a long journey that should be supported as a bipartisan effort.” Meanwhile, Fretilin’s recent media efforts claiming the 10 silencers for rubber bullets were meant for clandestine hits”, “dark operations”, and to “arm a police state” full of Government “spies” and “special agents”, has been a source of great amusement for the IV Constitutional Government.
However, according to a leaked report by the United Nations in December 2008, East Timor remains on the brink of anarchy and could easily slide back into the violence that fractured the country in 2006. It noted that the country's dysfunctional police force, divided political leadership and weak economy has left it vulnerable to rapid political collapse.
In an apparent admission that it has failed to create a strong police force and credible judicial system, it said local police were struggling to cope with no operational budget and admitted "troubling" tensions were rising with UN police due to unrealistic Timorese demands for a stronger role.
East Timor police have been accused by Human Rights Watch of human rights violations such as torture and other abuses. A 2006 report by Human Rights Watch documents excessive force during arrests, torture and ill-treatment of detainees by the National Police of East Timor (PNTL). Several people interviewed had to be hospitalized because of the severity of their injuries.
“We were shocked to find so many credible accounts of torture and severe ill-treatment by police officers,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “East Timor won independence in part because of Indonesia’s horrific record here. Now some people are saying that the new police force is no better than the old one, and this should worry the government.”
One young man told Human Rights Watch what happened to him when he was arrested in his village, near the town of Maliana:
“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 officers 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.”
Police and other state institutions in East Timor also regularly fail to respond appropriately to incidents of police abuse. The main internal police oversight body, the Professional Ethics and Deontology Unit (PEDU), often fails to take cases of police abuse seriously, to follow up with complaints, or properly discipline the officers involved. Independent bodies that could take up cases of police abuse are ineffective and lack sufficient material or political support to succeed.
“East Timor’s leaders are ignoring police abuse when they should be taking urgent steps to end it,” said Adams. “The people of East Timor have the right to expect better treatment from their own police force.”
See also E Timor army accused of abuse, death threats
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