09 April 2009

UNMIT: Community policing and human rights in East Timor

UNMIT WEEKLY United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste Weekly Issue No 84 Dili 06 April 2009 - Community policing and human rights

'It is just the beginning', Luis Carrilho the Commissioner of the United Nations Police in East Timor (UNPOL) said with a wide smile on his face as he stepped out of the white UN helicopter at the airfield of Los Palos. To his left, Afonso de Jesus, Acting Commander General of the Policia Nacional de Timor-Leste (PNTL) was receiving the welcoming handshakes of senior police officers in the eastern-most district of the island.

This trip was taken just a day before the 9th anniversary of the establishment of the national police force. But the visit to Los Palos was among the last official acts of Inspector de Jesus as Acting General Commander as his successor was appointed on 27 March, the 'birthday' of the PNTL.

PNTL's nine-year history has had its ups and downs. In 2005, as a result of a process beginning in 2000, the Timorese police assumed full authority. Then in 2006, the country drifted to the verge of a total breakdown of law and order. In order to find a sustainable solution, and on the request of the national authorities, the United Nations Security Council established the United Nations Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) which included the mandate to provide interim law enforcement and public security until the PNTL is reconstituted. On 27 March, the beginning of the process of resumption of responsibilities by the PNTL was announced.

The road between the airfield where we landed a few minutes earlier and the District’s police headquarters was deserted. Only sporadic, but deep, potholes slowed down the pace of the convoy transporting the delegation. In a red and white UNPOL vehicle my guide and companion was Stuart Colback, an Australian policeman serving in Los Palos as the Deputy of the District Commander.

It's a very calm, low crime rate area, although recently we had a bit of a problem with local martial art groups. It was actually a sort of follow-up to a more serious incident, which had happened in Dili ten days ago. But we calmed down the lads, so you see, mate, it is calm and quiet.”

In spite of the lack of traffic the lead car of our convoy, a blue PNTL pickup truck, flashed the blue lights. Its siren attracted a few kids who followed the slowly moving entourage to the gate of the police compound. On the nicely trimmed lawn of the Regional Police Headquarters PNTL officers were already lined up and waiting for the arrival of Commissioner Carrilho. Crisp blue uniforms and well rehearsed formalities. On the command of the staff sergeant the whole group moved as one. Then came the staff meeting with the Commissioner.

Carrilho gave a soul-stirring speech on the nature and importance of community policing.

What makes us good community police? he asked. Two seconds silence, then he answered his own question: Each and every police officer has to be part of the community. We can’t afford to be bystanders, we have to be respected and liked by the community. We can only achieve this if we have full respect for human rights. There is no other way, no way around the fence.

The goal is clear; to create a professional, modern police force. The 'Los Palos experience' was convincing - international and Timorese officers together can do it.

Not official document – for information only.

Image added by ETLJB: Continuing in Indonesian traditions - The heavy hands of the East Timor National Police (PNTL). Human Rights Watch has accused the East Timor police of human rights violations.

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