21 December 2012

Timor-Leste declares war on drugs

ETLJB 21 December 2012 - The trafficking and use of illegal drugs in East Timor has become the focus of attention of the media and the law enforcement agencies over the last couple of months with several significant arrests and the seizure of large amounts of drugs at the international airport and at points along the border with Indonesia.

State leaders have been appealing to the law enforcement agencies to tighten security measures to combat drug trafficking in the country. On 17 December 2012, the State Secretary of Defence, Julio Tomas Pinto, was quoted in Jornal Nacional Diario as saying that the military forces will be deployed at the border with Indonesia combat drug traffickers and networking.

According to the leading security monitoring civil society organisation, Fundasaun Mahein (FM), this constitutes "a kind of declaration of a war against drugs in East Timor", in much the same was as Western nations have declared wars on drugs. (FM The Military and the War On Drugs : “Lessons from Mexico”*)

Fundasaun Mahein has also made some observations on the policy of the government to involve the military in drug control. Drawing on the experience of Mexico which has also deployed its military in a war on drugs in that country, FM notes certain advantages of such a policy; namely:

• Increased manpower to man checkpoints, patrol streets, and support local police.
• Drug-related violence decreases due to increased law enforcement presence.
• If work with Indonesia, bilateral cooperation could use resources more efficiently on both sides of the border.

FM also referred to several disadvantages resulting from the deployment of the military at the border to combat the illegal drug trade:
• Increased risk of human rights abuses through military tactics – heavy-handed measures that lack transparency.
• Law enforcement breakdown from overlapping roles between the military and the police.
• Confusion stems from roles that are not clearly defined.
• Police feel they do not have to enforce community laws because somebody else is doing it.
• Violence just shifts to another area of Timor-Leste as soon as troops are deployed to another area, as military deployments are slow-moving and cumbersome.
• New community issues arise for an area after troops arrive.
• Members of the F-FDTL may easily be recruited to work for drug traffickers as their current salaries are very low. Many of the most vicious drug traffickers in Mexico were formally part of the Mexican military.

ETLJB respectfully agrees with the points made by FM; the most problematical of which is the confusion of the role of the military in domestic law enforcement. ETLJB has previously noted that dangers of the unconstitutional deployment of the military for law enforcement (see for example, Role of military in internal security re-emphasised by Prime Minister Gusmao, as have other writer such as Wilson ( Joint Command for PNTL and F-FDTL Undermines Rule of Law and Security Sector Reform in Timor-Leste).

ETLJB would like to draw attention to the fact that the wars on drugs in Western countries have yet to prove an effective policy for drug trafficking and use prevention and have resulted, along with the criminalisation of drug use, in generating even more complex and costly social problems, such as deaths, injuries and the spread of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C in the intravenous drug-using community, increased criminal activities by drug users to obtain money to pay for drugs on the black market, overcrowding in prisons, corruption in the law enforcement agencies and the involvement of organised crime.

Finally, the militarisation of the border with Indonesia may impact on diplomatic relations between the two countries and may provoke a similar deployment of Indonesian troops on the Indonesian side of the border creating a circumstance in which the risk of international disputes is increased.

All of this indicates that in addition to the creation of more problems,  a "war on drugs" is over simplistic and inherently bound to fail unless it is accompanied by a more comprehensive policy and laws. As FM points out, the war must be fought against more than drug traffickers. For example, drug consumption must be reduced (or regulated in a manner other than through the criminalisation of possession and use of drugs), associated weapons supply sources must be tackled, and, more broadly, economic opportunities provided for people to make a living by lawful means. In addition, laws, policies and strategies must be developed to fight organised crime including money laundering and human trafficking.

Related reports
Three arrests on suspicion of drug smuggling to Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste becoming transit zone for international drug smuggling
Drug traffickers handed over to Indonesia
Plenty of drugs in Timor-Leste, SPI helpless to stop it
Prostitution and Drugs in Timor-Leste blamed on foreigners
Police will not tolerate people who smuggle drugs into the country
Indonesians and Mozambiquans arrested on suspicion of importing 8 kgs of methamphetamine to Timor-Leste
Murders, Drugs, Assaults, Embezzlement, Corruption & Land Disputes: Summary of Cases Heard by the Dili District Court in May 2011
UNMIT warning on date rape drugs in Dili

Source: Fundasaun Mahein, ETLJB. Edited by Warren L. Wright

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