Police violence hurts us all

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Police violence hurts us all

Fundasaun Mahein (FM) is saddened but not surprised by a recent report of violence and sexual assault by a member of the PNTL, in this case from the Public Order Batallion (BOP). Previously, we have reported on similar cases involving security forces and lamented “Who is responsible when members of the PNTL commit crimes?”

But we do not want to just write the standard “blame the Government” blog – for we know how far the PNTL has come since it was established in 2002. We have previously applauded the ambition shown in the PNTL Strategic Plan (2014-2018) including the recruitment over 1000 more police officers and investments in training, administration and discipline. We also believe that the PNTL has shown a real commitment to a community policing philosophy, to foster a closer working relationship within communities. Indeed, FM knows that the majority of the police are working hard for the people because we often work with them throughout Timor-Leste.

So it is because we know how hard the Government, members of the PNTL and development partners have worked towards building a modern, responsible and accountable force, that these incidents of crime and human-rights abuses frustrate and anger us even more. For what is the point of all this work to build trust between police and communities, if in an instant a single incident undoes it all?

And it is not just a single incident, reports of police brutality and violence are common – the Provedoria dos Direitos Humanos e Justiça (PDHJ) received 80 complaints against individuals in the police and military alone in 2015 (it is assumed that most relate to forms of violence or mistreatment). These cases continue to come despite the fact that the PDHJ provides direct training on human rights to members of the PNTL.

Whilst we know that the PDHJ and civil society will try their best to shine a light on this issue, it is the PNTL themselves that must deal take the lead. A good place to start is PNTL’s internal Professional Standards and Discipline Office (PSDO) that is responsible for recording and processing disciplinary cases and killings by members of the PNTL. Concerns have been previously raised on the obstructions and delays the lodging and processing of complaints to this Office. Moreover, when the complaints are substantiated, there is little to no transparency and public information regarding the disciplinary outcomes and punishments by PNTL Command. How can you make a complaint if you don’t know that it will be taken seriously? How can anyone have faith in discipline in the PNTL if they refuse to be accountable to the public?

But it is also too much to simply departmentalize all discipline problems to a single Office, or the Command of the PNTL. We therefore call on all the fine, hard-working members of the PNTL to demand that their Commanders show real leadership against ill-discipline and take action against those members who destroy their hard work and reputations.


The PNTL should take immediate action to strengthen its internal complaint and disciplinary mechanisms, with a focus on transparency and public accountability, that clearly illustrate to the public that violations of human rights are not tolerated within the Institution.

Note: We understand that the Police now have opened an investigation into the matter referred to in this blog. We hope that the investigation will be conducted with due process and that the outcomes, including any disciplinary actions, will be released to the public.

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