From Arbitrary Rule to the Rule of Law: Timor-Leste’s Military Leadership Must Operate Legally

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Fundasaun Mahein (FM), June 29 2016
Press Release

From arbitrary rule to the rule of law: Timor-Leste’s military leadership must operate legally

FALINTIL – Defense Force of Timor-Leste (F-FDTL) have existed since Timor-Leste achieved independence. Having a plan for natural succession of leadership has been an integral practice of FALINTIL since the struggle for independence and continued to be prominent in F-FDTL’s development following independence. In the past the highest leaders of FALINTIL and F-FDTL have resigned from their posts in order to contribute to the larger vision of a modern military’s state-building objectives.

This practical transition has existed in various processes in the FALINTIL and F-FDTL structures. All military decisions have run through the chain of command from the top of the military on down. Until independence, FALINTIL’s actions were largely focused on the ongoing resistance struggle and guerilla tactics under the direct orientation of head command, finally leading to decompartmentalization and restructuring of FALINTIL to separate military and political roles during the resistance period.

Since independence, the newfound liberty of the leaders of the transition prompted a show of FALINTIL leaders resigning from their military roles to begin political careers, a process not stipulated under formal law. The most notable examples of this have been the transitions of Xanana Gusmao and Taur Matan Ruak. When Xanana Gusmao stepped down from his mandate, he created gaps within the structure of FALINTIL. The situation at the time called for Xanana to assume a political role in order to build the independent structure of FALINTIL. His departure from service with the military allowed FALINTIL to transition from a guerilla force into a modern military command, led by Taur Matan Ruak.

Therefore, today the transition of military leadership must follow the laws and statutes of the military, and the government must have a coherent policy for regeneration of leadership form within the military institution. The system of retirement for the F-FDTL is crucial in affording the new generation of leadership to evolve out of the past paradigms of military action and leadership. The armed forces of the F-FDTL must continue developing as a modern military, professionalized in actions and responsibilities, so that the institution can be understood and respected by the state. Failure to develop a better system for retirement of military veterans will contribute to an even more complex difficulty with handling the veterans’ pension fund in the coming years. This needs to be addressed by the government.


FM recommends that:

1. The branches of the government, including the President and the National Parliament, improve communication on decisions for the future of the F-FDTL.

2. The leaders of the F-FDTL, and its military veterans, obey law and civil decisions.

3. The government, through the Ministry of Defense, should seriously apply the policy of military retirement for individuals in the F-FDTL who have reached retirement age, with conditions and special recognition for military veterans who continue to be dedicated to their responsibilities inside the institution of F-FDTL.

For more details on this issue, please contact:

Nélson Belo
Executive Director of FM
Phone: +670 78316075 or 7756 1184

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