Police brutality is increasing

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Police brutality is increasing

Press Release

Fundasaun Mahein (FM) has been continually monitoring the discipline of PNTL officers over the last few years. Issues of discipline and obedience to the rule of law should become a command priority as the PNTL must be by example through their actions. This is because as police their mandate is to ensure the safety and security of citizens and protect their rights according to the terms that have been established under the Constitution and through laws decreed by Parliament. The mechanisms used by police should be based on the Consitution and the rule of law,rather than threats, physical agression and the use of deadly force.

FM’s monitoring indicated that such situations have become worse in the last few years, inclusive of violence between police officers, physical agression against defense force members, journalists, doctorsand the poor. Meanwhile, state leaders have employed their ownsecurity guards to ensure their safety, something the police should be providing. An incident last weekend that became an issue of public attention and concern was the use of unnecessary force by police against a local journalist in Dili as well as another incident Covalima, where a member of the Border Patrol Unit (UPF) shot dead a mentaly ill man on August 3 2016.

FM lamments these actions, and strongly condemns the institution of the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL) insisiting that serious attention be paid to these cases and that disiplinary measures be applied rigorously.Nor is false reporting by PNTL officers acceptable,, which happened Dili recently, when a police officer from the traffic unit hit a journalist who took pictures of police activites. The PNTL general command rejected such the allegations, however according to CCTV’s records,the officer in question didhit the journalist.

Regarding the murder incident in Cova Lima, the PNTL general command informed local media that, “The dead man is crazy and made problems for his family, therefore his family immediately called the police for help, when the police arrived and tried to calm the man down, he (the dead man) stabbed and displayedphysical aggresion against the police; then the police responded in self-defense and shothim”.

FM urges the PNTL general command to conduct a through investigation of this case in order to determine the truth about what really happened. Yet the reality shows the police response ended with a civilian killed by a police weapon. We can see from this chronology of events that the police were aware of the vitcims history of mental illness when the family contacted them, and should have a strategy in place to peacefully resolve the situation without having to resort to the use of deadly force.

This does not mean that the police cannot use force and their weapons to respond to situations as stipultedunde PNTL organic law 2009, Article No.5, regarding the use of weapons.“In the case of disturbance of public order and peace, the use of force is authorized, and where this is insufficient, other means can be used to overcome illegitimate resistance against members of the PNTL, in the performance of their duties.Furthermore, force can only be used “to repel an immediate and unlawful aggression in self defence or in defend of people, and, after the use of all means to overcome resistance to the performace of their functions after having given an explicit warning”.

The guidelines regarding the use of force and weapons are reinforced as well by Decree Law No. 43/2011, September 21, the Legal Regime on the Use of Force.Article 3.It statesthat “1. Officers responsible for law enforcement shall conduct themselves oriented by criteria of negotiation, mediation, persuasion and the peaceful settlement of conflicts”, and that; “2. The use of force shall only be admitted once the means possible for anon-violent settlement of the dispute have been exhausted”.Article 5 of this law also stressed that it is the responsability of law enforcement officers to protect the affected people first and use all peaceful methods before using weapons.Article 6 states as well that physical force must be used to restrain suspects before resorting to other means.FinallyArticle 7 emphasises that “The use of force by way of arms of any kind or nature shall only be permitted when the use of any other less severe means is impossible or proves to be insufficient.”

Regarding the use of weapons, FM has always advocated that the PNTL needs to rigorously control and implement their responsibilites regarding the use of force; When, where and how they may the employ their weapons? Because there have been many incidents where PNTL officers have misjudged the circumstances in which they can use their weapons. The recent incidents reveal that the typical PNTL response is more often than not to draw their weapons and use threats, rather than adheed to their training, something the state has invested signficant resources into.

This reveals that the implemenation of operational guidlines on the use of force remains problematic, and that institutional changes must be made by the PNTL, with greater discipline needing to be applied at the operational level. If this is not done, then there is the danger of PNTL officers imposing their own interpretation of the rule of law, rather than the that demanded by the Constitution and the law. Breaches of the use of force should not be ignored, as this will encourage a culture of impunity, and potentially see PNTL officers acting outside of the law.

FM is concerned that such actions by the PNTL will erode the public’s trust in the PNTL as an institution, and diminish the good services and efforts that the PNTL has carried out so far. The Vice Chief of Staff of the F-FDTL, Brigadier General Filomeno de Jesus Paixo, has expressed concern that “there is a systematic effort by a group which is strongly inside the PNTL with the intention to destroy the relationship between these two institutions”. This followed an incident in which a group of BOP (Public Order Battalion) and UEP (Special Police Unit) of the PNTL used physical aggression against a member of the F-FDTL.

FM’s monitoring from 2014 to 2016 of PNTL actions reveals they have used excessive force against the people, local leaders, medics, students, journalists, a member of F-FDTL, within the PNTL itself, and finally in the death of a mentally ill young man.

1. Two Members of BOP-UEP when a PNTL officer hit one of their colleaguesfrom BOP-UEP in Dili on April 2014
2. One BOP-UEP Member with another Member from PROVOST hit a man (Bosco Lobato) in Tasi-Tolu-Dili on May 2014.
3. One of the PNTL Member hit another PNTL member’s wife in Baucau on June 2014.
4. Member of BOP-UEP did a physical agression against police member from Comoro station on June 2014.
5. Member of BOP-UEP hit a Taxi driver in the routbound Comoro-Dili on June 2014.
6. Member of BOP-UEP shot his weapon, and hit people in a feast in Santa Cruz, Dili on August 2014.
7. Member of BOP-UEP hit people in Audian-Dili on May 2015
8. Member of UPF hit a Member of the F-FDTL in Batugade-Bobonaro on September 2015.
9. Member of BOP-UEP stabbed and hit a man (Mario Soares) in Bairo-Pite-Dili on November 2015.
10. Member of BOP-UEP used physical aggression against a medic in Maliana-Bobonaro, on December 2015.
11. Member of BOP-UEP sexualy abused a woman, and usedphysical agression against a young man in Bairo-Pite-Dili, on January 2016.
12. Member of BOP-UEP usedphysical agression against a unversity (UNITAL) student in Colmera-Dili, on January 2016.
13. Member of UPF hit a man in Oe-cusse, on March 2016.
14. Member of BOP-UEP used physical agression against a member of the F-FDTL in Dili, on May 2016.
15. The Official Police Village (OPS) used physical agression and threatened alocal leader of Fahiria-Aileu, on July 2016.
16. Member of the trafic police unit did a physical agression against a local media journalist in Collmera-Dili, on July 2016.
17. Member of UPF shot dead a man with mental illness in Covalima, on August 2016

That is a total of 18 registered cases from FM’s monitoring. 11 incidents involved BOP-UEP, with the rest involving UPF, Traffic Police and OPS. FM is also concered that there are other similar incidents taking place in other municipalities, at the frontier with West Timor and in the Oe-cusse region, due to the presence of the these units in these locations.

Many people have raised their concerns over the actions of members of BOP-UEP and UPF, where their approaches are sometimes identical in using force even when the use of force isn’t necessary.Another perception is that there are units inside the PNTL such as UEP with some sub-units forming a paramilitary group withinthe PNTL.

The UEP is also acquring heavier weaponary, and training for the use of extreme force, rather than focusing on maintaining the rule of law, protecting human rights and implementing community policing. This signifies a dangerous shift towards a more paramilitary style of policing by the UEP, one that is neither effective nor appropriate.

Regular PNTL officers are however, adopting the philosophy and strategy of community policing more effectively. Community policing is becoming apriority of the government and the PNTL through the strategic plan of 2014-2018,with the PNTL adopting the police doctrine called VIP (visibility, involvement and professionalism).

Those issues mentioned are achallenge for the new leaders of the PNTL who have served for more than one and half years, to lead by example and promote a higher standard of discipline and adherence to their mandate as police officers.It is important that that the PNTL as an institution shows greater adherance to the rule of law, and applies greater disciplanary measures against those memerbs who breach their responsibilities, because the PNTL’s role is to serve and protect the people, within their mandate as decreed by the Constitution and Parliament.


FM recommends that:

1. The PNTL general command needs to assessthe PNTL’s performance and discipline training process.

2. The PNTL general command needs to apply a disciplinary mechanism riguruosly for members who violate the law of rule. However, this process should be applied transparently both for disciplinary action against members and for crime cases and should be responsible to the public rather than just the instiution.

3. The PNTL general command needs to control the weapons that are used by members of the PNTL during the duty hours.

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