Government Must Address Night-Time Insecurity

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The security situation in Timor-Leste becomes especially concerning during the night. This real and perceived insecurity seriously impedes the movements of citizens who would otherwise like to go out after dark. One cause of this problem is the Government’s failure to maintain public lighting. Many if not most streets in Dili lack functioning streetlights. People’s fear of going out at night has increased with the current political uncertainty in the country. While no clear indications have appeared that this political impasse will destabilize Timor-Leste, it still poses a potential threat to the nation’s security and economic development.

Given Dili’s status as Timor-Leste’s capital and biggest city, it is especially important that the Government improve nocturnal security there. According to census data from 2015, 21.67% of Timor-Leste’s total population live in Dili. It is clear that the nation’s largest markets, hotels, bars, restaurants, and stores are all located in the capital, meaning that it is imperative that people feel safe patronizing these businesses after dark. Otherwise, perceptions of insecurity will severely hinder economic growth. Furthermore, hospital workers must be able to feel safe moving around at night, for otherwise the health of ordinary citizens will suffer. The Government must therefore improve the security situation in Dili in order to address the widespread fear about walking at night among national citizens and foreign residents.

Additionally, the months-long political impasse in Timor-Leste has contributed to people’s fear of leaving their homes after dark. Currently, it is easy for criminals to take advantage of the lack of functioning security equipment in order to perpetrate violence. One recent case involved a night-time stabbing in which an employee of the Indonesian embassy was wounded in the area near the embassy building itself. Although the police took this victim to the hospital, they failed to identify the assailants, who remain at large. As a result of this incident, the Indonesian ambassador to Timor-Leste, Sahat Sitorus, issued a travel warning to Indonesian citizens in Dili urging them to avoid going outside at night. The Ambassador also expressed his sadness that this attack occurred in Area Ring I, in the vicinity of the Timorese Prime Minister’s residence.

This incident should be a wake-up call, alerting the Government and the security forces that the lack of safety at night is a serious problem. All institutions should have CCTV cameras that can help identify criminals. Significantly, the travel warning issued by the Indonesian embassy can have a global impact. When foreign citizens are injured or killed, it is currently difficult to identify the assailants. This obvious lack of security will discourage foreign travelers from coming to Timor-Leste. As a result, economic growth will falter, since tourists and investors will avoid a country they consider unsafe.

Finally, such attacks often occur on dark street corners. Although the police are supposed to uphold law and order 24 hours a day, they are currently falling far short of this goal. The PNTL should therefore increase its routine patrols. Fundasaun Mahein urges the Government to address the dismal state of security infrastructure in order to make Dili safer at night. To this end, the Government should repair streetlights and set up CCTV cameras. These measures can deter night-time crime and make citizens less afraid to venture outside after dark. In addition, Fundasaun Mahein recommends that the Government, the Ministry of Defense and Security, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation conduct security briefings for foreign diplomats working in Timor-Leste. The PNTL should also conduct regular patrols around diplomatic buildings.

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