Lack of Control of PNTL Weapons and the Need to Reform PNTL “Community policing is not just a slogan”

Lack of Control of PNTL Weapons and the Need to Reform PNTL  “Community policing is not just a slogan” post thumbnail image

Photo: Nuno Saldanha 2018

Fundasaun Mahein (FM), November 19th 2018

Press Release

In the early morning hours of 18th November 2018, an off-duty member of the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL), while attending a party in Kulu-Hun, Dili, shot several partygoers. Three (3) young men were killed and five (5) received serious injuries for which they were hospitalized. This incident has confirmed public concerns about the reckless use of firearms by members of PNTL. It is the latest in a string of cases of police using unnecessary or unlawful force or discharging their weapons while off-duty, often resulting in injuries or fatalities.

In the last few weeks, several members of PNTL beat and detained students holding demonstrations against Parliament. Recent cases of PNTL members unlawfully using their firearms include the confrontation between members of PNTL from Batallaun Ordem Públika (BOP) and members of F-FDTL in Maliana, Bobonaro, the killing of a young man in Bebonuk, Dili, and the shooting of another young man in Praia dos Coqueiros, allegedly by a member of PNTL. PNTL have also been accused of using their firearms to cause injury or death in Ainaro in 2017, Covalima in 2016, Hera in 2012, Delta Nova in 2009, and Viqueque in 2007.

Given this history of violence, it is clear that PNTL has a systematic problem when it comes to unnecessary physical aggression and the unlawful use of firearms. Timor-Leste, and particularly PNTL, has to learn from these failures. The Kulu-Hun incident highlights the need for an overhaul of PNTL; it is not enough to simply argue that these problems are the result of a few bad apples within the police force. PNTL requires structural reform with respect to training, discipline, rules and philosophy so as to bring the institution in line with Timor-Leste’s community policing approach. The strategy and philosophy of community policing is not just a slogan; it must be actively implemented by PNTL at the institutional level.

This incident, and others like it, carry significant consequences for PNTL and the state as a whole, and could cause other countries to block Timor-Leste from purchasing necessary weapons. Other consequences include a deepening of the existing political impasse and harmful speculation by domestic and outside observers regarding Timor-Leste’s political situation and security.

It is absolutely vital that firearms used by members of PNTL be controlled rigorously and accessed in line with existing procedures, rules and regulations. The Kulu-hun incident draws attention to the fact that PNTL members too often carry their guns while off-duty, and that PNTL is either unable or unwilling to enforce rigorous rules governing access to weapons from the PNTL armory.

Apart from enforcing rules and procedures, the Government and PNTL Commander must carry out periodic psychological test for all existing PNTL members as well as new recruits. Just like a routine test of physical health, a psychological test would ensure that PNTL members have the requisite mental stability to carry weapons. Such tests are regularly performed in other countries, and without them we are likely to see further incidents of preventable violence. Moreover, the PNTL Commander must ensure that its members do not consume alcohol while on-duty or when carrying firearms.

FM understands that the PNTL member who was involved in the Kulu-hun incident is currently under investigation. While FM strongly believes that the PNTL member responsible for this incident should be subject to criminal sanctions, it also insists that PNTL as an institution take responsibility. This incident occurred because of a breakdown of the rules and procedures guiding the use of firearms, and it is ultimately the responsibility of PNTL commanders to enforce these rules and to ensure the strictest discipline among their subordinates.

Finally, we must ask the following question: will Kulu-hun be the last case of its kind, or will there be further cases of PNTL members using firearms outside of working hours to resolve personal disputes? FM believes that such incidents will continue to occur unless there are systematic reforms to PNTL’s training, rules and philosophy.


1. Total structural reform of PNTL in terms of training, discipline, rules and policy so as to orient PNTL with the community policing approach. The strategy and philosophy of community policing is not just a slogan; PNTL must actively adopt it at the institutional level.

2. PNTL as an institution should take responsibility for the Kulu-hun incident since this incident was a result of the failure of PNTL authorities to enforce rules and procedures governing the use of weapons and the conduct of off-duty PNTL members.

3. PNTL should abandon the use of heavy weaponry, and allow the use of small guns only when officers are on-duty or in the case of emergency situations.

4. The National Parliament and government need to enlist an independent institution such as Provedoria Direitus Humanus no Justisa (PDHJ) to investigate the Kulu-hun incident in which three (3) people were killed and five (5) injured.

5. The Government must carry out an audit of PNTL weapons under the supervision of the National Parliament and PDHJ.

For more details on this issue, please contact:

João Almeida
Vice Director of FM
Phone: (+670) 7756 1184 or 7831 6075

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