This article is a continuation of Fundasaun Mahein’s (FM) previous monitoring and analysis of incidents of police shootings of innocent civilians, such as occurred in Lahane in 2021. In January 2022, six PNTL members from the Maritime Police Unit in Suai Loro Suku, Cova Lima Municipality, were involved in a physical dispute with two civilians. This action resulted in the aggravated homicide of one youth, which provoked anger and condemnation from the public. Following the incident, the Cova Lima Municipal Commander of PNTL disarmed and arrested the authors of this crime.
Cases of violence committed by PNTL have become a major public concern, particularly since 2018 when three people were killed and four seriously injured by a police officer in Kuluhun, Dili, and then in 2021 when two people were killed and one seriously injured in Aihanek-hun, Lahane, Dili.
FM thus observes that violence and indiscipline in PNTL is not something new. Indeed FM has noted that irregularities such as these have occurred many times in many places. According to PNTL’s General Spokesperson, PNTL has obtained information abut this case and the suspects will be held responsible for their actions. However, the PNTL Commander and Municipal Command have often not taken police brutality cases seriously, and mostly have just submitted them for disciplinary investigation and regulation.
FM provides regular recommendations to PNTL Command to ensure that PNTL’s operations adhere to human rights principles and the Rule of Law. In addition, FM also requests that the legislative and executive branches of government assist PNTL to improve its performance and credibility. However, PNTL members continue to violate the law, rules and also the principles of community policing.
These problems are not simply the result of a lack of control of mental or emotional states, but a lack of implementation of rules at the leadership level, which has contributed to police officers committing criminal acts of physical aggression which has led to deadly violence against citizens, especially young people. These PNTL actions show that the PNTL General Command has failed to fulfil its responsibility as leaders of PNTL. In FM’s view, this failure has created an institutional crisis in PNTL regarding discipline and the ethics of use of force, as well as a crisis of legitimacy among the people.
Although the Penal Code (Article 124) forbids torture and cruel treatment which destroys the dignity or physical integrity of the person, and while there are many recommendations from CAVR, civil society, academics and researchers regarding brutality and violence from security forces, PNTL’s brutality continues to occur with the result that innocent youth and other citizens are killed. FM also observes that when PNTL members commit violence such as punching, kicking and shooting, superior officers and other members often justify it by saying that they are tired, emotional or uncooperative. But from our perspective, there can be no justification for such illegal acts.
FM sees that PNTL has received many trainings and shared experiences with various police forces during the United Nations mission in Timor-Leste. Use of force has clear rules and procedures, which require that police must use proportional and necessary force only. These rules are enshrined in the Juridical Regime on Use of Force which came into force nine years ago.
FM worries that the PNTL Commander has perhaps forgotten to remind his members about the community policing philosophy as well as the RDTL Constitution, Laws and Chega! recommendations, which describe the correct relationship between PNTL and the Timorese people, and how PNTL should promote and protect human rights values and prevent the brutal actions which occurred during the Indonesian occupation from happening again. An additional problem is the lack of monitoring on the mental and emotional capacity of PNTL members, lack of equipment other than guns, as well as the capacity to resolve conflict using peaceful methods.
Following the incident in January 2022 in Suai, FM considers that there has not yet been concrete action from the PNTL leadership to resolve the systemic problem of indiscipline which is leading to many cases of human rights violations and police brutality, especially with regards to arms control and use of force. Therefore, FM urges PNTL to secure the democratic human rights of citizens, which as an integral part of the professional development of the police as protectors of fundamental human rights.
FM offers the following specific recommendations to address the problems described above:
- FM proposes to the executive and legislative branches of Government, particularly the Ministry of Interior and Parliamentary Committee B on Security and Defence, to conduct a thorough evaluation of PNTL’s record of brutality, and to investigate not only the authors of the crimes but the root causes of the systemic problem of indiscipline and illegal violence.
- FM asks PDHJ to be involved in all processes related to violations of human rights so that it can monitor whether the disciplinary and criminal processes involving PNTL members are concluded correctly and justly.
- Improve the recruitment policy by implementing adequate psychological tests which can guarantee citizens’ security according to the RDTL Constitution.
- PNTL have adequate access to guns, but lack access to other equipment which can be used instead of guns to deescalate conflict situations. This contributes to increased violence by making following the procedure on use of force difficult, as the lack of equipment means police often resort to using guns as the first and only option. PNTL therefore should be provided with adequate non-lethal equipment and improved training on use of non-deadly force.
- PNTL should develop a study plan for active members which incorporates the recommendations of the Chega! reportwhich can prevent the repetition of the conflict and violence of the past.
- PNTL must promote the Decree-Law 43/2011 on use of force to avoid provoking violence and to instead promote dialogue with and between citizens.
- Legal processes such as the one ongoing in relation to the Suai incident should result in adequate punishment according to the law for the six authors of the crime who abused the authority of the state for illegal phsyical aggression against a person’s life and liberty.