COVID-19 & Human Security in Timor-Leste

COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Timor-Leste, 2021


 08 August 2022


Fundasaun Mahein (FM) has produced this report on COVID-19 and Human Security in Timor-Leste based on research carried out during 2021 and 2022 on experiences of insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic in Timor-Leste. The report builds on FM’s previous research, analysis and publications during the COVID-19 crisis, and documents original primary research conducted by FM. It examines both direct testimonies gathered via interviews and group discussions, and some of the broader implications of the COVID-19 crisis for Timor-Leste’s socio-economic development, security, democracy and human rights. Negative secondary effects resulting from the measures implemented to contain the pandemic include intensified economic hardship, food insecurity, reduced access to essential services, educational disruption, psychological stress, gender-based violence and human rights violations at the hands of state security actors.

Beginning in March 2020, the Government of Timor-Leste (GoTL) implemented a series of extraordinary measures in response to the public health threat posed by COVID-19. At the time, FM agreed that this was necessary given uncertainties about the disease and Timor-Leste’s limited health capacities, while also raising concerns about the economic and security impacts of containment policies. Many observers have since praised GoTL’s response as timely and effective, and credited it with averting a human catastrophe.

As the crisis progressed, FM became increasingly concerned that GoTL’s response was also creating widespread hardship among Timor-Leste’s population by directly threatening many people’s economic security, physical and psychological wellbeing, while also undermining public trust in authorities and provoking social conflict. GoTL, civil society and international agencies have since acknowledged some of the indirect harms which have resulted from COVID-19 containment measures. However, FM is concerned that there has been insufficient recognition of these impacts in public discussions around COVID-19. Moreover, while international debates are ongoing about the precise effects of containment policies and the role played by factors other than government policies and individual behaviour in shaping the pandemic, there has been little discussion about these complexities in relation to Timor-Leste’s context.

FM recognises GoTL’s efforts and achievements during a difficult and chaotic situation, and we are deeply grateful that Timor-Leste has suffered a minimal number of direct casualties from COVID-19. Nonetheless, despite warnings from numerous experts and organisations around the world, it seems that decision makers in charge of the COVID-19 response did not adequately consider all the impacts of drastic containment policies, especially for many Timorese people who live in or close to poverty. By applying a human security lens to the observations and findings collected through our primary and secondary research during COVID-19, FM hopes that this report can contribute to the ongoing debate surrounding this important issue, while helping to ensure that public policies are more adequately adapted to Timor-Leste’s needs and context.

To learn more about this issue, please follow the links below:

(COVID Hum Sec – Press Release pdf)

(COVIDHumSecFM Report-FULL , pdf)


Fundasaun Mahein


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