Urgent Action Needed to Audit and Control Firearms

Photo : Fundasaun Mahein


For a long time, Fundasaun Mahein (FM) has been extremely concerned about the State’s failure to implement existing rules and procedures for controlling use of and access to firearms. While certain laws related to arms control already exist, there is a lack of implementation of these laws. As far as FM is aware, there is still no law regulating civilian use of firearms.

FM believes that the State’s failure to adequately monitor and control the circulation of deadly weapons in Timor-Leste threatens public security and national stability. Recent incidents and rumours related to weapons procurement and illegal storage of weapons by state officials further highlight the urgent need for Government action. Therefore, FM produced this press release to draw public attention to this urgent and serious issue, and suggest specific measures which can improve the control of firearms and guarantee the safety of all Timor-Leste’s citizens.

The people of this country understand very well about the dangers of gun violence. During the Indonesian time, the people of Timor-Leste suffered brutality at the hands of the Indonesian military and their militias. After we finally restored independence, our new state collapsed into communal violence during the 2006 crisis. A major factor in the crisis was the illegal distribution of weapons to members of the security forces and to civilians. Although the situation eventually stabilised, there are still numerous military-grade weapons which were never recovered.

In 2010-2011, the joint inspection and audit conducted by the PNTL and F-FDTL Weapons Investigation Committee concluded that the security forces – especially PNTL – lack capacity to correctly implement arms control procedures. Unfortunately, FM sees that the same poor arms control practices continue today. Indeed, many incidents have occurred over the years which suggest that the leaders of PNTL and F-FDTL are unable to control the use of weapons by their members, such as police killings in Kuluhun and Lahane, and the shooting of community animals by unknown people using military-style weapons. There is also evidence that there are many undocumented weapons inside the territory of Timor-Leste, including reports about ‘kilat manu’ entering illegally from Indonesia, and the recent case involving the former PNTL Commander Longuinhos Monteiro.

Recently, there was speculation in the media about the Government procuring more weapons for the security forces. Even if these stories are not true, the public reaction shows that many people are worried about the flow of firearms into the country. In addition, FM is concerned that the State’s arms procurement decisions are not based on a careful evaluation of existing needs and capacities, and instead are often driven by personal and political agendas.

Timor-Leste faces many political, economic and social problems, and many of our people lack access to basic infrastructure, services, livelihoods and nutrition. Experts predict that the world may soon experience an economic recession, while the Timorese State is facing an unsustainable financial position. When political leaders propose to buy more weapons for the security forces, they never explain how this will help to address the urgent needs of the people or deal with any of Timor-Leste’s fundamental political or economic problems. From FM’s perspective, as police discipline and arms control practices are already weak, increasing the number of guns inside the territory directly threatens the safety of Timorese citizens. If weapons continue to go missing, there is a potential that political actors could use them to destabilise the state, as occurred in 2006.

To improve arms control and procurement practices, ensure public safety and guarantee national stability, Fundasaun Mahein recommends that the Government implement the following measures:

  • First, the Government must reactivate the Weapons Investigation Committee to establish a system of annual firearms audits, including audits of security forces and civilians. These audits are necessary to determine how many guns of what types and condition are distributed throughout the territory of Timor-Leste. The audit can detect illegal weapons and ensure that those who continue to hold weapons illegally are punished and the guns confiscated. This process should be initiated and overseen by the President of the Republic, and involve all relevant state and non-state institutions, including the security forces, relevant ministries (Interior, Defence), the Human Rights Ombudsman, the Anti-Corruption Commission and civil society organisations. The audit process must include concrete actions – including disciplinary and legal actions – to ensure enforcement of existing arms control rules and procedures.
  • As FM has long advocated, policy makers must work to create a National Security Policy which can guide arms procurement decisions over the long-term and through changes of government. The arms procurement strategy within the National Security Policy should be based on thorough evaluation of the needs and capacities of security agencies, including their capacity to abide by rules and procedures related to arms control and usage. Any procurement of weapons for the security forces would then be based on the National Security Policy, not on direct requests from leaders of security agencies or politicians. The policy debate should involve the National Parliament and also be open to public submissions and participation.
  • The Government should create an internationally recognized state-owned company to conduct arms procurement, guided by the National Security Policy. This will ensure that arms procurement is done transparently and without political interference.
  • Currently, FM is not aware of any specific law regulating civilian gun ownership. Therefore, the Government and Parliament should create a Law regulating the use and ownership of guns by civilians, including creating a licencing process for ownership of handguns or hunting weapons such as ‘kilat manu’. There is no need for civilians to own military-grade rifles – FM believes that these should be banned entirely for civilian use.
  • There is evidence that significant numbers of ‘kilat manu’ are entering Timor-Leste illegally via the border with Indonesia. Even though they are mostly used for hunting, these weapons can also be used to kill humans. It is therefore essential that PNTL and F-FDTL increase their operations to prevent and detect illegal importation and storage of these weapons.
  • FM’s monitoring indicates that the leaders of PNTL and F-FDTL have systematically failed to implement existing rules and procedures for control of service firearms, leading to serious cases of misuse of firearms, including killing of people and animals. FM demands that the leaders of PNTL and F-FDTL be held accountable for these failures. The National Parliament should conduct an enquiry into widespread allegations and examples of misuse of firearms, and members responsible should be disciplined and charged as required by law.
  • FM questions whether regular PNTL and PSIC officers really require arms to carry out their responsibilities. Violence is quite common in Timor-Leste, but it is almost always unarmed, while violent crimes such as armed robbery are rare. Police in Timor-Leste rarely encounter situations in which guns are required to protect themselves or victims of crime. Special armed response units can be mobilised in the rare cases where armed force is required, as is done in many countries. FM therefore asks the Government to carry out an assessment of the feasibility of disarming the regular police forces. It may be feasible for Timor-Leste to adopt a policing model similar to regional neighbours such as New Zealand, Fiji and Solomon Islands, where only specialised police forces carry guns, while regular police officers are unarmed.
  • Finally, abuse of official positions severely undermines the rule of law in our country, as it illustrates how state officials feel that they can break rules with impunity. The replacement of rule of law with the Rule of the Deal and personal connections violates the principles laid out in the Constitution of our Democratic Republic. Elite impunity filters down to the rest of society, contributing to disorder, violence and insecurity. Therefore, current and former state officials who illegally store weapons, including weapons from their former service, must be punished according to the full extent of the law.


For more information about this issue, please contact:



Abel Amaral

Diretor Exekutivu Interinu 

Email: mahein2009@gmail.com

Telemovel: (+670) 75771766

Website: www.fundasaunmahein.org

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