Source: Ema ho Kilat Tiru Komunidade Nia Karau iha Natarbora – Lais, Atuál & Konfiável – Hatutan.com
As an organization which monitors the security sector in Timor-Leste, Fundasaun Mahein (FM) regularly discusses examples of poor behaviour and malpractice committed by members of the security forces. Based on FM’s monitoring, there have been several cases in which unknown persons used military-grade weapons to shoot community livestock. These incidents have occurred in various places between 2021 and 2022, including in Bobonaro, Manatuto and Manufahi Municipalities. FM views these incidents as major violations of the law, which also threaten people’s livelihoods and weaken public confidence in the state.
This article discusses the capacities of the state security institutions in relation to its legal and ethical responsibilities and the control of firearms. As FM has written previously, these regulatory and disciplinary violations occur frequently in this country. Therefore, this article aims to raise public awareness about these particular cases, and asks the leadership of security institutions to increase the professionalism of their members, particularly in relation to the use of firearms.
As these actions continue year after year, FM is concerned that this indicates that the state lacks capacity to prevent serious violations of law and rules by members of the security forces. We urge the heads of security institutions to treat these incidents as serious crimes against the people’s lives and security. Moreover, FM believes that this issue must be urgently addressed, as we are concerned that if such incidents continue, the people’s confidence in the state’s legitimacy will continue to be weakened. Therefore, we ask the authorities of relevant security institutions to conduct serious investigations into these incidents, to identify those responsible and obtain justice for the victims.
Facts related to incidents of shooting community livestock
Many Timorese people sustain their lives by raising livestock. When livestock animals die due to disease or accidents, people suffer negative impacts to their lives, especially those who live in poverty. When someone kills livestock with the intention of stealing or destroying the animals, it is even worse. However, in recent times, cases of shooting of livestock animals continue to occur.
FM received information from community members related to cases of people using firearms to shoot cows in Maliana, Manufahi and Manatuto. In some cases, the perpetrators were unknown, while in others, the community knows that members of PNTL and F-FDTL were responsible.
On 14 January 2021 at 9pm in Wetó Suco, Manufahi Municipality, unknown persons shot several community cows. On 14 February 2021 at 3am in Maumali Aldeia, Maliana Posto, Bobonaro Municipality, a member of F-FDTL allegedly shot community livestock. Then, on 19 March 2021, the community in Lahomea Suco, Bobonaro Municipality accused a PNTL officer of shooting cows owned by the community.
More recently, on 23 September 2022, unknown persons shot three community cows in Umaboku Suco, Natarbora Posto, Manatuto Municipality. The perpetrators took two cows with them but failed to bring the third.
Following these incidents, communities expressed their anger and concern to the state authorities in charge of processing such cases. In Lahomea Suku, Bobonaro Municipality, the community produced a press release to appeal to the public about the shooting of their cows by a PNTL officer.
Communities condemned the unprofessional use of firearms which destroyed an important source of community wealth. Communities demanded that authorities prioritise the control of firearms according to existing rules. Unfortunately, owners of the animals have submitted numerous complaints, but in general, the response from security authorities has been inadequate, with case files often being “lost” and a resulting lack of progress in processing the case.
Inadequate response from security institutions
Following the incident in Natarbora, the PNTL Commander dispatched a team composed of members of the PNTL intelligence service to search for the unknown persons who used military-type rifles to shoot the community’s animals. At the same time, the Municipal Commander of PNTL in Manatuto stated that after he received information about this incident, he directed PNTL’s head of investigation in Natarbora to call the owners of the cows to provide statements about the incidents, which can then be used to investigate the case and identify the suspects.
Regarding this specific case, FM appreciates that the state has showed some effort to conduct an investigation. However, the case has still not been resolved until today, as the suspect has not been identified. Furthermore, the PNTL Commander, in response to public concerns about use and control of firearms, has recognised that PNTL lacks adequate controls. However, with regard to these and other cases involving misuse of firearms and indiscipline by security forces, FM observes that the state response has not yet convinced the public. As a result, FM fears that communities are losing confidence in the justice process and in security institutions themselves.
Conclusion: security forces fail to understand their duties according to the Constitution, laws and rules
According to the RDTL Constitution, the role of PNTL and F-FDTL is to guarantee national security, maintain public order and uphold the rule of law. FM views these cases as major violations of these constitutional responsibilities, as well as violations of internal rules of PNTL and F-FDTL regarding the use of firearms. Those responsible have also violated the people’s rights and wellbeing of communities, as they have harmed the economic life of communities.
These incidents suggest that some members of the security forces do not fully understand that the purpose of state weapons is to protect the people and the nation by maintaining public order and protecting them from enemies. They are most certainly not supposed to be used to shoot and steal community livestock. In the past, when our resistance heroes spent bullets in their fight against the enemy, they did not waste them. Sadly, today, some security force members use bullets without justification or reason. FM has written many times about how the misuse of firearms by security forces threatens public order and the lives of the people, and we are saddened that this practice continues.
Such behaviour reveals the security sector’s weak institutional capacity and maturity. State firearms are supposed to use to provide security and protect citizens from threats, but are used instead to threaten people’s lives and livelihoods. The irresponsible use of firearms also indicates that the state has failed to adequately invest in building capacity in the security sector. Although crimes are committed by individual members, FM views these cases as the ultimate responsibility of the PNTL and F-FDTL leadership, as they have failed to ensure that their members follow orders and rules, while also failing to hold those who violate rules to account.
Finally, these actions do not only violate rules, laws and the RDTL Constitution, and run contrary to the security mission of PNTL and F-FDTL; we also must not forget that these actions directly threaten people’s lives and their economic rights. When the state fails to investigate and identify the perpetrators of these crimes, impunity reigns and public confidence in the state is weakened. Moreover, if the state cannot maintain discipline by creating an institutional culture of law and order, public security and national stability are threatened.
- As FM has asked many times, the leaders of security institutions must take actions to ensure that all members understand and follow existing rules related to the control of firearms and use of force. Outside working hours, firearms must be handed in and stored securely in armouries.
- The Government should orient security and defence institutions to follow the path of legality and justice. FM therefore recommends creating a training program to teach security forces about the constitutional responsibilities of security institutions in democratic states based on the rule of law.
- FM asks Parliamentary Committee B to prioritise cases of malpractice resulting from the misuse of firearms by security forces, and to create an initiative to ensure that security members cannot continue to use firearms according to their individual desires in violation of existing rules.
In January 2023, FM asked the Government to implement a system of annual weapons audits across the territory of Timor-Leste. We see that this is the only way to prevent the illegal use and distribution of weapons in our country, and thereby guarantee public security and national stability.