Militarization of the National Intelligence Service and Use of Arms Seriously Injured a Man in Covalima

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Fundasaun Mahein, 3 May 2024

Press Release

Militarization of the National Intelligence Service and Use of Arms Seriously Injured a Man in Covalima


On the evening of May 1, 2024, at approximately 10:20 PM, a member of FALINTIL-Força de Defesa de Timor-Leste (F-FDTL), deployed with the National Intelligence Service (SNI), discharged a firearm injuring a man in Wetaba Village, Beiseuk Suku, Tilomar Administrative Post, Covalima Municipality. According to the chronology delineated by Fundasaun Mahein (FM), community members, who had convened for night prayers, were observed lingering on the roadside while consuming alcohol. A black Hilux pick-up, lacking registration plates, transported a woman toward Salele. Subsequently, some community members attempted to contact the woman via her mobile phone. Upon this, the male driver abruptly returned and inquired about the youth congregated on the road. A scuffle ensued as the young men attempted to extricate the woman from the vehicle. Allegedly, the male driver discharged a firearm toward the youths seated on the road, resulting in the injury of a male youth who was struck in the shoulder. At the same time, a disabled youth was assaulted, sustaining injuries.

Following the incident, members of the community encircled the individual involved, identifying him as “GSC”, an Under-Lieutenant Post member of F-FDTL, who was deployed with the SNI and stationed at the Covalima Municipality border post. The male youth victim, identified as “EK”, aged 24 and from Wetaba Village, Beiseuk Suku, Tilomar Administrative Post, Covalima Municipality, sustained serious injuries from the gunshot and was subsequently transported to Suai Hospital for medical treatment. He was later transferred to Guido Valadares National Hospital (HNGV) in Dili, where he remains in critical condition, receiving ongoing medical care.

Based on this incident, FM would like to share observations related to the work of the military and SNI, particularly regarding policies, leadership, organizational management and the use of firearms by SNI.

Reforming SNI: just a slogan?

Last year, the President of the Republic voiced concerns about the perceived “militarization” of SNI, citing the Government’s appointment of a senior F-FDTL officer as SNI’s Director-General. Since the inception of the IX Constitutional Government on July 1, 2023, the Prime Minister has also consistently raised concerns about the “militarization of the intelligence services”. The Government’s Program, outlined upon assuming office, includes the restructuring of SNI, driven by the existing reservations expressed by both the President and Prime Minister regarding its leadership. Thus, the proposed reform and restructuring of SNI primarily entail a change in the institution’s leadership. However, this approach to reform is not in line with established standards governing intelligence service restructuring, rendering it more of a slogan than a substantive overhaul.

Militarization of SNI and duplication of functions

Despite the expressed concerns of the President and Prime Minister regarding the appointment of a senior F-FDTL officer as the Director-General of SNI, the number of F-FDTL personnel deployed to SNI has continued to rise during the tenure of the IX Government. FM’s monitoring reveals that seven F-FDTL members are currently assigned to SNI, with plans underway to enlist additional members from the F-FDTL command. However, FM observes that the current deployment of F-FDTL members to SNI does not adhere to the rules and procedures established under SNI law. As stipulated in Article 14, Decree-Law No. 3/2009 of January 15, FDTL and PNTL members, along with civilian specialists, may be integrated into management, leadership, and technical positions within SNI.

Thus far, F-FDTL members assigned to SNI have been deployed to land border posts, ports, and airports, as confirmed by SNI members stationed at these locations. Specifically, F-FDTL personnel have been allocated to the Oe-cusse land border, Maliana, Mota Masin, Tibar Port, and President Nicolau Lobato International Airport.

At the same time, the deployment of F-FDTL members to land border posts by SNI duplicates the functions and duties already assigned by the F-FDTL Command to F-FDTL officers stationed at border posts and within F-FDTL’s Information Division. This means that Timor-Leste is allocating significant quantities of resources to complete the same work.

Use of firearms

As stipulated in line a), Article 18 of Decree-Law No. 3/2009, the SNI is mandated not only to uphold the rights enshrined in the Public Function Statute but also to guarantee additional entitlements for its members. These include the provision of specific training prior to undertaking duties within the intelligence service.

FM’s monitoring reveals that F-FDTL members have been assigned to SNI without receiving the requisite preparation mandated by line a), Article 18 as previously mentioned. Instead, the heads of SNI have issued dispatches for the deployment of F-FDTL members to border posts. This oversight fails to acknowledge the distinctions in nature, attributes, competencies, and limitations between security forces such as F-FDTL and PNTL.

According to line b) of Article 18 in Decree-Law No. 3/2009, SNI is granted the authority to carry and utilize firearms. However, the organization currently lacks established legal procedures governing the use of firearms by its members. Furthermore, there are no regulations in place regarding the carrying of firearms by F-FDTL and PNTL members deployed to SNI. Consequently, the absence of specific guidelines pertaining to firearm usage within SNI has led to F-FDTL and PNTL members deployed to SNI employing firearms in an unregulated manner. This uncontrolled use of firearms occurs outside the existing rules and procedures of the intelligence service, exemplified by recent events at the land border in Covalima.

Ironically, the head of SNI himself has a history of involvement in an illegal arms case dating back to the beginning of 2023. Despite over a year passing, this case seems to have reached a standstill. Given this background, Fundasaun Mahein raises a pertinent question: how can the leadership of SNI, which appears to lack integrity due to this unresolved matter, effectively control the use of firearms within the organization?

Will SNI will “wash its hands” of the shooting of the youth in Covalima?

FM believes that SNI’s leadership will likely “wash its hands” regarding the case involving the shooting of the youth in Tilomar, Covalima, by the F-FDTL member deployed to SNI, due to absence of specific regulations addressing disciplinary or criminal cases involving members of PNTL or F-FDTL assigned to SNI. This situation has the potential to spark significant controversy between the leadership of F-FDTL and SNI. While the F-FDTL Command operates under the understanding that F-FDTL members are assigned to SNI in accordance with the provisions outlined in No. 2, Article 14 of Decree-Law No. 3/2009, SNI has extended these assignments beyond the confines delineated by the aforementioned law.

FM anticipates that the F-FDTL Command will be obliged to assume full accountability for the shooting incident in Covalima, as SNI still lacks specific regulations or a legal framework to address such cases. Moreover, SNI has historically handled disciplinary cases involving its members (both permanent and contracted officers) through the Public Function Disciplinary Statute. By resorting to this mechanism for disciplinary cases, SNI’s leadership effectively absolves itself of responsibility for any involvement of F-FDTL members in disciplinary or criminal matters while assigned to SNI, despite the fact that SNI initiated the assignment of F-FDTL members to land border posts.


  1. The National Parliament through the National Intelligence Service Oversight Council and Committee B should conduct urgent oversight of SNI to review the deployment of F-FDTL and PNTL members to SNI, as this has been done not in accordance with No. 2, Article 14 of Decree-Law No. 3/2009. FM also suggests that the Parliament hold an inquiry into the SNI’s functioning, leadership, management and use of firearms.
  2. The Government through the Prime Minister should accelerate the process of reforming SNI which is mentioned in the IX Government Program, so that SNI works according to laws and procedures in order to strengthen the professionalism of the intelligence service.
  3. The Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Interior, F-FDTL Command, and PNTL should review the assignment of members of the security forces to SNI, and when this is done, it should be done according to the provision set out in No. 2, Article 14, and line a), Article 18, Decree-Law, No. 3/2009.
  4. The F-FDTL Command and investigation service should accelerate the process of seriously investigating the case of the F-FDTL member assigned to SNI and deployed to the border post in Covalima Municipality who is suspected of shooting the youth, thereby guaranteeing transparency and accountability.
  5. The Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice (PDHJ) should also monitor this case to ensure that the process is completed transparently and with accountability, thereby guaranteeing the human rights of citizens who have become victims of the actions of state security authorities.

To learn more about this issue, please contact:

Fundasaun Mahein


Telemovel: (+670) 7831 6075



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