APSN Banner

Police fail in conflict prevention in Timor-Leste

East Timor Law and Justice Bulletin - July 29, 2013

Timorese National Police (PNTL) Deputy Commander, Afonso de Jesus, has acknowledged that the police force has failed in its conflict prevention plans and this has left the impression that the police just come to the conflict areas to pick up dead bodies and wounded people.

According to a report in Suara Timor Lorosae on 11 July, Deputy Commander Afonso de Jesus told STL reporters on Tuesday at the police headquarters that "We recognize that there has been failure in PNTL operations plan because when PNTL members arrive, the conflict has happened and left the wounded people or even the bodies and sometimes PTNL members do patrols in one place, while the conflict happens in other places."

He added that PNTL as an institution which was responsible for security continued to work together with all PNTL units to control and conduct patrols in potential conflict areas.

In the wake or recent violent conflicts in the country's capital, Dili, the leading security sector monitoring organisation, Fundasaun Mahein, has appealed for more support for conflict prevention efforts and that they be streamlined and more effectively distributed.

In a press release on 26 July, FM noted that "[t]he recent increase in Martial Arts Gang disturbances has led to a "zero-tolerance" policy regarding gang violence. As it is unclear whether this policy will focus on post-conflict punishment or pre-conflict prevention, this policy has placed a renewed emphasis on the importance of conflict prevention in Timor-Leste.

On 30 July 2013, civil society activists – together with the military, police, and State Secretary for Security – will hold a large meeting in the Suku Casa of Ainaro to discuss issues in conflict prevention.

The government's official conflict prevention efforts have come through two departments. First, via the State Secretary for Security which created the DNPKK (the National Directorate for Community Conflict Prevention). Second, via the Ministry of Social Solidarity, which created the Department Harii Dame.

Although these organizations are well funded, they have been unsuccessful in gaining community participation, support, or legitimacy. As a result, the output of the DNPKK's and Department Harii Dame's conflict prevention efforts has been largely underwhelming. Fundasaun Mahein is concerned that these two organizations have been assigned the same (overlapping) jobs in community conflict prevention, but neither have been doing their jobs successfully despite enormous financial support.

Unofficial efforts at conflict prevention have come from the KPK (Community Police Councils) organizations. This organization is comprised of various groups and stakeholders including the youth, women, veterans, and Suku (village) counsels within each community.

Utilising a preventative framework, the KPK works with NGO's and government institutions to share information and examine the root causes of problems so that a solution may be reached. The KPK has been impressively successful in increasing security and peace throughout the 5 districts in which it operates. Yet, the KPK operates without financial or legislative support from the government. Why should multiple organizations (the KPK, KNPKK, and MSS) tasked with achieving similar goals operate when their simultaneous existence is counter-productive and confusing to community members?

Fundasaun Mahein recommends that conflict prevention efforts be streamlined and legitimized through the creation of a single government-backed institution. The KPK has shown itself to be the organization with a proven record of results, making a strong case for increased governmental support in the form of investments and legislative backing.

In addition, Fundasaun Mahein supports the model of community meetings like the one to be held at Suku Casa on July 30, where civil society activists will meet with members of the military, police, and State Secretary for Security to discuss conflict prevention issues. It is our view that community conflict prevention efforts in which various community groups are represented is the most successful strategy.

[Sources: Suara Timor Lorosae, July 11, 2013 Fundasaun Mahein Press Release 26 July 2013 Edited by Warren L. Wright.]