A report on human rights released by the United States government highlights the problems with police in the Catholic-majority country of Timor-Leste, such as violence against civilians and efforts to deter communities from reporting such cases.
The 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices released on April 12 said the vast majority of complaints regarding the Timor-Leste National Police (PNTL) "involved mistreatment or use of excessive force during incident response or arrest."
"Conduct of off-duty police officers was also a problem," the report said.
The report cites a case where two police officers in Dili municipality allegedly attacked a street vendor while they were guarding a municipal checkpoint.
In a May 2020 incident, a police officer allegedly shot a pedestrian who shouted at him for driving aggressively.
The report also mentions how the PNTL stopped a case of using excessive force against civilians in 2019 in Baucau city and the police officers were permitted to return to service after claiming the victim was drunk and created a disturbance.
The police were also said to have hampered efforts by civilians to report complaints about police behavior, "including repeated requests to return later or to submit their complaints in writing."
"There was a widespread belief that members of the security forces enjoyed substantial impunity for illegal or abusive actions and that reporting abuse would lead to retaliation rather than positive change," it said.
The report comes amid continued concerns over violence by the police, without remediation, as national organizations have highlighted.
According to Fundassaun Mahein, an NGO which examines defense and security issues, there were no adequate measures against cases of police violence, although some were fatal.
It cited a 2018 case when three people were killed and four seriously injured by a police officer in Kuluhun, Dili, and then in 2021 when two people were killed and one seriously injured in Aihanek-hun, Lahane, Dili.
In January this year, six police officers were arrested for allegedly killing a man and injuring two others in Aldeia Loro, a village in the southwest of the country.
The NGO said it "provides regular recommendations to PNTL Command to ensure that PNTL's operations adhere to human rights principles and the rule of law" and "requests that the legislative and executive branches of government assist PNTL to improve its performance and credibility."
"However, PNTL members continue to violate the law, rules and also the principles of community policing. These problems are not simply the result of a lack of control of mental or emotional states, but a lack of implementation of rules at the leadership level," Fundassaun Mahein stated.
Meanwhile, while leading the PNTL anniversary Mass on March 27, Archbishop Dom Virgilo do Carmo da Silva of Dili asked the PNTL to respond to various public concerns by conducting internal evaluations to improve services to the community.
The PNTL was formed in 2002 and has 4,089 personnel, of whom 3,477 are men and 612 are women.