Research Report – Perceptions of Timor-Leste’s Military and Police Ten Years after the 2006 Crisis

September 25, 2017

One decade after they were central actors in a violent political-military crisis, Timor-Leste’s military the FALINTIL-Forsa Defeza Timor-Leste (F-FDTL) and police the Polisia Nasional Timor-Leste (PNTL) today enjoy a broad degree of acceptance and legitimacy among the East Timorese populace, according to a research report published by Belun in Dili on Friday, September 22nd.

However, the report  which is entitled From Kindergarten to High School: Perceptions of Timor-Leste’s Military and Police Ten Years after the 2006 Crisis  also cautions that the conduct of personnel from both institutions has not yet met public expectations, and concludes that publicly addressing misconduct and abuse will significantly enhance popular perceptions of both institutions going forward.

Please access the full report here.

The report, which offers 34 detailed recommendations to the F-FDTL, PNTL and other relevant state institutions, is the culmination of a three-year, mixed-methods research project carried out by Belun, an East Timorese non-governmental organization, with technical support from Columbia Universitys Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, and financial support from the International Development Research Centre.

Field research undertaken for this project represents the most extensive consultation of the East Timorese population about their perceptions and expectations of their military and police since the departure of the United Nations mission in 2012. The report’s data was collected from 39 focus group discussions and 35 interviews in urban and rural areas across the country, from nationally-representative perception surveys conducted by Belun and The Asia Foundation, and from monitoring reports generated by Belun’s Conflict Early Warning, Early Response system.

According to the report, most East Timorese respondents perceived that the F-FDTL and PNTL were immature in 2006, when they played a central role in the crisis, and that, while they have developed significantly since then, they are still not fully mature. Importantly, however, few participants believed that another crisis such as that of 2006 could occur again, and the majority of the respondents felt positive about the ability of both the F-FDTL and PNTL to be resilient to future challenges.

The 83-page report organizes the publica’s perceptions of their country’s military and police into four categories:

  1. Institutional form, or what the institutions are and how they are organized (e.g. their institutional structures).
  • Generally, respondents said that Timor-Leste needed a military and most recognized the authority of the police to address crimes in the penal code (public crimesal), though many still preferred instead to engage traditional justice actors, especially to address cases of domestic violence. Furthermore, a significant minority still primarily judged the legitimacy of the F-FDTL and PNTL based on the personnel within each institution (e.g. FALINTIL veterans within the F-FDTL), or did not understand or support the principle of civilian supremacy over the military.
  1. Function, or what the institutions are doing (i.e. their roles).
  • Generally, respondents understood and agreed with the primary functions of the F-FDTL and PNTL to, respectively, protect the country from external threats and maintain law and order. However, a significant minority were either confused by or unhappy with the overlapping of F-FDTL and PNTL functions, including the military’s secondary function in supporting the PNTL to maintain internal security, the perceived militarization of the police and the difficulty they had in visually distinguishing F-FDTL and PNTL personnel.
  1. Performance, or whether the institutions are carrying out their functions effectively and successfully.
  • Generally, respondents were satisfied with the performance of the F-FDTL, who they deemed to be an effective deterrent to external threat, and the PNTL, who were perceived to be effective at maintaining law and order most of the time. However, respondents were split about whether the PNTL could be relied upon to respond quickly enough to public disturbances or to be visible enough to deter violence, though many acknowledged that the PNTL’s performance was often hampered by insufficient resources or poor infrastructure.
  1. Conduct, or how the institutions carry out their functions (e.g. in a disciplined manner or not).
  • Of the four categories, public perception was by far most negative about the conduct of F-FDTL and PNTL personnel, including about the adherence of some soldiers and police officers to written rules, such as the law or institutional policies, and unwritten rules, such as societal norms for social interaction. Widespread concern was voiced about perceived abuse of power and use of excessive force during their interventions, especially during the 2015 Joint F-FDTL-PNTL operation in Baucau municipality, when the use of force, harassment and poor treatment of women were perceived to intensify. While the conduct of the PNTL’s Village Police Officers was widely praised, the report concluded that many of the gains in perceptions of the police made by the Village Police Officers were likely being undone by the perceived poor conduct of other police units.

In order to address the above issues and others summarized in the report, Belun offers recommendations aimed, among other objectives, at:

  • improving public confidence in the future leaders of the F-FDTL
  • reducing commentary from the F-FDTL leadership about civilian affairs in the media
  • clarifying the functions of both institutions
  • limiting the use of the F-FDTL in security operations within Timor-Leste’s borders
  • ensuring the adequate resourcing of the PNTL and enhancing the populationai??i??s access to police assistance
  • encouraging the development and use of new monitoring and evaluation metrics for police performance
  • re-orienting the focus of the PNTL to its community policing mandate
  • reducing perceptions of partiality in both institutionsal day-to-day operations and recruitment processes
  • overhauling the oversight, complaints and internal disciplinary mechanisms of both institutions

Please access the full report with complete recommendations here.

For more information, please contact:

  • Luis da Costa Ximenes or +670 7723 4406
  • Jesuina Maria do Rosario Abel jesuina.belun@gmail.comAi??or +670 7700 3952
  • Bertanizo Guro da Costa or +670 7766 8143
  • Zachary Abugov