Subject: Asia Times: East Timor's New Sheriff [UN's Sandra Peisley]

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

Asia Times

July 8, 2003

East Timor's New Sheriff

By Jill Jolliffe

DILI - Sandra Peisley, the United Nations' newly appointed police chief in East Timor, is not the sort of person to flinch from a problem. If she were, she might have turned back to her native Australia soon after reaching Dili in late June.

Days after she took over as commissioner of UNPOL, the international force commanding security operations, Amnesty International issued a scathing report on its performance. It alleged that after several years in East Timor, UNPOL had failed to deliver on a "commitment to establish a credible, professional and impartial" Timorese police service, and equally failed to develop "a culture and ethos in which human rights are fully entrenched in police behavior and practice".

Peisley knew there was demoralization among UNPOL officers and that the East Timorese police service they had created was having serious problems. The reputations of both had been seriously affected by devastating riots in December during which the police failed to act effectively.

She was thus prepared for a black outlook, but not for such immediate problems. Amnesty's verdict was followed within days by new press allegations of police complicity in the trafficking of prostitutes whose main clients are UN staff.

But 47-year-old "Sandi" Peisley, as she likes to be known, comes highly qualified for the task, having worked her way up through the ranks of the Australian Federal Police, which she joined as a teenager, and gained experience with the UN during a 1994 stint in Cyprus.

In terms of women serving in UN peacekeeping missions, Peisley is the UN's top cop - the first-ever woman to head a United Nations police force.

Speaking in the former Indonesian barracks that is now the command center for both UNPOL and the East Timorese National Police (PNTL), she said she had only a slight hesitation in accepting the job. "I had to remind myself that I'm a 'can do' sort of person, then decided pretty quickly that I could do it," she recalled, adding: "I'm very conscious ... that it's not going to be a walk in the park."

In East Timor, all eyes will be on her as she tackles the task of restoring the reputation of UNPOL and running a total review of the demoralized East Timorese police headed by her local counterpart, Commissioner Paulo Martins.

Policing crisis

Peisley took over from Canadian commissioner Peter Miller, who led the police before and after independence. UNPOL was so deeply unpopular in the last period of his mission that he spent it under heavy personal guard.

The international force has two agreed functions in independent East Timor: it holds final responsibility for internal security (resented as an infringement of sovereignty by some Timorese), and for the training of a local police force to replace it after withdrawal, set for next June.

Question marks over its capabilities on both counts came to a head after renegade UNPOL officer Nick Torre opened a tell-all webpage before leaving East Timor last month.

Before his UN mission, Torre, a Filipino, had worked as a counter-insurgency specialist in Mindanao, and he warned that Dili was "a breeding ground for insurgency".

In an interview with Asia Times Online, he said UNPOL's failure to learn from the December 4 rioting, which left two dead and millions of dollars in damage from arson and looting, could lead to new tragedy.

The violence was sparked by the fatal shooting of two demonstrators by local police, and he claimed that their shoddy training by the UN was creating "a police like Kopassus", the feared Indonesian special force, rather than one with popular support. Allegations of East Timorese police beatings are increasingly common.

Torre was deputy intelligence chief on December 4, and revealed that as the first buildings were burning early in the day, he warned superiors that events were spinning out of control and that the military should be called in, but was ignored.

Although the UN mandate is to ensure the security of the East Timorese population, he said the only contingency plan it had that day was to defend UN installations and, if that failed, to evacuate.

Torre was later demoted by deputy commissioner Denis McDermott, who has since completed his mission. The Filipino officer alleged that McDermott blamed UNPOL's failure on his poor intelligence reporting, and on inexperienced Timorese police, rather than the errors of its own commanders.

He claimed he was made a scapegoat - but he undermined his case by bad language and personal insults of McDermott on his webpage.

Sukehiro Hasegawa, deputy UN head in East Timor, denied the victimization charge. "He was not made a scapegoat," he said. "The UN is conducting its own investigation on the riots, which is not yet complete."

A UN official in Dili who asked not to be named backed Torre's assessment of the police crisis, now reinforced by the Amnesty report. He alleged that the UN has failed "to improve training or to develop the police force as a viable entity. UN headquarters continues to send street cops to East Timor at immense cost, but will not send experts who can actually do something about building the police force".

Rebuilding confidence

Commissioner Peisley has been plunged into this debate. Torre's view of police failure is generally shared by the East Timorese public, which means Peisley has a residue of resentment to overcome.

Asked to comment on Peisley's appointment, Francisco Branco, parliamentary leader of the governing Fretilin party, said he didn't believe it would change much. "UNPOL was well regarded before, but it has been discredited since the riots last December," he said. "The population trusted it to protect them, but it failed. Reform is needed."

Peisley has made it clear that she has a reform agenda, and will meet criticism head-on.

With PNTL commissioner Martins, she is reviewing the training of East Timorese police agents and working to restoring their respect in the brief period left before UNPOL's pullout. She is not short of ideas.

Basic training will increase from three to six months and there will be a careful selection of the UN police who conduct it. "I'm going to attend the induction of these UN trainers and tell them exactly what I want," she said, adding that a code of conduct will be enforced, with new in-depth training in human-rights principles.

"Every community member in East Timor was saddened by what happened in December," she mused. "We must ensure that if such trouble happens again, both UNPOL and PNTL will be prepared to deal with it."

On accusations that UNPOL has closed its eyes to cases of human trafficking involving Thai and Indonesian women brought to East Timor as prostitutes, she has vowed to clean up the situation, while asserting that the problem has been exaggerated by sensationalist reporting.

Sandi Peisley has a clear advantage on one aspect of the job. The East Timorese police have a recruitment target of 20 percent women - in a country that had never before seen female police - and a pledge to fight discrimination, to ensure they stay in the force. The Australian commissioner will undoubtedly provide a role model. She joined the police force in Canberra when female officers had their own battle for equality, for which reason she is bound to keep an encouraging eye on her young Timorese female counterparts.


Back to July menu
June

World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu