Subject: UN report says Timor at human rights crossroads

also: Herald Sun: Timor abuse cases on rise

Radio Australia August 21, 2008 -transcript-

UN report says Timor at human rights crossroads

East Timor is at a human rights crossroads, says a new report by the United Nations. The U-N says in the last six months there's been a notable increase in complaints of human rights abuses against East Timor's national police.

Presenter: Stephanie March

Speaker: Mark Green, NGO director; Louis Gentile, chief of UN Human Rights and Transitional Justice Office UN in East Timor.

GREEN: One officer, who was quite thin, approached the motor cyclist quite vehemently. The motor cyclist began to cower. Then the PNTL officer began to hit the motor cyclist with his fists. Several vicious-looking blows were successfully aimed at his chest and abdomen.

MARCH: Mark Green is the Country Director of Caritas East Timor, and
resident of Dili.

GREEN: I slowed my vehicle down to a crawling pace and held down my horn for about 5-6 seconds as I drew adjacent with the motor cyclist but the PNTL officer kept on beating him.

MARCH: He witnessed this incident in May this year, while driving through the streets of the capital, in broad daylight.

It occurred during the state of siege and joint police and military operation that was put in place following the rebel attack on the president in February this year.

And as Louis Gentile, chief of Human Rights and Transitional Justice for the UN in East Timor says, the incident witnessed by Mark Green was by no means isolated.

GENTILE: There were 58 allegations relating to the security forces and Joint Command during the state of siege. Most of those violations were involving ill treatment and beating of citizens. Some of them involved death threats, in fact there were six death threats.

MARCH: Responsibility for policing in East Timor was put in the hands of the UN following the crisis of 2006, but the UN is now gradually trying to return that role to local forces.

During the joint operation, hundreds of police officers were pulled out of their UN mentoring program, considered a vital part of preparing local officers to operate without international assistance and were sent to hunt for the rebels.

Another group of police who operate largely outside the supervision of the UN is the PNTL Task Force.

Established in December 2007, the 100-strong Dili-based task force has been credited with an overall decrease in violent crime, but UN monitoring of the force shows an increase in alleged cases of use of excessive force, unlawful searches of houses and abusive behavior, to achieve that goal.

While the UN says it's pleased with the response from the government intent to deal with human rights problems, there are concerns their message may not be filtering down to forces on the ground.

GENTILE: I think really there are two obstacles. One is process and one is will. The one with process involves ensuring that proper mechanisms exist within security forces to ensure people are held accountable. In the case of the PNTL those mechanisms are in place on
paper, but there is still a problem of will. We know of cases for example where officers are recommended for suspension but the suspension is not being executed.

He says in the case of the military, the problem is there is no formal process for accountability.

GENTILE: Again commanders have given assurances there will be accountability. Maybe it is too early to judge, but it has been a significant period of time already and we think it is legitimate to ask for those results, and we have not yet seen those results.

Investigations into 44 violations reported to the Provadore for Human Rights are expected to be completed by October, and if deemed necessary recommendations will be sent to the Prosecutor General's office for further action.

The only problem there is that the Prosecutor General's office currently has a back-log of 4,700 cases.

With these hurdles in mind Louis Gentile says that right now, East Timor is at a human rights cross road.

GENTILE: It would be easy to take the wrong road and also relatively achievable and realistic to take the right road without too much pain for those concerned.

MARCH: The upside, he says, is that East Timor has two key factors that other countries in the same situation, don't: international support and financial resources.

GENTILE: And you add to that some of the basic framework you need that doesn't exisit in other dev countires: you have a constitution that is one of the best in the world in terms of incorporating international human rights principals. You have a democratically elected gov, and a vocal opposition, and a functioning parliament.

MARCH: But he says the key is to be patient.

GENTILE: These are things that take years to achieve, building a proper justice system for example and rule of law, doesn't take three years or five years it takes 20 years.


Melbourne Herald-Sun Friday, August 22, 1008

Timor abuse cases on rise

DILI -- Complaints of human rights abuses by East Timor's fledgling national police have shown a ``notable increase'' over the past year, the United Nations said in a report yesterday.

The UN report said progress on rights since independence from Indonesia in 2002 had been tempered by abuses by the security forces and judicial shortcomings.

The UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste report said a new national police taskforce created in the capital, Dili, in December had had a significant impact on crime. But there had also been a sharp rise in complaints about abuses by security forces, it said.

The task force had been accused of ``excessive use of force and ill-treatment during arrest, unlawful searches of houses and abusive behaviour,'' it said.

It welcomed increases in the number of judges but said there was a backlog of about 4700 criminal cases.


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