Tragic Dili shooting shows Timor policing still in need of reform
In the early hours of Sunday morning in Dili, off-duty East Timorese police shot dead three young people and injured five. With tragic irony, the incident happened at a ‘kore metan’ party, a festive occasion intended to mark the passing of a year since a friend or family member’s death.
Anger at the police is palpable. On Timor-Leste’s lively social media scene, many Timorese have changed their profile picture to read #hanoin_kuluhun (‘Remember Kuluhun’, referencing the neighbourhood where the shooting took place), with the additional message that PNTL (Polícia Nacional de Timor-Leste, the East Timorese police) don’t need to carry guns.
The shooting occurred following days of protests in Dili against a decision of the Timorese Parliament to sell former parliamentarians Toyota Prado 4WDs at knock-down rates. While some of the protestors’ ire was directed against the East Timorese police for their over-zealous use of tear gas, indiscriminate and severe beatings, and arrests, there is no obvious linkage between the protests and the shooting incident.
Collectively, and separately, we have been working on issues related to the East Timorese police for many years. We watched and read the news over the weekend with sadness and dismay, but little surprise.
In 2014, we conducted a review of community policing programs in Timor-Leste supported by the New Zealand Government. We found a high degree of public support for policing, and grassroots demand for it to be more accessible at the village level. At the same time, it became apparent that although there was an explicit commitment to community policing in law and policy, this existed in tension with other militarising tendencies within the organisation. This starts right from the get-go. For example, recruit training – led by an arm of the Portuguese police, whom the Timorese government pay for – …read more