[TimorLesteStudies] International Crisis Group Report- Timor-Leste: Security Sector Reform

Bu Wilson Bu.Wilson at anu.edu.au
Fri Jan 18 08:51:30 EST 2008

International Crisis Group
Timor-Leste: Security Sector Reform

Asia Report N°143
17 January 2008

Full report at http://www.crisisgroup.org/


Four years after Timor-Leste gained independence, its police and army were
fighting each other in the streets of Dili. The April-June 2006 crisis left
both institutions in ruins and security again in the hands of international
forces. The crisis was precipitated by the dismissal of almost half the army
and caused the virtual collapse of the police force. UN police and
Australian-led peacekeepers maintain security in a situation that, while not
at a point of violent conflict, remains unsettled. If the new government is
to reform the security sector successfully, it must ensure that the process
is inclusive by consulting widely and resisting the tempation to take
autocratic decisions. A systematic, comprehensive approach, as recommended
by the UN Security Council, should be based on a realistic analysis of
actual security and law-enforcement needs. Unless there is a non-partisan
commitment to the reform process, structural problems are likely to remain
unresolved and the security forces politicised and volatile.

The problems run deep. Neither the UN administration nor successive Timorese
governments did enough to build a national consensus about security needs
and the kind of forces required to meet them. There is no national security
policy, and there are important gaps in security-related legislation. The
police suffer from low status and an excess of political interference. The
army still trades on its heroism in resisting the Indonesian occupation but
has not yet found a new role and has been plagued by regional (east-west)
rivalry. There is a lack of transparency and orderly arrangements in
political control as well as parliamentary and judicial oversight with
respect to both forces.

The government that took office in August 2007 has an opportunity – while
international troops maintain basic security and the UN offers assistance –
to conduct a genuine reform of the security sector, drawing on the
experiences of other post-conflict countries. But international goodwill is
not inexhaustible – there are already signs of donor fatigue – so it needs
to act fast.

For its part, the international community must do a better job of
coordinating its support to the security sector and responding to a
Timorese-owned reform process. For example, the UN police who screen and
mentor the local force should be better trained and supervised, and more
responsive to feedback from their Timorese colleagues. The departure of the
lead UN official on security sector reform at the end of 2007 means that
this issue, already sidelined during the 2007 elections, risks further

The fundamental question of who does what requires particular attention.
Lines have been blurred between the police and the army. A tenet of security
sector reform is that the police should have primary responsibility for
internal security. However, the Timorese police have not been given the
resources, training and backing to fulfil this role effectively, and
national leaders have been too ready to call in the army when disorder
threatens. The police structures should be simplified, with greater emphasis
on community policing, to help prevent local situations from getting out of
hand. Morale is perilously low and will only improve through a sustained
process of professionalisation.

The new government’s plan to transfer responsibility for border management
from the police to the army is a mistake which could lead to increased
tension along a poorly demarcated border, on the other side of which is a
heavy Indonesian military presence. It could also see a backlash from local
communities that feel the army still has a regional bias. It does make
sense, however, for the military to take full responsibility for marine
security, an important concern for Timor-Leste. It also has an important
part to play in supporting the police when internal security gets out of
control and in responding to natural catastrophes – but in both cases
subordinate to the police and civilian authorities. The planned introduction
of conscription is unnecessary and would exacerbate problems within the

Some steps can be taken without waiting for the comprehensive review the
Security Council has called for: for example, increasing salaries, improving
donor coordination, addressing legislative gaps and improving disciplinary
procedures. But key questions such as force size, major equipment purchases,
and army and police role definitions should wait until a consultative
process has allowed Timor’s citizens to have their say. While outside the
scope of this report, wider legal system reform is an essential corollary of
security sector reform, if Timor-Leste is to have a functioning system of
law and order.

The post-independence honeymoon ended in 2006. Neither Timorese nor
internationals any longer have the excuse of inexperience or unfamiliarity
to explain further failings. With international forces providing a temporary
safety net, now is the best and possibly last chance for the government and
its partners to get security sector reform right.


To the Timor-Leste Government:

1.  Give a high priority to the comprehensive review of the security sector
called for in UN Security Council Resolution 1704 and subsequent UN reports,
delaying major reforms until it is completed.

2.  Clarify and distinguish the roles of the police and army, ensuring that
the police have primary responsibility for internal security and receive the
necessary personnel, tools, training and political support.

3.  Take advantage of the expertise in the UN’s Security Sector Support Unit
to conduct national consultations on security sector reform.

4.  Separate the petitioners or deserters from the 2006 crisis who have
justifiable grievances from those who have illegally taken arms, incited
unrest or are responsible for criminal acts; consider the former for
amnesty; and deal with the latter in accordance with the law.

5.  Establish robust and independent oversight mechanisms to investigate
complaints of police and military misconduct, as recommended by the October
2006 Commission of Inquiry (CoI) report.

6.  Develop an intelligence structure that is law-based and accountable.

7.  Ensure that new legislation on pensions covers more veterans and
liberalises or eliminates the age limit.

To the President and Prime Minister:

8.  Clarify, by new legislation if necessary, who has the lead role in
security sector policy and ensure that the constitutional requirements for
presidential involvement in the security sector are followed.

To the UN Mission (UNMIT):

9.  Give the Security Sector Support Unit – the key body for dealing with
the government on security sector reform – the resources and staff to assist
the consultation process and comprehensive review.

To the UN Police:

10.  Improve pre-deployment training for UN police, giving more emphasis to
the local context, a standardised process for mentoring and a longer period
for adjustment to UN practices and procedures.

To the Timorese Police:

11.  Use the Reform, Restructuring and Rebuilding (RRR) process to reduce
the number of units and management structures.

12.  Make community policing a priority for force development by developing
a Timorese concept and establishing a coordination unit at headquarters.

To the Army and the Ministry of Defence and Security:

13.  Improve quality by prioritising training of mid- to high-level
officers, while international forces are handling operational
responsibilities, and by recruiting new personnel through a selection
process that reflects the standards of a professional army with career
prospects rather than by instituting conscription.

To the Army and Police:

14.  Conduct joint training in order to clarify procedures for interaction,
including military help in a state of emergency.

15.  Establish clear, impartial internal complaints procedures and ensure
personnel do not fear that using them will damage their careers.

16.  Inculcate an ethos of non-partisanship, including by transparent
promotions and discipline based on internal procedures and criteria rather
than external political affiliation.

To Bilateral Donors:

17.  Establish a mechanism to improve coordination of assistance to the
security sector and require all requests for such aid to come through the
ministry of defence and security.

18.  Consider conditioning security sector assistance on progress in the key
areas of legislative reform, as well as in developing a national security
policy and implementing CoI recommendations.

Dili/Brussels, 17 January 2008
Bu Wilson
Regulatory  Institutions Network (RegNet) 
College of Asia and the Pacific, RSPAS
Australian National University 
Canberra   ACT   0200 

T: 02 6125 3194 
F: 02 6125 1507
M: 0407 087 086 
E: Bu.Wilson at anu.edu.au


ANU Cricos Provider Code - 00120C 

More information about the Easttimorstudies mailing list