Timor-Leste’s police force has made considerable strides since its creation 10 years ago, the top United Nations police official in the nation has said, while adding that the key challenge remains bolstering the trust of the people in the fledgling institution.
UN Police Commissioner Luis Miguel Carrilho told the UN News Centre that Timor-Leste is now a “safe country” with extremely low crime rates.
The restaurants in the capital and most populous city, Dili, are bustling, and “you can see people enjoying their daily routines,” he added.
The main task, the official said, is to “increase the trust of the community in the Timorese police [known as PNTL] and to make sure that we leave behind a sustainable and credible police force.”
For this to happen, he noted, the UN Police (UNPOL) must transfer their skills to their Timorese counterparts, maintaining open lines of communication between the two sides.
But Mr. Carrilho cautioned that this is an “ongoing process,” given that it takes generations to build a police force. “The police will evolve as the society evolves,” he pointed out.
The PNTL is taking a community-based approach to policing, addressing all issues as they arise, endeavouring to prevent crimes from occurring and bringing all culprits to justice.
Also of paramount concern is ensuring that human rights are always respected, that force is only used as a last resort and that the police remain “rigorously” apolitical, said Mr. Carrilho.
Last month, parades were held in Dili to mark the first decade of existence of the PNTL, established on 27 March 2000 by the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), which was set up to assist the country during its transition to independence in 1999.
Since then, the Police Commissioner said, “very, very positive” steps have been taken to enhance the standing of the PNTL.
Since last year, the UN has been handing over policing responsibilities to Timor-Leste as part of the gradual transfer of the security functions it assumed in 2006 after dozens of people were killed and 155,000 others, or 15 per cent of the population, were driven from their homes in an eruption of violence in the newly independent country.
To date, the PNTL has resumed primary responsibility over six districts, including Baucau, the second largest city, as well as three units – the Police Intelligence Service, the Police Training Centre and the Maritime Unit.
Mr. Carrilho underscored that there are “no timelines” when it comes to transferring functions to the PNTL, with decisions to hand over responsibility being made jointly by Timorese and UN authorities. Even after the PNTL assumes primary responsibility over districts and units, UNPOL is continuing to support and mentor Timorese officers.
So far, he said, there has been no major fluctuation in the crime rate in districts that have been handed over, a sign that “the PNTL is able to provide a good service.”
The current UN peacekeeping mission in the country, known as UNMIT, was set up in 2006 to replace several earlier missions, including UNTAET, in the country that the world body shepherded to independence in 2002. It currently comprises nearly 1,500 UNPOL staff from nearly 40 countries.
Last month, the top UN official in Timor-Leste said that the world body and the Government will be consulting closely on how the UN can best support the country’s efforts to secure a stable and prosperous future between now and 2012, when it is expected that UNMIT will close its operations there.
“I look forward very much to the dialogue with the Government about how best UNMIT and the United Nations can support the national process in the next three years,” said Ameerah Haq, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste and head of the UN mission.
She said that she expects that UNMIT – whose current mandate runs until February 2011 – will continue this year at its present strength, but will gradually start phasing down starting next year.