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The UN should hand over formal control of the Timor-Leste police

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Dili/Brussels - The UN and its mission in Timor-Leste should hand over formal control of the Timor-Leste police as soon as possible in order not to undermine the long-term goal of professionalising the country’s police.

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Handing Back Responsibility to Timor-Leste’s Police,  the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the UN’s role in supporting the reform of Timor-Leste’s police. It argues that the UN and the Timorese government must move quickly to hammer out a detailed framework for future cooperation for the police under local command.

“The task of reforming the local police remains unfinished, but prolonging the UN’s command will not fix the problem”, says Cillian Nolan, Crisis Group’s Timor-Leste Analyst.

The UN police was sent in to restore order after an uprising in 2006. They played a key role in returning stability to the country, but have struggled with the more difficult long-term task of institutional reform. The UN mission and the government never came to a consensus on the task at hand. The government has proven weak in both capacity and will to implement required difficult changes.

The development of a fully professional and independent police force in any country is a long-term goal and Timor-Leste’s government must take the lead role. Amid broader questions about impunity in Timor-Leste, the government must urgently address the unfinished work of the certification process. Those officers ineligible to serve must be dismissed. Outstanding and future disciplinary cases must be dealt with quickly to send clear signals through the ranks and to the community. Efforts to implement a new rank structure in the police should be implemented as quickly and with as much transparency as possible.

With the UN, bilateral donors including Australia and Portugal should support an independent review of policing capacity commissioned by the government and the UN mission. This will provide a valuable tool in guiding discussion on how Timor-Leste’s international partners can contribute to reform. Insisting upon and supporting a long-term capacity-building strategy centred on building institutional values of rule of law, professionalism and human rights is paramount.

“Timor-Leste still needs the UN, but it will be more effective in roles supporting rather than commanding the Timorese police”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director. “Stepping back is not the same as leaving too early”.
© Crisis International -
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