HAK: Human Rights Situation in Covalima and Bobonaro

HAK Association
Diretu ba ema hotu no Ema hotu iha diretu
(Every body has rights and rights are for all)

Press Statement

“Human Rights Situation in Covalima and Bobonaro”

As an organization that works for human rights, HAK Association is
concerned with the situation in Bobonaro and Covalima Districts,
especially the population’s right to security. HAK considers the
reaction of the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL) to the “Ninja”
group as an obligation of the competent organs of the state to comply
with their human rights commitments. To assure that the police response
actually is in accordance with the law and human rights principles, HAK
sent a monitoring team to observe the human rights situation in the two
districts from 31 January to 4 February 2010.

1. Results of HAK Observations of Rumors of “Ninja” in Bobonaro and
Covalima Districts

HAK’s observation revealed, confirmed by community authorities, local
government, victims, suspects and some community members in places where
“Ninja” terror is said to exist, that the people do indeed feel panicked
by the rumors but that the communities themselves have not yet seen who
or what “Ninja” are. Local authorities in the two districts also
informed the monitoring team that they have not received any complaints
from the community or victims about “Ninja” behavior.

The incidents, one child’s death and the death of one young woman, were
individual crimes and there is no relationship between them or
connection from one location to another. There is also no evidence of
organized crime or large criminal groups. The rumors about the “Ninja”
group lead people to imagine an organized criminal group, but this is
contrary to the actual situation. The groups CPD-RDTL (Popular Council
for the Defense of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste) and Bua-Malus
(Betel Nut) do exist, and individuals from these groups have engaged in
criminal behavior motivated by personal hatred and desire for revenge
that is falsely attributed to the groups.

The police operation, begun on 22 January 2010 has failed to identify
perpetrators involved in a “Ninja” group that is terrorizing communities
in the two districts. Through its operation, the police have arrested 20
members of CPD-RDTL and Bua-Malus who they suspect as “Ninja,” but when
brought to court the judge released 18 of them based on proof of
identity and residence (TIR) due to insufficient evidence to uphold the
charges of the police against the suspects. Two of the detained were
placed in preventive detention due to a strong indication that they were
involved in the death of the young woman in the village of Atus in
Bobonaro District.

HAK Association has identified human rights violations and behavior in
violation of the law by individual police officers involved in the
operation in the two districts, including ill treatment such as ramming
with riffle butts, kicking, beating with batons, cutting people’s hair
with a knife, threatening their life, and speaking sharply to people
when detaining someone and in detention when they do not reveal who is a
“Ninja”.

2. HAK’s Concerns

Based on our observations, HAK Association is concerned that the PNTL
commando operation does not respect the constitution of the Democratic
Republic of Timor-Leste (RDTL) Article 9 and Law No 3/2008 (State of
Siege and Emergency), because an operation with large numbers in an
extraordinary situation requires authorization from an organ competent
to declare a Situation of Exceptional Circumstances. The action of the
police is a precedent that is contrary to strengthening the rule of law
in a democratic state.

Additionally, according to HAK’s observations in the two districts, the
police operation demonstrates disharmony and inconsistency with the
policy outlined by the IV Constitutional Government regarding reform of
the PNTL, due to its militaristic character rather than an approach
characteristic of community policing. This situation is due to the lack
of optimal government attention to the development of the nature of the
PNTL as a community police force.

During the operation individual police have violated human rights,
carried out actions contrary to the law or abused their power such as
arresting people without a court order and persecuting members of an
organization, in addition to the violations cited above. This behavior
by the police violates the presumption of innocence consecrated in
article 34 of the RDTL Constitution, because according to the law only
the courts have the competency to decide if someone is guilty.

HAK also observed that local PNTL officers did not respond quickly or
act immediately to investigate or arrest the suspects in the homicide
and death that occurred in the two districts that finally evolved into
“ninja” rumors. Incidents such as these require immediate and urgent
remedies by the State of Timor-Leste to prevent additional suffering and
for people to believe that PNTL can guarantee their right to security
and justice.

3. HAK’s Recommendations

To prevent a worsening human rights situation in Bobonaro and Covalima
Districts and to prevent the population from suffering more, as well as
to prevent similar experiences in the future, HAK recommends:
1. The situation in the two districts does not require a large PNTL
commando operation because it does not meet the criteria for an
Exceptional Situation. Consequently, HAK suggests the competent
organs in the security sector quickly examine the policy for the
“ninja” operation currently underway in Bobonaro and Covalima
Districts.
2. The responsible organs quickly revise the Plan for PNTL Reform
in order to assure harmony and consistency between the plan and
its implementation.
3. National Parliament uses its competency of legislative
supervision according to Article 92 of the RDTL Constitution to
supervise the executive organs, especially how the PNTL enforces
the law.
4. To publicly guarantee accountability of the PNTL, the competent
organs (PNTL Justice Unit and Prosecutor) must assure individual
members of the PNTL who behaved contrary to the law and violated
human rights are held responsible (administratively and
criminally).
5. Future extraordinary operations by the security and defense
forces must be coordinated with the Prosecutor’s Office so that
orientation of the police adheres to the law, and thus avoids
violating human rights.
That is the extent of HAK’s observations, concerns and suggestions about
the situation resulting from the “special” PNTL operation in Bobonaro
and Covalima Districts. We await appropriate action to assure that all
Timorese citizens can be proud of and cooperate with the PNTL and our
police officers.

For More Information or a Copy of the Complete Report Contact:

Rogerio Viegas Vicente, Law and Human Rights Enforcement Program, HAK
Association, +670-729-9366
Rui Manuel Viana, Director, HAK Association, +670-723-7179,
HAKAssociation@gmail.com

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