04 September 2008, 11:00 hrs
UNMIT Headquarters, Obrigado Barracks, Dili, Timor-Leste
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of a press conference by UN Acting Police Commissioner Mr. Juan Carlos Arevalo.
Juan Carlos Arevalo: I would like to begin with the important point of the resumption of command of the PNTL. Within this process, we are trying to achieve four basic conditions to allow PNTL to resume command and be in charge of law enforcement in the country. These four conditions are a manageable security situation, institutional stability, certified PNTL officers, as well as the provision of basic logistic resources for the PNTL to be able to operate. In relation to a manageable security situation, we have noticed that the incidents of crime have decreased throughout the country. There are less incidents, less group fighting, less property damage. So, the first condition is almost achieved. There are of course still areas that need to be addressed, such as the increase in the number of assaults and an increase in the consumption of alcohol. However overall, the security situation in the whole country has improved.
On the second criteria of institutional stability, we are talking about tools the PNTL needs to function, such as basic administrative tools including manuals, standard operation procedures and internal regulations that should be in place so as to have a legal framework for their internal functioning as well as counter mechanism for the performance of the PNTL, both internal and external. This means that inside PNTL, there should be a mechanism to control the behaviour of the PNTL officers, but also external mechanisms to allow members of civil society to exercise control over the public institutions that are supposed to serve the public. For this criterion, there also needs to be good relations with other government institutions and with civil society representatives which also presupposes acceptance by the community.
These elements are linked, for example we see how the PNTL has to earn the acceptance of the community and how the counter mechanisms can contribute. These mechanisms will help us to ensure that the officers are acting in accordance with the expectations of the population. We are having much progress in this area- disciplinary measures are taking place. Also, fortunately, the supplemental arrangement establishes mechanisms so as to make sure that discipline is enforced within the PNTL. In this regard, the supplemental arrangement gives the power to the UNPOl Police Commissioner as the Interim Police Commander of the PNTL to enforce discipline and to take adequate measures to ensure that PNTL and UNPol officers behave properly.
For instance, if there are police officers suspected of human rights violations or criminal behaviour, the Police Commissioner can issue suspension orders while investigations are taking place. This is very important to ensure that the population has the police service that they deserve.
On the third criteria of certification, the minimum as to hand over responsibility to the PNTL is to have 80 per cent of PNTL officers fully certified which means that they have completed all their training processes.
On the last criteria of having basic logistics support to operate- during the certification, we teach the officers how to perform, but they also need resources to be able to continue their work. We are currently working together with the Secretary of State for Security to identify the logistics needs of the PNTL. We are doing this with the expectation that this will be included in the budget and the PNTL will get the resources they need.
All of these conditions are important and we place special emphasis on institutional stability and on the behaviour of the officers. In this regard, UNPol is supporting the Prosecutor-General’s Office on the investigations on the missing money of the Joint Command. Also, several suspension orders have been issued and we are doing many disciplinary investigations within PNTL as well as in UNPol. Our goal is to provide the Timorese society with a functioning and independent police service so that we can be responsibly handing over police activities to the PNTL.
National Spokesperson Hipolito Gama: Are there any questions?
Q: Are you sure that when the handover takes place that the PNTL are ready to take responsibility? I ask this because when the handover of responsibility happened in 2002, we saw that the PNTL was not ready and they became fractured. Also, what part of the PNTL do you still consider to be weak?
Juan Carlos Arevalo: I am confident in the capacity of the PNTL. However we have to bear in mind that the PNTL is a young institution. Even police services with 100 years of experience have deficiencies and must adapt to the changing social norms. So we cannot expect a police service that is only 6-7 years old to have the development of a police service that has been functioning for 50-100 years. However, for the purpose of nation building in Timor-Leste, the PNTL is qualified to perform policing duties.
Another factor is that not all the reasons leading to the disbanding of the PNTL were caused by internal PNTL problems. There were several external factors that helped weaken the PNTL. Also, the transition process will be different, for although we will hand over responsibility to the PNTL, we will not pull out. We will accompany the PNTL to support them in the development and to provide training if requested, and we will monitor the progress. The only difference is that we will not be in charge. We will not have the authority on policing activities, but we will stay with the PNTL to accompany them in the transition to working independently from UNPol.
Q: How many officers have been suspended because of the missing money incident and how many are under investigation? Regarding the authority of UNPol and specifically the Police Commissioner, does UNPol have the power to dismiss PNTL officers if they are found guilty?
Juan Carlos Arevalo: A few weeks ago, the PM announced the suspension of 8 PNTL officers. From what has been said through the media, we have learned that more officers are being investigated. I cannot give you the exact number as this information is only available in the Prosecutor-General’s office.
Regarding the powers of the Police Commissioner, it is established in the supplemental agreement between the UN and the Government that the Police Commissioner can order the suspension of PNTL officers suspected of human rights violations or criminal activity and can recommend dismissals, but cannot actually dismiss any officers. The power for dismissals rests in the hands of the Secretary of State for Security and the Minister for Defense and Security.
Q: Why does the UN want to hand over responsibility so quickly? As we have seen, the PNTL is prone to using excessive force and has serious problems with respecting human rights.
Juan Carlos Arevalo:
Q: The UN will not be leaving the PNTL alone- in order to learn how to conduct proper policing, the PNTL has to have the opportunity to have the responsibility to police. During this learning process, the UN will be accompanying the PNTL. We will be monitoring and reporting and enforcing discipline. We are aware of problems within the PNTL and we are strengthening the mechanisms to ensure that the public has the police force they deserve.
Q: What is the deadline for the handover?
Juan Carlos Arevalo: The handover will be made gradually, district by district. We have a tentative date of May 2009, but this is only if the four benchmark criteria are met. If these criteria are not met, then the date will be changed. We will not compromise the quality of the process for speed of the process.
National Spokesperson Hipolito Gama: Thank you everyone. That concludes the press conference.