BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor      homeApril news

"La'o Hamutuk calls upon CivPol commanders and UNTAET officials to refrain from making racist and inflammatory statements such as those of Commander Gent. In this spirit, Commander Gent should publicly retract and apologize for his words. If he refuses, UNTAET head Sergio Vieira de Mello should offer a public apology and, in this manner, set an example for all international staff.  At the same time, La'o Hamutuk encourages CivPol officers and other international staff to work hard to build relationships with East Timorese society based on mutual respect. Foreigners who have been here only a few months and don't know the language, history or culture cannot understand this society better than those who were born here. Arrogance, self-righteousness and refusal to cooperate with the community have no place in any police department." The La'o Hamutuk Bulletin Editorial

From: The La'o Hamutuk Bulletin

Volume 2, Nos. 1-2
April 2001

Issue focus: 
FUNDING EAST TIMOR'S RECONSTRUCTION

Table of contents: To read this issue on the internet, or to download a printable PDF version, go to:
La'o Hamutuk Bulletin: http://www.etan.org/lh/bulletinv2n1.html


See also: Mar 13 E.Timor NGOs protest police predictions of violence  Letter & Commentary
Bahasa Indonesia: Feb 17 ETNGOs: Pimpinan Operasi Civpol UNTAET  Letter

Editorial: CivPol-Community Relations in Need of Repair

The role of a police force is to protect the human, civil and property rights of the civilian population from criminals who would abuse those rights. Every country strives for a healthy relationship between police and the people they are responsible for protecting. But in many places, police frequently use excessive force, stereotyping, abuse of power and poor communication with local residents, especially where there are significant ethnic, racial, economic and/or cultural differences between the police and the community. For example, New York City just agreed to pay nine million US dollars (Rp. 90,000,000,000) to a Haitian immigrant brutally tortured by white police officers.

In East Timor, differences in culture, language and experience between international CivPols and the local population are the widest in the world. Although the UNTAET administration has good motives, its officials are not legally accountable to the people they serve. Furthermore, CivPol commanders and officers are foreigners, outsiders to the society. Consequently, police officials must make extraordinary efforts to reach out if they are to be effective and gain popular trust and respect.

Sadly, this is not happening. Unfortunately, many CivPol exhibit little respect for the people of this country. They are viewed as only reacting to events and not facilitating community solutions to security issues.

A recent dialogue illustrates the problem. On 8 February, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) article "Police Expect Election Violence in Dili" reported an interview with Commander Gary Gent, CivPol chief of operations.

Commander Gent, who is from Canberra, expects the upcoming East Timorese election to lead to "an increase in disturbances" because "the vast majority don't understand what democracy is all about" and "they don't handle conflict properly." He told AAP "Their last experience (of an election), you know what happened there; they're still learning this process."

After Cmdr. Gent confirmed that the AAP had quoted him accurately, La'o Hamutuk and seven other East Timorese organizations wrote to him. [See the letter: Mar 13 E.Timor NGOs protest police predictions of violence ] The following are excerpts from our letter:

"We believe that these statements are based on a lack of communication and understanding with East Timorese civil society, and we would like to help bridge this gap. ... With this letter, we hope to initiate further discussion.

 
"The East Timorese people understand democracy better than citizens of most Western democracies. During the 1999 Popular Consultation, 98.5% of our voters came out, peacefully defying threats and violence. ... External forces caused the violence that plagued East Timor during 1999 (and for 23 years before that).

 
"Your comments reinforce racist stereotypes. ... Public pronouncements of imminent violence ... have a tendency, in any country, to induce a climate of fear and become self-fulfilling prophecies.

 
"... [W]e welcome the opportunity to work with you to ensure that both the transitional period and our future self-government are characterized by good, peaceful open relationships between all elements of society."
After three weeks, Commander Gent wrote back. He pointed out that he had said "disturbances" rather than "violence" and that the reporter ignored his statement that crime in East Timor was "limited when compared with other western cities." (sic)

Commander Gent ignored the NGOs' offer to help with police-community relations. He wrote:

"I regret if I have offended you or your organization as this was never my intention, however, my views are gathered daily from a range of sources and from incidents and information gathered from all over East Timor. This I believe has provided me with a good understanding of the present situation here in East Timor and also affords me with an insight into issues you may not be aware of. ...

 
"As we move towards the impending elections it is reasonable to expect an increase in activities associated with those elections. ... [W]e must be aware of all threats and dangers to that process and react accordingly to ensure that law and order is maintained."
La'o Hamutuk calls upon CivPol commanders and UNTAET officials to refrain from making racist and inflammatory statements such as those of Commander Gent. In this spirit, Commander Gent should publicly retract and apologize for his words. If he refuses, UNTAET head Sergio Vieira de Mello should offer a public apology and, in this manner, set an example for all international staff.

At the same time, La'o Hamutuk encourages CivPol officers and other international staff to work hard to build relationships with East Timorese society based on mutual respect. Foreigners who have been here only a few months and don't know the language, history or culture cannot understand this society better than those who were born here. Arrogance, self-righteousness and refusal to cooperate with the community have no place in any police department.

There must be a strong and active commitment on the part of CivPol to strengthen police-community relations. Just as in the reconstruction process as a whole, the East Timorese people feel marginalized in policing matters. There is presently little-to-no space for East Timorese to voice their views or to help shape priorities and programs relating to policing. This must change. It is absolutely critical that there are close ties between police and communities where they patrol, and more understanding from internationals here about East Timor's history and more respect for the wisdom of its people.

When most foreigners go home next year, East Timor will live with their legacy. We hope it is one of accountability, respect for human rights, and service to the population. In democratic, independent East Timor, the mandate of authority will derive from the consent of the citizenry. Until then, CivPol should operate as if that were already in effect.


Tetum: (the most common East Timorese language)
La’o Hamutuk, Instituto Timor Lorosa’e ba Analiza no Monitoring Reconstrucao  Updated Feb 26
Saida mak La’o Hamutuk? La’o Hamutuk organizasaun klibur Ema Timor Lorosa’e no Ema Internacional ne’ebe buka atu tau matan, halo analize ho halo relatorio kona ba hahalok (actividade) instuisaun internacional ne’ebe oras ne’e haknaar iha Timor Lorosa’e, liu-liu hahalok sira ne’ebe iha relasaun ho rekonstrusaun fizika no social Timor Lorosa’e nian. La’o Hamutuk fiar katak Povo Timor Lorosa’e mak tenke hakotu iha procesu rekonstrusaun ne’e nia laran no procesu rekonstrusaun ne’e tenke demokratiku no transparante duni.
Local Contact:  P.O. Box 340, Dili, East Timor (via Darwin, Australia)  Mobile fone: +61(408)811373;  Telefone Uma: +670(390)325-013
International contact: +1-510-643-4507
Email: laohamutuk@easttimor.minihub.org  Homepage: http://www.etan.org/lh
Boletim La’o Hamutuk: [Tetum PDF format]
Vol. 1, No. 4, 31 Dejembru 2000 Banku Mundial iha Timor Loro Sa’e: http://www.etan.org/lh/PDFs/lhbul4tm.pdf
Vol. 1, No. 3, 17 Novembro 2000 Hari Sistema Saude Nasional iha Timor Lorosa’e:  http://www.etan.org/lh/PDFs/LHbul3tm.pdf
Vol. 1, No. 2, 17 Julho 2000 Protesaun ba meio ambiente iha TL: http://www.etan.org/lh/PDFs/bulletin02tetum.pdf
Vol. 1, No. 1, 21 Juñu 2000 Rekonciliasaun: http://www.etan.org/lh/PDFs/bulletin01tetum.pdf

English:
La'o Hamutuk: East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis  Updated May 11
La'o Hamutuk (Tetum for Walking Together) is a joint East Timorese-international organization that seeks to monitor, to analyze, and to report on the reconstruction activities of the principal international institutions. It believes that the people of East Timor must be the ultimate decisionmakers in the reconstruction process and that the process should be as democratic and transparent as possible ...
East Timorese staff: Inès Martins, Fernando da Silva, Thomas Freitas; International staff:Pamela Sexton, Mark Salzer Executive board: Sr. Maria Dias, Joseph Nevins, Fr. Jovito Rego de Jesus Araùjo, Aderito Soares
International contact: +1-510-643-4507  Email: laohamutuk@easttimor.minihub.org  Homepage: http://www.etan.org/lh
La’o Hamutuk Bulletin: http://www.etan.org/lh/bulletin.html


See also:

Mar 13 E.Timor NGOs protest police predictions of violence  Letter & Commentary added Mar 17
"On February 8, and Australian news article interviewed the civpol Commander of Operations in East Timor who predicted violence
as the election process progresses, basing it on myths of East Timor having little experience with democracy and a culture of
violence. After a phone conversation in which the Commander confirmed that the interview does reflect his opinions, a coalition of East Timorese NGOs wrote him a letter on 17 February. As there has been no response to the letter for three weeks, the NGOs
have decided to release the letter to the public and the media." Charles Scheiner, International Federation for East Timor

Bahasa Indonesia:
Feb 17 ETNGOs: Pimpinan Operasi Civpol UNTAET  Letter added Mar 17
"Kami memahami bahwa anda memiliki berbagai kekuatan, dengan berbagai pelatihan, pengalaman, bahasa, dan latar belakang budaya, yang membuat semua itu menjadi penting bagi kepemimpinan Civpol mengusahakan informasi yang akurat yang merefleksikan masyarakat Timor Loro Sa’e dan mendorong suatu hubungan yang baik dengannya. Mengembangkan suatu ide secara meluas bahwa kini orang Timor Loro Sa’e tidak mampu memecakan perselisihan secara damai merupakan sesuatu yang keliru dan berbahaya." La’o Hamutuk, Yayasan HAK, Center for Popular Economic Development, Sa’he Institute for Liberation, NGO Forum, Organizacao Juventude de Timor Loro Sae, Klinika PAS, Fokupers


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