A statement from La’o Hamutuk (The East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis)
For immediate release: 6 December 2002
For further information:
Charles Scheiner Tel: +670(390)325013 or +61(417)923273 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The violence in Dili on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week is a serious event, with significant effect on the future of East Timor. It also sheds light on important issues currently facing this new nation.
La'o Hamutuk sympathizes with the families of the people killed and with those who were injured or whose property was damaged. And we believe that international institutions and agencies involved in East Timor, as well as the government and people of this country, must examine both the events and their own actions and learn lessons for the future.
At this time, we do not know who directed the mob, who most of the participants were, or the details of every event. Much of the reporting by international media on recent events has been inaccurate, oversimplified or inflammatory, focusing on the misinformed reactions of foreign residents of Dili rather than the actual events. Over the last three days, La’o Hamutuk has spoken with many Dili residents and observers of the events. We now know quite a bit about what happened, and would like to offer some initial observations and recommendations.
There was no widespread rioting, anarchy or civil disorder in Dili, escalating beyond what the authorities could contain. Rather, a few hundred people were manipulated by dissident political leaders to destroy selected property in an effort to destabilize the government. Responsible public authorities failed to act effectively, and the mob traveled around Dili for several hours, destroying buildings symbolic of the Prime Minister or of the unequal wealth of foreigners. There was never any danger to the public; indeed, the only people who suffered serious injuries were demonstrators who were shot, reportedly by police.
The UN Peacekeeping Force soldiers (PKF) and police (UNPOL) have the mandate for law and order in East Timor. They are responsible for safety and security not only for their own facilities, but for all buildings and people in this country. East Timor’s Police Service (TLPS) is, as described by an UNMISET-TLPS-donor Joint Assessment Mission last week, “currently operating under the executive authority of UNPOL. … (TLPS) are supported by resources (infrastructure, equipment, information and finance) largely provided by UNPOL. The TLPS is guided in its management and operations on an ad hoc basis by UNPOL developed rules.” Although TLPS made mistakes and lacked capacity to take effective action, UNMISET and the international community are accountable.
La’o Hamutuk supports peaceful efforts, including demonstrations, to influence government and institutional policies. We do not, of course, condone violence against people or property. During East Timor’s 24 years of resistance against Indonesian occupation, the clandestine resistance clearly understood where the limits were, and rejected provocateurs who urged irresponsible or violent actions. In this new era of East Timor’s democratic independence, a new generation of people needs to learn those lessons and the entire population, including the government, needs to engage in communication and consultation so that all people are truly represented by their elected leaders.
On Wednesday, students were protesting police insensitivity in arresting one of their classmates the day before. They allowed their anger to be provoked by police arrogance into minor violence. When the police overreacted, threatening and then shooting students, the group became irrational, open to manipulation by dissident political leaders. They were joined by disaffected older members of society, and directed to attack specific targets, beginning with the parliament and the Hello Mister store, and expanding to a few other foreign-owned stores, police facilities, the Kampung Alor mosque vicinity, a microfinance office believed to be connected with Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, and the homes of Mari Alkatiri and his brother. Minor vandalism, mostly rocks through windows, was done to some other businesses along the streets where the mob went. By evening, after burning the Prime Minister’s house, the group dissipated, and Dili has been peaceful since.
This was not random violence. From our information, the only serious injuries, including the two fatalities, were inflicted by police. At the microfinance office, the group decided to trash rather than burn the building because they didn’t want to risk igniting a nearby convent. At several destinations, the mob was dissuaded from attacking a foreign business or government office by civilian, East Timorese security guards.
It seems clear that effective police action could have deterred or prevented the destruction with little risk of casualties on either side. But in nearly every incident, the police arrived after the destruction was complete, notwithstanding that the mob traveled on foot to sites several kilometers apart, while the authorities were equipped with helicopters, motor vehicles and sophisticated communications equipment. Investigations will determine why the police and PKF were unwilling or unable to respond, but it is clear that once again as in December 1975 and September 1999 the international community has failed in its responsibilities to the people of East Timor.
Yesterday, we spoke with the leaders of the Muslim community at the mosque in Kampung Alor. The afternoon before, 100-200 angry people carrying gasoline and Molotov cocktails had come into their compound. Terrified, several hundred Indonesian immigrants to East Timor huddled with their families inside the mosque, expecting to be killed as they prayed for the mob to leave. After an hour of burning cars, nearby houses and stores, and throwing rocks through the mosque windows, the crowd moved on, leaving only a few minor injuries from flying glass. An hour or more later, Portuguese PKF showed up, and has been providing security since then. Although their prayers to Allah were answered, the community is still afraid to venture outside the compound. They ask that East Timor’s Catholic majority, as represented by the government, practice democracy by respecting and protecting the Muslim minority’s right to freedom of religion.
The easy manipulation to mob violence stems from underlying social and economic conditions: massive unemployment, poor education and other public services; limited mutual respect between government and civil society; frustration with the pace of democratic and economic development; widespread post-conflict and post-traumatic stress; lack of confidence in peaceful processes for change. These problems are the legacy of centuries of colonial rule and decades of military occupation. The three-year UNTAET government made some progress in addressing these problems, but there is far to go and the responsibility of the international community has not ended.
Based on our preliminary observations, La’o Hamutuk would like to offer the following recommendations:
1. UNMISET and the international community must acknowledge and carry out their responsibility to ensure safety and peace for all people in East Timor, without prioritizing UN and foreign government facilities.
2. UNMISET and the international community should provide effective support for East Timor’s police, especially in situations which the East Timor police force is not experienced enough to handle effectively. The schedule for UNPOL and PKF withdrawal should be re-examined.
3. The government and independent authorities should thoroughly investigate to establish responsibility for the violence and police overreaction and incompetence. The 72-hour “independent investigation” which started today can only scratch the surface.
4. All perpetrators of unlawful acts, including members of the crowd but also those who incited them and police or others who used excessive force or failed to perform their duty, should be prosecuted and punished appropriately.
5. All components of UNPOL and TLPS, in particular the TLPS Rapid Response Unit and former members of the Indonesian Police force, should receive training and rules on how to handle unruly crowds without escalating tension or violence. There is widespread belief that one of the students was killed by a police intelligence agent, so the use of non-uniformed operatives in such situations should be reviewed.
6. The international community must increase its commitment to help East Timor address the economic, political and social causes of disaffection that was manipulated into violence. Even if next week’s Dili Donors’ Conference is postponed, foreign governments must expand support for justice, economic development and political democracy in the East Timor, an impoverished survivor beginning to recover from centuries of foreign rule.
7. We urge foreign journalists and others to be more judicious, and to avoid reporting rumors or exaggerating danger or violence.
La’o Hamutuk is an East Timor-based non-governmental organization which monitors and reports on the activities of international institutions as they relate to the development and reconstruction of the country. Founded in 2000, the Institute tries to improve communications and understanding between the East Timorese people and the international organizations which have great influence here.
see also Joint Statement of Civil Society Organizations in Timor Lorosa'e: Never Sacrifice People for Political Ambition
see also news reports and analysis of unrest
The East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis
1a Rua Mozambique, Farol, Dili, Timor Lorosa’e
P.O. Box 340, Dili, East Timor (via Darwin, Australia)
Tel: +670(390)325013 or +61(408)811373