Timor-Leste: security sector reform

18 Jan 2008

The government of Timor-Leste and the UN must revitalise efforts to reform the fledging state’s police and army or risk a relapse into violent civil conflict, according to this report. report from the International Crisis Group, examines the need for fundamental changes in national and international approaches to reform of the key security institutions. Lines of authority between the army, which has not found a satisfactory post-independence role, and police are blurred. There is no national consensus about security needs or the kind of forces required to meet them.

The government needs to move forward quickly with a comprehensive security review, as recommended by the UN Security Council, but while waiting for the outcome, it can take steps such as establishing clear internal complaints mechanisms for both forces, addressing legislative gaps and improving disciplinary procedures.

A year and a half after the April-June 2006 crisis left the army and police in ruins and international forces again responsible for security, the potential for political actors to use the army and police for their own purposes remains high. Shared responsibility between the president and prime minister confuses lines of authority: the government needs to clarify, by new legislation if necessary, who has the lead role in security sector policy.

The UN should relaunch and revitalise its support for security sector reform, which was put on hold in 2007. It can start by making sure the process of police mentoring now underway is thorough and professional. Similarly, bilateral donors need to assess their contributions to the security sector in coordination, not competition, with one another.

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