A police officer stands guard as supporters of presidential candidate Francisco Guterres of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) party ride through the street during a campaign rally ahead of next week's elections, in Dili, East Timor March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lirio da Fonseca - RTX31FR5

Assessing the Evolution of Legitimacy in Timor-Leste’s Security Sector (AELTSS)

Timor-Leste’s first decade of independence was marked by a number of periods of civil unrest, which threatened its viability as a new nation. The most significant of these was in 2006, when widespread violence led to the displacement of over 150,000 people. The 2006 crisis shocked internal and external observers as they witnessed a country that had been presented as an international success story unravel quickly into internal conflict. Causes of instability in the new state were multi-layered, but the immediate catalyst of the crisis was institutional challenges within and between the new security and military entities, with grievances and claims of discrimination within the military voiced by a group of ‘petitioners’ who were subsequently dismissed.

Close to a decade after the 2006 crisis, the ALTSS project explored the legitimacy of Timor-Leste’s security institutions through in-depth, locally-driven research that led to the publication of a report entitled From Kindergarten to High School: Perceptions of Timor-Leste’s Military and Police Ten Years after the 2006 Crisis, which was published by Belun in Dili on September 22nd, 2017. The report, which offers 34 detailed recommendations to the F-FDTL, PNTL and other relevant state institutions, is the culmination of a three-year, mixed-methods research project carried out by Belun, with technical support from Columbia University’s Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies and financial support from the International Development Research Centre.

Field research undertaken for this project represents the most extensive consultation of the East Timorese population about their perceptions and expectations of their military and police since the departure of the United Nations mission in 2012. The report’s data was collected from 39 focus group discussions and 35 interviews in urban and rural areas across the country, from nationally-representative perception surveys conducted by Belun and The Asia Foundation, and from monitoring reports generated by Belun’s Conflict Early Warning, Early Response system.

The report finds that one decade after they were central actors in a violent political-military crisis, Timor-Leste’s military – the FALINTIL-Forsa Defeza Timor-Leste (F-FDTL) – and police – the Polísia Nasionál Timor-Leste (PNTL) – today enjoy a broad degree of acceptance and legitimacy among the East Timorese populace.  However, it also cautions that the conduct of personnel from both institutions has not yet met public expectations and concludes that publicly addressing misconduct and abuse will significantly enhance popular perceptions of both institutions going forward.

According to the report, most East Timorese respondents perceived that the F-FDTL and PNTL were immature in 2006, when they played a central role in the crisis, and that while they have developed significantly since then, they are still not fully mature. Importantly, however, few participants believed that another crisis such as that of 2006 could occur again, and the majority of the respondents felt positive about the ability of both the F-FDTL and PNTL to be resilient to future challenges.

Here is the link to the report.

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