Security sector reform: Timor-Leste

Security sector reform: Timor-Leste


As post-independence Timor-Leste has moved to develop its state institutions, there has been a wide-ranging debate over the structure and roles of the police (PNTL) and military (F-FDTL).

Australian deployment of ADF and AFP personnel to Timor has involved an extensive training component. However there has been a strong public debate regarding the need for security sector reform in Timor-Leste, and how the current challenges of maintaining community security can be addressed.

Over time this debate has shifted its emphasis to include a greater analysis of the role of foreign security sector provision and support programs, with a particular focus on greater cooperation and cohesion between different donors.

Government sources


Forca 2020 (Force 2020), Government of Timor-Leste (from East Timor and Indonesia Action Network website)

Introduced in 2006 and maintained by the Timorese government, the Forca 2020 plan to develop the F-FDTL includes the creation of national service and the expansion of the reserve force.

United Nations Security Sector Support Unit

Security Sector Review, UNMIT / UNDP, June 2008.

“This project proposal outlines the support of the United Nations to the comprehensive review of the security sector initiated by the Government of Timor-Leste.”

Security Sector Support Officer (Gender Affairs), Dili, UN Jobs, Vacancy Announcement Number 08-PGM-UNMIT-416934-R-DILI (EAST TIMOR), January 2008

“The SSR (Gender Affairs) Officer is a key component in the SSR review, examining the role of gender so that the SSU can shed new light in this traditionally male dominated preserve… Will assist the GoTL oversee, design and implement a nation wide outreach perceptions survey as part of a security sector review culminating in an SSR Plan for Reform. The Plan, amongst other issues, will seek to change attitudes; will guide implementation of mandates and policies on the promotion of gender equality in all areas of SSR activities, particularly the Police, Army and their respective Government Ministries…”


Australia committed to East Timor Defence Force Training, Minister for Defence Joel Fitzgibbon, media release 62/08, 24 June 2008

Two East Timorese officers are due to graduate from the Royal Military College at Duntroon today as part of an ongoing program by Australia to provide high quality training to the East Timor Defence Force. Alferes (2nd LT) Francisco Da Silva and Alferes (2nd LT) Helio Da Costa have both completed a range of Australian training to bring them to this point.  Both have completed English language programs in East Timor and Australia and 2nd LT Da Silva completed the Defence sponsored English Language Course at Charles Darwin University.

Both officers are set to complete more detailed specialist training in Australia in Engineering and Logistics respectively, before returning to East Timor to pass on their skills and lead the men and women of the East Timorese Defence Force.”

Annual Report 2007-08, Australian Federal Police, p6

“The AFP’s reputation as a lead international law enforcement agency was underscored during the year with…an AFP Commander commencing a two-year deployment as the advisor to the Secretary of State (Security) for Timor-Leste.”

Commentary and analysis

Defence and Security in Timor-Leste, Bob Lowry presentation to “Beyond the Crisis in Timor-Leste: Options for future stability and development” seminar, Development Studies Network, Canberra 9 June 2006.

“This paper gives a brief overview of my year in Timor-Leste from mid-2002, and an insight into the genesis of the recent failings of the state, army and police. I was contracted by the Australian Department of Defence to advise Ricardo da Costa Ribeiro, the understudy to the United Nations Temporary Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) National Security Adviser, who was expected to fill a similar position when full executive authority, except for defence and security, was handed over to the new government of Timor-Leste on 20 May 2002.”

Timor-Leste: No Time for Complacency, International Crisis Group, Asia Briefing No.87, 9 February 2009

“The government has taken few serious steps to address the problems in the security sector which led to the 2006 crisis. It seems uninterested in the comprehensive security review recommended by the UN Security Council in August 2006. Responsibilities remain blurred between the army and police. The “Joint Command” created to arrest the president’s attackers bolstered the army’s ambitions to serve an internal security role. That operation saw a stream of human rights abuses, stemming from ill-discipline and a sense of being above the law. There are tensions between the Timorese and the international security forces, with the Timorese police increasingly resisting UN supervision. There are also signs of worrying disdain for the justice system and civilian control over the army. The police and army depend too heavily on a few individuals and on personal relationships that have been able to hold the security forces together.”

Timor-Leste: Security Sector Reform, International Crisis Group, Asia Report No. 143, 17 January 2008

Tortured Beginnings: Police Violence and the Beginnings of Impunity in East Timor, Human Rights Watch, April 2006

“International funding also plays a critical role in East Timor in all areas, not least the development of the police service. There is a wide range of bilateral international assistance to the PNTL, including training programs as well as equipment and infrastructure support. Amongst the international support, Canada and Japan have both provided small grants and provided equipment. Indonesia has been hosting a series of exchange programs for PNTL officers to visit and acquire in-house training with the Indonesian police force. At various stages Malaysia and Portugal have also extended training to various units of the PNTL. The United States is funding specialized training courses for supervisors and investigators.

“One of the problems with this approach is that, as with the U.N. under UMISET, the training is inconsistent in standards, with different countries’ domestic procedures being taught. Recognizing this problem, the U.K. and Australia have embarked on a joint development program for the PNTL focusing on mainstreaming international policing standards across the board over the long-term. When UNPOL leaves (currently scheduled for May 2006), the U.K./Australian initiative will fill the vacuum on advice and training created by UNPOL’s departure.”

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