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E. Timor NGOs protest UN police predictions of election violence

click here for response from CivPol Commander of Operations


On February 8, the Australian Associated Press interviewed the UN 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. Click here for the article.

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.

The text of the letter, in English and Bahasa Indonesia, follows.

-- Charles Scheiner, IFET
(at the request of La'o Hamutuk and the other NGOs signing the letter)

Commander Gary Gent 
Chief of Civpol Operations 
Dili, East Timor

Dili, 17 February 2001

Dear Commander Gent:

As you are aware, on 8 February 2001, a news article entitled “Police expect election violence in Dili” was released by the Australian Associated Press. The writer, Rod McGuirk, quoted you as saying that the upcoming East Timorese election would lead to an increase in civil disturbances because the East Timorese people “don’t understand what democracy is all about” and “don’t handle conflict properly.” In a phone call yesterday, you asserted these statements as reflecting your views.

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. We appreciate the very difficult job you have here in East Timor and acknowledge that there have recently been serious incidents of violence and community concern over increasing violence. Your statements, however, add to a climate of fear and may potentially lead to further violence. With this letter, we hope to initiate further discussion.

We find your remarks problematic for a number of reasons:

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 from pro-Indonesian military and militia forces. An overwhelming majority voted their opinions, in spite of threatened retaliation. Compare this with the recent election in the United States where only 50 percent of the eligible population voted and where there are serious questions about the legitimacy of the outcome of the presidential race.

External forces caused the violence that plagued East Timor during 1999 (and for 23 years before that). The Indonesian government, its military, and militia proxies, instigated and perpetrated virtually all the violence before, during and after the 30 August vote. Most of the world’s most powerful countries -- all of which consider themselves liberal democracies -- provided significant economic, military, and diplomatic support to Jakarta from 1975 to 1999, thus greatly facilitating Indonesia’s crimes against the people of East Timor. The East Timorese people exercised incredible restraint in not responding to the massive campaign of murder, dislocation, arson, and terror inflicted. While we are grateful to UNAMET for facilitating that process, we believe that the East Timorese people’s commitment to peaceful democracy and disavowal of violence were the primary factors that enabled the Popular Consultation to succeed.

Your comments replicate the false arguments put forth by the Indonesian military that blamed East Timorese for the violence fomented by an invading force. For more than two decades, Indonesia propagandized both the international community and the East Timorese population by asserting that East Timorese people were incapable of peaceful political debate that their invasion in December 1975 was required to put an end to a civil war among us. This was never true. As is well-documented, the actions of Indonesian military intelligence were the major factor that led to the outbreak of the brief civil war, which ended more than two months before Indonesia launched its full-scale invasion of our country.

Your comments reinforce racist stereotypes of the East Timorese people. Such stereotyping and racism by police authorities is a widespread problem all over the world, especially in multi-racial Western democracies. The problem often stems from police having little understanding of the communities they work in an even more likely situation in East Timor than in places where the police share nationality and language with civil society. Close communication between the police and the broader community is critical.

Finally, public pronouncements of imminent violence such as you made have a tendency, in any country, to induce a climate of fear and become self-fulfilling prophesies. They encourage a mindset within both the police and the civilian population that disagreements are likely to escalate into violence, and therefore encourage disputants to escalate rather than seek peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. This is especially dangerous when, as in this case, those responsible for upholding public order have little historical or cultural background, communication, or familiarity with those they are policing. East Timor’s elections are many months off; predicting election violence now is ungrounded, defeatist and dangerous.

As a leader of international police in East Timor, you act as a model. In this regard, you have set a very bad example for your fellow officers, and helped to lay the basis for views among other members of the international police force that help to heighten political tensions. We understand that you have a diverse force, with a multitude of trainings, experiences, languages, and cultural backgrounds, which makes it all the more important for Civpol leadership to put forth accurate information which reflects East Timorese society and encourages good relations with it.

To promote widely an idea that the East Timorese are incapable of working out disputes peacefully, is wrong and dangerous. It is the responsibility of your office to be working with communities to identify constructive and locally appropriate strategies for peace, and to counter fears with facts.

We call on you to publicly repudiate your comments immediately. It is unacceptable to us that our police would carry such views. Assuming that you are willing to repudiate and apologize for your offensive remarks, we 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.

You may contact us through Benjamin at the La’o Hamutuk office (670-325-013 or 61-408-811-373). We thank you for your attention.


Benjamin Sanches Afonso, La’o Hamutuk 
Joaquim Fonseca, Yayasan HAK 
Rui Castro, Center for Popular Economic Development 
Nuno Rodrigues, Sa’he Institute for Liberation 
Arsenio Bano, NGO Forum Eladio 
Antoniu Faculto, Organizacao Juventude de Timor Loro Sa’e 
Maria Dias, Klinika PAS 
Manuela Leong Pereira, Fokupers

Jose Luis da Costa de Sousa, Civpol 
Sergio Vieira de Mello, UNTAET 
Xanana Gusmao, President CNRT 

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Dili, 17 Pebruari 2001

Kepada Yth: KomAndan Gary Gent Pimpinan Operasi Civpol UNTAET Dili, Timor Loro Sa’e

Komandan Gent yang terhormat,

Sebagaimana Anda tahu, pada tanggal 8 Pebruari 2001 sebuah berita artikel berjudul: “Polisi memperkirakan kekerasan pemilu di Dili” yang dikeluarkan oleh Asosiasi Pers Australia. Sang penulis, Rod McGuirk, mengutip pernyataan Anda sebagai berikut bahwa pemilu orang Timor Loro Sa’e yang akan datang akan mengarah pada suatu peningkatan kekacauan sipil, karena orang Timor Loro Sa’e “tidak memahami apa itu demokrasi” dan “tidak menangani konflik sebagaimana mestinya.” Dalam sebuah pembicaraan telepon kemarin Anda menegaskan bahwa pernyataan2 itu sebagai refleksi dari pandangan Anda.

Kami yakin bahwa pernyataan2 itu didasarkan pada kurangnya komunikasi dan pengertian dengan masyarakat sipil Timor Loro Sa’e, dan kami ingin menjembatani kesenjangan ini. Kami sangat menghargai betapa sulitnya tugas Anda di Timor Loro Sa’e, dan mengakui bahwa akhir-akhir ini timbul beberapa kejadian kekerasan yang serius, dan masyarakat prihatin dengan meningkatnya kekerasan. Pernyataan Anda, bagaimanapun, memberi tekanan pada iklim ketakutan dan secara potensial dapat mengarah pada kekerasan yang lebih jauh. Dengan surat ini, kami berharap dapat mengawali suatu diskusi yang lebih jauh.

Kami melihat bahwa ucapan2 Anda mengandung beberapa masalah atas alasan sebagai berikut:

Orang Timor Loro Sa’e memahami demokrasi dengan lebih baik dibandingkan dengan demokrasi2 Barat kebanyakan. Sejak dilangsungkannya jajak pendapat 1999, 98.5% dari pemilih kami keluar dengan kedamaian, menghadapi ancaman dan kekerasan dari kekuatan militer dan milisi pro-Indonesia. Mayoritas besar sekali memberikan suara mereka, meskipun ada ancaman pembalasan. Hal ini bila dibandingkan dengan Pemilu yang baru-baru ini berlangsung di Amerika Serikat di mana hanya 50% pemilih ikut pemilu dan di mana ada kesangsian serius tentang legitimasi hasil pemilu presiden.

Kekuatan2 dari luar menyebabkan kekerasan yang melanda Timor Loro Sa’e pada tahun 1999 (dan 23 tahun sebelumnya). Pemerintahan Indonesia, ABRI, dan wakil2 milisi menghasut dan melakukan hampir semua kekerasan yang terjadi sebelum, selama dan sesudah jajak pendapat 30 Agustus. Kebanyakan negara berkuasa di dunia semua yang menamakan diri sebagai demokrasi liberal memberi dukungan ekonomis, military, dan diplomatis yang besar kepada Jakarta dari tahun 1975 hingga tahun 1999, demikian memfasilitasi kejahatan Indonesia terhadap masyarakat Timor Loro Sa’e. Masyarakat Timor Loro Sa’e melakukan pengendalian yang luar biasa dengan tidak menanggapi kampanye massal tentang pembunuhan, pemindahan, pembakaran rumah, dan terror. Sementara kami berterima kasih pada UNAMET yang memfasilitasi proses itu, kami yakin bahwa komitmen rakyat Timor Loro Sa’e terhadap demokrasi yang damai dan penolakan kekerasan adalah faktor2 utama yang memungkinkan suksesnya jajak pendapat.

Komentar Anda mirip dengan uraian palsu dari militer Indonesia yang mempersalahkan orang2 Timor Loro Sa’e untuk kekersaan yang ditimbulkan oleh kekuasaan kolonial. Lebih dari duapuluh tahun, Indonesia melancarkan propaganda, baik terhadap komunitas internasional maupun penduduk Timor Loro Sa’e, dengan menegaskan bahwa rakyat Timor Loro Sa’e tidak memiliki kemampuan untuk melakukan debat politik secara damai bahwa invasi pada Desember 1975 diperlukan untuk mengakhiri perang saudara di antara kami. Ini sama sekali tidak benar. Sebagaimana didokumentasikan dengan baik bahwa aksi2 SGI merupakan faktor utama yang memicu perang saudara yang singkat, yang berakhir lebih dari dua bulan sebelum Indonesia melancarkan invasi ke negeri kami.

Komentar Anda mengkuatkan kembali stereotip rasial orang Timor Loro Sa’e. Sifat rasisme dan stereotip dari polisi merupakan masalah yang tersebar di seluruh dunia, terutama di demokrasi2 Barat yang multi-rasial. Masalahnya berasal dari pengertian yang minim dari polisi terhadap komunitas di mana mereka bekerja. Kemungkinan lebih besar situasi ini akan terjadi di Timor Loro Sa’e dari pada di tempat di mana para polisi mempunyai kebudayaan dan bahasa sama dengan masyarakat sipil. Komunikasi yang akrab antara polisi dan komunitas sangat kritis.

Akhirnya, pernyataan publik tentang kekerasan yang akan terjadi mempunyai suatu kecenderungan, di negara manapun, guna membujuk suatu keadaan ketakutan dan merubah suatu ramalan menjadi kenyataan. Mereka mendorong suatu pengertian baik dari polisi maupun dari masyarakat sipil bahwa perbedaan pendapat mungkin akan meningkat ke arah kekerasan, dan oleh karena itu mendorong para perusuh untuk memperkuat diri daripada mencari alternatif damai guna mengatasi konflik2. Ini khususnya sangat berbahaya apabila, sebagaimana dalam kasus ini, mereka yang bertanggungjawab menegakkan keteraturan umum kurang memiliki latar belakang histories dan budaya yang memadai, komunikasi atau tidak terbiasa dengan mereka di mana tugas kepolisian ditujukan. Pemilu Timor Loro Sa’e masih jauh; ramalan akan kekerasan pemilu kini tak berdasar, bersifat mengalah dan berbahaya.

Sebagai seorang pemimpin polisi internasional di Timor Loro Sa’e, Anda berlaku sebagai sebuah model. Dalam hal itu, anda telah memberi contoh yang jelek terhadap teman sejawat, dan membantu meletakan pandangan2 dasar di antara anggota2 kekuatan polisi internasional lainnya yang membantu meningkatkan tekanan2 politik. 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. Ini merupakan tanggungjawab kalian untuk bekerjasama dengan masyarakat guna mengidentifikasi strategi2 yang konstruktif dan strategi2 perdamaian yang cocok secara local, dan mengatasi masalah ketakutan dengan kenyataan.

Kami meminta Anda untuk meralat kembali komentar anda secepat mungkin. Kami tidak menerima bahwa polisi kami berpandangan seperti itu. Seandainya Anda berniat meralat dan meminta ma’af atas kesalahan dari komentar anda, kami menyambut kesempatan untuk bekerja bersama anda guna menjamin bahwa baik periode transisi maupun masa depan kemerdekaan kami dicirikhaskan dengan kebaikan, kedamaian, hubungan yang bersifat terbuka antara semua unsur masyarakat.

Anda dapat menghumbungi kami melalui Benjamin di La’o Hamutuk (325-013 atau 0408-811-373). Kami berterima kasih atas perhatian anda.

Hormat kami,

Benjamin Sanches Afonso, La’o Hamutuk 
Joaquim Fonseca, Yayasan HAK 
Rui Castro, Center for Popular Economic Development
Nuno Rodrigues, Sa’he Institute for Liberation 
Arsenio Bano, NGO Forum Eladio 
Antoniu Faculto, Organizacao Juventude de Timor Loro Sae 
Maria Dias, Klinika PAS 
Manuela Leong Pereira, Fokupers

cc: Jose Luis da Costa de Sousa, Ketua Komisi Kepolisian 
Sergio Vieira de Mello, Wakil Khusus Jendral Sekretariat 
Xanana Gusmao, President CNRT

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The following is the full text of the article that prompted this letter, which was written by Australian Associated Press.

Police expect election violence in Dili 
By Rod McGuirk

DARWIN, Feb 8 AAP - Police are bracing for a resurgence of violence in Dili in the lead-up to the first general election, the Australian head of United Nations civilian police operations said today.

Authorities aim to hold East Timor's first election on August 30 - the second anniversary of the independence ballot that degenerated into nationwide bloodshed.

While the pro-Indonesia militia threat in the East Timor capital has diminished, Chief of Civpol Operations in East Timor, Commander Gary Gent, said the election campaign posed new dangers.

"I don't like to use the term political violence, but I think there will be an increase in disturbances," Cmdr Gent told AAP from Dili.

"Their last experience (of an election), you know what happened there; they're still learning this process.

"The vast majority don't understand what democracy is all about, that you can have a contrary point of view.

"This raises conflict and they don't handle conflict properly."

Small conflicts have a tendency to escalate in the streets of Dili where a traffic accident can involve 100 people within minutes.

The dangers are exacerbated by increased gang activity in Dili and the readiness of the East Timorese to brandish machetes.

"A lot of locals carry machetes; it should be seen as a traditional tool but from a policing perspective, I'd rather they left them at home," Cmdr Gent said.

United Nations money in Dili has attracted a steady stream of East Timorese from the countryside and pushed up inflation in the impoverished nation.

Dili accounted for 82 per cent of crimes reported to Civpol in East Timor, although the crime statistics remain low.

Cmdr Gent, who was an Australian Federal Police patrol commander in Canberra before he was posted to Dili in December, nominated unemployment as the main cause of crime in Dili.

The young unemployed gravitated to gangs of men from their home communities. Gangs from Baucau and Lospalos were among the most visible in Dili.

There are allegations that the gangs extort money from local business people through standover rackets.

Cmdr Gent said he was only aware of one report of such extortion and Civpol had made an arrest on that occasion.

But he conceded a lot more crimes of intimidation probably went unreported.

"Under the surface, no doubt there is some of that around," he said.

Despite increasing gang activity, chronic unemployment and the population drain from the villages which strong family and community ties have kept virtually crime-free, Cmdr Gent did not believe Dili was headed for a major crime problem.

"You get differing reports but all I can refer to is reported crime figures which are steady as you go," he said.

The United Nations said violence between two gangs in Dili which raged over two days last month and ended with one man hacked to death and three others hospitalised was the first major civil disturbance since April last year.

Cmdr Gent said he would not classify that clash as a gang violence.

The violence began as a property dispute and he described the victim as a bystander.

A clash last week in which university students pelted rocks at Portuguese paramilitary police began when two police officers stopped an East Timorese man who was driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

"Whenever there's an issue involving international personnel and East Timorese, East Timorese will side very, very quickly with East Timorese," he said.

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The following letter was received at La'o Hamutuk on 15 March. It is reply to a letter I posted to lh-discuss on 12 March, entitled "Subject: [lh-discuss] E.Timor NGOs protest police predictions of violence" Punctuation and syntax are as received.

UNTAET letterhead 
10 March 2001

La'o Hamutuk 
The East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Development 
PO Box 340 Dili East Timor

Dear Sir/Madam

Article A.A.P. 8 February 2001 - Election Violence

I refer to your letter dated the 17 February 2001, where you comment on an interview between Mr. Rod McGuirk, journalist AAP on 8 February 2001, and myself and some of the issues raised in that interview.

In the first instance, the interview that I had with Mr. McGuirk was conducted over the telephone for a period of about half and (sic) hour. The dialogue in the article would have taken about 10 to 15 seconds of that interview. The thrust of his interview was to explore the area of violence within East Timor and therefore his questions focused generally within this area. He was advised of a range of matters relating to this and in particular the limited levels of crime that occur within East Timor when compared with other western cities. As you can see the words used by me in the article when referring to violence per se were that we expected " increase in disturbances" not violence. The article shows that I preferred not to use the word "violence" and in fact at no time during the interview did I use that particular word. His emphasis on this terminology not mine.

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 a police officer of many years experience I certainly understand the value and the need for police to work closely with their local community. Here in East Timor CivPol has made every effort to develop this relationship through effective community policing programs. These programs, in particular those in the rural areas have been extremely successful and clearly demonstrate how well the community and the police can work together toward a common goal.

As we move towards the impending elections it is reasonable to expect an increase in activities associated with those elections. It is my responsibility together with other senior CivPol officers to ensure that we are well prepared to undertake these elections as smoothly as possible. In undertaking this we must be aware of all threats and dangers to that process and react accordingly to ensure that law and order is maintained.



Gary Gent Chief of Operations 
CivPol HQ 

CC: CivPol Commissioner 
CC: Mr Jean-Christian Cady, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General

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