Harnit Kang, Research Officer, IPCS
Anna Louise Strachan, Research Intern, IPCS
The United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) was established in August 2006 in the aftermath of the 2006 security crisis. The mission’s current mandate expires in February 2010 but this is likely to be extended. The mission is headed by Atul Khare. UNMIT was preceded by four other UN missions. The 2006 crisis began with a peaceful protest against conditions within the armed forces but escalated into a violent power struggle resulting in the establishment of UNMIT and the deployment of the International Stabilization Force (comprising Australian and New Zealand troops).
UNMIT has come up with a Medium Term Strategy, which is made up of a number of objectives and benchmarks, the achievement of which should result in a stable democratic society in Timor-Leste. Progress towards these objectives and benchmarks is monitored and enables UNMIT to gauge when its presence will no longer be required. The objectives relate to security issues, justice and human rights, democratic governance and socio-economic development.
In terms of the security situation, responsibility for policing has been handed over to the National Police of East Timor (PNTL) in three districts. A weapons collection campaign took place in 2008 and the number of serious crimes reported has reduced. It is however worth noting that a reduction in reports does not necessarily mean that the crimes are not happening. On the other hand the attempted assassination of President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao on 11 February 2008 indicates that the security situation remains fragile and serves as a reminder that there is a risk of a return to violence. There has been a lack of cooperation between the United Nations Police Force (UNPOL) and the PNTL and this combined with PNTL equipment shortages, insufficient training for PNTL officers and poor levels of cooperation within UNPOL has hindered progress towards achieving the first objective set out in the Medium Term Strategy.
In terms of justice and human rights, the Serious Crimes Investigation Team (SCIT) has been investigating crimes committed in 1999. Their investigations led to the arrest of Martenus Bere who was one of the perpetrators of the Suai Church massacre, which occurred in September 1999. However he was released just weeks after his arrest. UNPOL introduced a police certification programme to ensure that officers responsible for human rights abuses would not remain within the police force, but while some officers were found to be unsuitable for police service, they were not dismissed. The UN has failed to ensure that those responsible for the 1999 and 2006 violence are brought to justice. Moreover, the few people convicted for their roles in the 2006 violence have been pardoned. The fact that some of those responsible for the violence continue to be senior officials within the security forces is particularly concerning. It will be impossible for the general populace to have faith in the police force if those in charge are known to have been responsible for serious crimes. Reports of human rights abuses by the PNTL Task Force and the Timor-Leste Defence Force (F-FDTL) and PNTL Joint Command have not resulted in any arrests.
In terms of democratic governance, the 2007 elections were largely successful, the UN Convention against corruption was ratified and an anti-corruption commission was established in July. However, high-level corruption continues to be a problem and this is exacerbated by the President’s unwillingness to admit that senior officials are guilty of corruption.
As far as socio-economic development is concerned, the last remaining internally displaced persons (IDP) camp was closed in July. Failure to reintegrate IDPs and the fact that some villages are not allowing IDPs to return due to pre-2006 conflicts presents a major obstacle to progress on the socio-economic development front. However, numerous UN agencies are working on this issue so responsibility for progress in this area does not fall on UNMIT alone. The fact that half of the Timorese population lives on less than US$0.88 per day and extremely high levels of unemployment increases the risk of a return to violence. Unemployed youths who joined demonstrations in 2006 are believed to have been one of the factors behind the escalation of the security crisis.
It is important that both UNMIT’s and the government’s influence extends to rural areas and that it is not limited to Dili. UNMIT must become more proactive as the passivity of previous UN missions is believed to have hampered progress towards political stability. Greater cooperation between UNMIT and the PNTL is required if the mission is to be successful in its quest for a stable and democratic Timor-Leste.
- It would be worth looking at the Balkans and whether the concept of shared sovereignty would also work in Timor-Leste.
- Truth and reconciliation cannot go hand in hand.
- Is there an alternative to UN peacekeeping missions? What about the Scandinavian role in mediation and conflict resolution?
Questions and Responses
- How can this mission be classified as a failure when so much has been achieved?
The mission has not been a failure but there continue to be a number of issues, which need to be resolved. The west had hundreds of years in which to develop its institutions but unfortunately Timor-Leste does not have that luxury. This means that what has been achieved is insufficient in that the country’s institutions still do not function in the way that is required to ensure stability and development.
- Why are funders interested in Timor-Leste when there is little to be gained strategically?
There has been talk of donor fatigue with regard to Timor-Leste, largely because the situation has not stabilized despite the fact that it has been ten years since the referendum on independence was held. Moreover, the majority of funding comes from Australia, which is interested in Timor-Leste’s petroleum and natural gas reserves.
- Is Timor-Leste ethnically diverse?
There are a number of ethnic groups in Timor-Leste as well as a mestico (people of mixed Timorese and Portuguese origin) community.