December 2005 Monthly Forecast

Posted 23 November 2005
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Expected Council Action
The Council expects the Secretary-General’s progress report on the UN Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL) in December. It is also expecting a report from the Secretary-General on justice and reconciliation in Timor, but it is unclear when that will emerge.

Key Facts
The conflict in Timor-Leste started when the Frente Revolucionária de Timor-Leste Independente (FRETILIN) declared East Timor’s independence from Portugal in 1975. Indonesia intervened and annexed the territory a few months later. Following years of conflict and repression by Indonesia in East Timor, Indonesia and Portugal agreed in May 1999 to a referendum on independence in Timor.

The Council mandated the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) to oversee the referendum and the successive transition either to independence or autonomy, depending on the outcome. Following an overwhelming vote for independence, pro-integration militias committed widespread murder and rape, displaced about 63 percent of the total East Timorese population and burned about 85 percent of all buildings in East Timor.

In September 1999, the Council authorised the Australia-led International Force in East Timor (INTERFET) to restore peace and security. Indonesia withdrew, and the Council established the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) to help the territory transition into full independence. UNTAET ended in 2002 following the election of former FRETILIN leader Xanana Gusmão as President. The Council then established the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), and subsequently UNOTIL in 2005. Both were designed to provide assistance to the government and prepare the gradual transition from UN peacekeeping to peacebuilding activities.

In 2000, UNTAET established a judicial mechanism, called the serious crimes process, to bring to justice those responsible for gross violations of human rights in East Timor in 1999. It was brought to a closure in May 2005 pursuant to resolution 1543 (2004), after producing 95 indictments and charging 440 individuals. The serious crimes unit of the UN operation was shut down. This left numerous cases outstanding, including 200 arrest warrants. Of about 1,370 reported cases of murder, only 572 resulted in indictments.

The governments of Indonesia and Timor-Leste in 2004 decided to create a Commission for Truth and Friendship (CTF) to produce a report in lieu of a judicial process. The decision attracted mixed comments: criticism for favouring impunity and creating risks of instability, but also a degree of understanding and support by regional neighbours. 

The Secretary-General decided to appoint a Commission of Experts (COE) in early 2005 to provide recommendations on justice and reconciliation for Timor-Leste. The Commission found that the proposed CTF, in which the terms of reference foresee amnesty for the perpetrators of serious crimes, contradicts international standards against impunity. The report recommended that the serious crimes process be maintained and that Indonesia step up its judicial capacity. In the event that the parties failed to adopt these measures, the COE recommended that an international tribunal be established or that the situation be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) under an extraordinary arrangement between the United Nations and the ICC.

The Council has to date avoided taking a position on the COE recommendations. In September it requested the Secretary-General to provide it with recommendations on the COE report.

Key Issues
The immediate issue before the Council in December will be the UNOTIL report, which is likely to be uncontroversial. It is unclear at time of writing whether the Secretary-General’s proposals for addressing the outstanding cases of serious crimes committed in East Timor in the period immediately following the referendum will be available.

Council Dynamics
There has been considerable discomfort among Council members with the COE’s recommendations largely due to the fact that both states involved, Timor-Leste and Indonesia, have been unhappy with the findings and responded by reiterating support for the CTF option. In particular, Asian members of the Council have tended to side with that approach.

Several Council members consider the recommendation for an international tribunal too expensive. The United States has strong reservations about any involvement of the ICC.

As a result, the Council did not act on the COE report when it was transmitted to its members in late June. In a move seen as a further stalling tactic, the Council, in late September 2005, requested that the Secretary-General present a report on justice and reconciliation for Timor-Leste, “with a practically feasible approach, taking into account the report of the Commission of Experts as well as the views expressed by Indonesia and Timor-Leste.” 

Some Council members have made it known that they reject the amnesty provisions included in the CTF’s terms of reference and expressed concerns about the risks in terms of global precedent in promoting impunity, as well as concern about its potential impact on Timor-Leste’s prospects for long-term stability. At the same time, however, there is recognition of the need to find a solution that to some extent accommodates the preferences of the two states involved.

The Council may limit itself to receiving and discussing the progress report from UNOTIL. Options include:

  • A brief statement welcoming the report and expressing continued support for efforts to achieve lasting stability in Timor-Leste as well as securing eventual smooth ceasing of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities in the country; 
  • A request to the Secretary-General inquiring about the timing of the outstanding justice and reconciliation report; 
  • No action, allowing the matter to be delayed further.

Underlying Problems
The worst human rights violators who led the anti-independence movement escaped to Indonesia, and their possible return may pose risks to stability in Timor-Leste. Returns may increase in the upcoming months, given the apparent end of the serious crimes process.

The serious crimes process is sensitive to Indonesia because of the involvement of Indonesian personnel with the militias in the 1999 rampage at the time of the referendum.

Re-establishing the serious crimes process is nonetheless viewed as potentially harmful to relations between Timor-Leste and Indonesia. Good relations between both countries are regarded as a cornerstone of stability and security in Timor-Leste.

UN Documents

 Security Council Resolutions
  • S/Res/1599 (2005) established UNOTIL.
  • S/Res/1543 (2004) determined that the serious crimes process be concluded by 20 May 2005.
  • S/Res/1410 (17 May 2002) established UNMISET.
  • S/Res/1272 (25 October 1999) established UNTAET.
  • S/Res/1264 (15 September 1999) authorised INTERFET.
  • S/Res/1246 (11 June 1999) established UNAMET.
 Reports of Council Missions
Secretary-General’s Reports
  • S/2005/533 (18 August 2005) is the latest progress report on UNOTIL.
  • S/2005/99 (18 February 2005) recommended the establishment of UNOTIL.
 Special Reports / Letters
  • S/2005/613 (28 September 2005) was a letter from the president of the Council requesting further recommendations on justice and reconciliation for Timor-Leste.
  • S/2005/458 (15 July 2005) contained the Report of the Commission of Experts.

Historical Background

 5 August 2005

 CTF officially met for the first time.

 1 August 2005

 Governments of Timor-Leste and Indonesia announced CTF members.

 15 July 2005

 The COE report was published.

 May 2005

 Serious crimes process concluded activities. UNOTIL established.

 18 February 2005

 Secretary-General informed the Council about his decision to establish the COE, following his December 2004 consultations with foreign ministers of Indonesia and Timor-Leste.

 May 2002

 UNMISET established.

 October 1999

 UNTAET established.

 September 1999

 Anti-independence violence stepped up; martial law imposed; INTERFET authorised.

 August 1999

 Referendum showed overwhelming support for independence.

 June 1999 UNAMET established.
 May 1999 Indonesia and Portugal agreed to the terms of the referendum. Indonesian military-sponsored violence erupted in Timor-Leste.
 January 1999

 Indonesia decided to carry out the referendum.

 December 1975  Indonesia occupied Timor-Leste.
 November 1975

 FRETILIN declared Timor-Leste independent.


Other Relevant Facts

 Special Representative of the Secretary-General
 Sukehiro Hasegawa (Japan)
 Size and Composition of UNOTIL

 As many as 130 staff members

 Cost (requested budget)
 US$ 22,027,700.00
 Commission of Experts
 Prafullachandra Bhagwati (India)
 Yozo Yokota (Japan)
 Shaista Shameem (Fiji)

Full forecast