February 2012 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2012
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Timor-Leste

Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to hold a briefing and consultations on the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) in February. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Timor-Leste, Ameerah Haq, is expected to brief the Council. Timor-Leste will likely be represented by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão or President José Ramos-Horta, possibly accompanied by others at the ministerial level.

The Council is expected to renew UNMIT until 31 December 2012, in line with the Secretary-General’s recent recommendation, at which time Council members envisage the mission will conclude. (Resolution 1969 extended the mandate of UNMIT until 26 February 2012.)

Key Recent Developments
Since the Council’s last debate on Timor-Leste on 22 November 2011, the security situation in the country has remained generally stable and calm. The reported crime rate has remained low since the Polícia Nacional de Timor-Leste (PNTL, the national police force) assumed full responsibilities for law enforcement in March 2011. 

Presidential and parliamentary elections are due in the first half of this year: parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in June, and the presidential election is set for 17 March. (If a second round of voting is required, it would be held in the third week of April.) It will be the third such election since Timor-Leste’s independence in 2002. President Ramos-Horta—who is eligible for a second and final term—was reported as saying in mid-January that he had not made a decision whether to run but would announce his intentions in early February. 

The Secretary-General’s 18 January report on UNMIT (S/2012/43) notes that as the election period draws closer, party leaders have continued calls for security and stability. “Steady progress” has been made in the preparations of the elections, the report observes. This included the approval of subsidiary legislation by the National Electoral Commission on 28 December, which comprises legislation on electoral campaign regulations, voting and counting. These steps complete the legal framework for the upcoming elections. 

On 22 December, Timor-Leste’s Council of Ministers suspended the activities of martial arts groups in the country for one year. The approved measures “to ensure public order and internal security of the country” were in response to general security concerns arising out of fights between rival martial arts groups. The Secretary-General’s report suggests that while last year’s general stability is expected to continue in 2012, heightened localised tensions, including the martial arts groups, could pose a test for the PNTL. It notes that the PNTL has made operational planning for the elections a priority and that UNMIT police will stand ready to provide operational support to the PNTL as required.

On the issue of accountability for those responsible for crimes and human rights violations during the 2006 crisis, the report observes that progress continues to be slow. Special Representative Haq expressed concern to the government that at least one former member of the Timorese armed forces, convicted of killing eight PNTL officers in 2006, occupies a senior post in the defence ministry. The Secretary-General’s report notes that further progress toward the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation and the Commission of Truth and Friendship would positively impact Timor-Leste’s long-term peace and stability. It expresses hope that the country’s parliament will resume a debate on the draft laws on reparations and on the commissions’ successor. 

Concerning the UN’s future in Timor-Leste, the report recommends that UNMIT’s mandate be extended until 31 December. (A UN country team is expected to continue its engagement in Timor-Leste following UNMIT’s departure.) The report also notes that the UNMIT police component will gradually downsize “as soon as possible” after the elections, as will the number of military liaison officers. It is anticipated that the newly elected government will be sworn in around August, and the Secretary-General intends to submit a report to the Council within 60 days of the new government’s formation. This will contain suggestions on final preparations for UNMIT’s anticipated withdrawal and for the UN’s post-UNMIT presence in the country. 

On 17 November, following the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Bali, Indonesia, the chair’s statement welcomed the formal application of Timor-Leste to join the 10-nation grouping. The ASEAN Coordinating Council, which includes a working group established to discuss Timor-Leste’s bid, will address the application—and its implications for ASEAN—and make recommendations. This will include determining whether Timor-Leste has the “ability and willingness to carry out the obligations of Membership,” as per Article 6 of the ASEAN Charter.

On 12 January, Ramos-Horta convened a ceremony in Dili marking the closure of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Timorese capital. UNHCR’s regional coordinator for Southeast Asia praised the country’s “impressive achievements” with respect to refugees and asylum seekers, noting that Timor-Leste was one of the few countries in the region to have ratified the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. (UNHCR opened its office in Dili nearly 12 years ago, just prior to the violent 1999 referendum on independence from Indonesia that compelled nearly a quarter of a million people to flee across the island into West Timor.) In total, UNHCR helped 220,000 refugees return to Timor-Leste.

Human Rights-Related Developments
The report from the examination of Timor-Leste by the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review was published on 3 January. The Group’s report disclosed that its members had tabled 125 recommendations of which 88 were immediately accepted by the government or regarded by Timor-Leste as already implemented. Recommendations accepted by the government included providing further resources for Timor-Leste’s human rights office and the Commission for rights of the child as well as becoming party to the Disabilities Convention. A further 36 recommendations are under consideration by the government which will report to the Human Rights Council at its next session this March. One recommendation seeking the repeal of legislative provisions that were regarded by a group member as discriminatory towards women in respect of inheritance, land ownership and legal capacity, was not supported by Timor-Leste.

Key Issues
A key issue for the Council remains the security situation in Timor-Leste and stability on the ground in the months leading up to its elections.

UNMIT’s anticipated withdrawal at the end of 2012 gives rise to several important issues. These include the composition and role of the UN country team following UNMIT’s departure and the development of the transition process based on the Joint Transition Plan, which was signed by the government and Haq on 19 September 2011. 

A related issue is the timing and the size of reductions in UNMIT’s police and military liaison units following the elections.

A further issue remains accountability for past crimes—in particular the lengthy amount of time it has taken to complete cases—and rule of law questions.   

Options
In line with the Secretary-General’s recommendations, the Council could adopt a resolution renewing UNMIT’s mandate until 31 December 2012. (If this option were taken, it would be a change in practice: since UNMIT’s establishment in August 2006, its mandate has been extended every February for one year.) 

The Council could also choose to go into detail about the nature and scope of the UN country team that would be UNMIT’s successor. Alternatively, it could leave such decisions until later in the year, once the elections period has been completed and the new government has been formed.

Council and Wider Dynamics
The core group on Timor-Leste, established in 1999, has five members on the Council: France, Portugal, South Africa, the UK and the US. The remaining six states are Brazil (which took the lead on Timor-Leste issues until it left the Council at the end of 2011), Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Malaysia and the Philippines. (At press time, the new “pen-holder” for Timor-Leste in the Council was under debate.)

It seems that Council members are generally comfortable with the content of the Secretary-General’s report and the expected recommendation that UNMIT complete its mandate at the end of 2012. The focus of discussions is likely to be the UN’s presence in Timor-Leste from 2013 onwards and the specificity the Council should go into at this juncture. 

Some elected Council members, and others in the core group, suggest that it might be too early to determine how this political mission might look. They indicate that those decisions could more appropriately be made once the elections have been completed and the stability of the country assessed. In particular, with respect to endorsing a specific transition model, they indicate that it would be appropriate to wait until the formation of the new government in the second half of the year. 

Others on the Council might seek more clarity on the role of the future UN country team and the potential resources involved. But it seems unlikely that there would be appetite to adopt language in the resolution that does not allow flexibility for the UN to react to the realities of the post-elections environment. South Africa, which took the lead on Timor-Leste when it was last on the Council (2007-2008), has emphasised—as has Portugal and others—that decisions made about the UN’s presence in Timor-Leste should be guided by the needs and preferences of the government in Dili and should be led by Timor-Leste.

Selected UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1969 (24 February 2011) extended UNMIT until 26 February 2012. 
  • S/RES/1912 (26 February 2010) extended UNMIT until 26 February 2011. 
  • S/RES/1704 (25 August 2006) established UNMIT.

Latest Secretary-General’s report

  • S/2012/43 (18 Janaury 2012) covers the period 20 September 2011 to 6 January 2012. 

Other Relevant Facts

UNMIT: Size and Composition

  • Maximum authorised strength: up to 1,608 police and 34 military officers 
  • Size as of 31 December 2011: 1,216 total uniformed personnel, comprising 1,183 police (including formed units) and 33 military liaison officers; 394 international civilian staff; 883 local civilian personnel; and 211 UN Volunteers

International Stabilisation Force

  • Size as of April 2011: approximately 460 personnel (Australia and New Zealand)

Full forecast