November 2012 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 November 2012
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ASIA

Timor-Leste

Expected Council Action

In November, the Council is expected to hold its final debate on the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT). The mission’s mandate is set to end on 31 December. Finn Reske-Nielsen (Denmark), who has been Acting Special Representative for Timor-Leste since mid-June, is expected to brief the Council.

No immediate Council action is expected following the debate.

The Council is also planning to undertake a visiting mission to Timor-Leste in early November, despite Hurrican Sandy’s interuptions. At press time, six elected members—but no permanent members—were expected to go on the trip.

Key Recent Developments

Since the Council last held a debate on UNMIT on 22 February, significant political developments in Timor-Leste have taken place. 

On 17 March, the country held the first round of presidential elections, in which three candidates—including the incumbent President José Ramos-Horta—were considered the front-runners. In the 16 April run-off, José Maria Vasconcelos—an independent candidate and former military commander better known by his nom de guerre Taur Matan Ruak (“Two Sharp Eyes”)—defeated Francisco Guterres of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (known by its Portuguese acronym, FRETILIN). On 20 May, Taur Matan Ruak was inaugurated as President, a largely ceremonial position, for a five-year term. In a press statement of 25 April (SC/10626), the Council congratulated Timor-Leste on the “peaceful, smooth and orderly manner” of the elections.

Parliamentary elections were held in Timor-Leste on 7 July. More than 20 parties competed, although the two main parties—FRETILIN and the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT)—won 55 of the 65 seats in the unicameral Parliament. On 15 July, the leader of CNRT—Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão—announced that his party, which had won 30 seats, would go into coalition with the two smaller parties that had won the remaining ten seats: the Democratic Party (PD) and Frenti-Mudança. This announcement sparked protests from FRETILIN supporters who were angry that their party would again be excluded from the government. The unrest spread the following day from the capital Dili to outer districts, killing one person and injuring four police officers.

The new cabinet was sworn in on 8 August, with several key portfolios not changing hands, including that of the Prime Minister.

Shortly after the new cabinet was formed, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid a visit to Timor-Leste and praised its people for the progress they had made since independence in 2002. In his remarks on 15 August, the Secretary-General commended Timor-Leste for consolidating its security sector, noting that the government would still have the UN’s support after UNMIT’s departure.

Concerning Timor-Leste’s post-UNMIT future, in a 20 September letter to the Secretary-General (S/2012/736), Prime Minister Gusmão expressed “appreciation and heartfelt gratitude” to the UN for its commitment and support since 1999. Gusmão also stated that the criteria underpinning the UN/Timor-Leste “Joint Transition Plan” of September 2011 had been successfully met. These included the facts that:

  • stability had prevailed;
  • general elections had been held in accordance with international standards;
  • the government had been formed based on the outcome of the elections; and
  • political opposition had had space to operate in accordance with democratic principles.

The letter also stated that significant progress had been achieved, leading the Timor-Leste government to believe that it was “now in a position to assume leadership of the national development process.” The letter concluded that while the UN will continue to be an “important partner,” Timor-Leste no longer required the support of a UN peacekeeping or political mission. Instead, Timor-Leste wanted to establish an “innovative working relationship of cooperation” with the UN, which could perhaps involve the two-year appointment of a Special Envoy of the Secretary-General. The letter noted that the government had formed a working group that would further discuss with the UN post-2012 matters.

The Secretary-General’s report of 15 October (S/2012/765) embraced the proposal for the UN to continue to be an important partner in the new phase of Timor-Leste’s development. It noted that progress had been made in strengthening capacities of state institutions, including in the security, justice and governance sectors.

Alongside these positive developments, the report noted that Timor-Leste continued to face challenges. These included the implementation of regulations prescribing the roles of the national police force (PNTL), the armed forces (F-FDTL) and other security sector institutions and ensuring that there was respect for civilian oversight. In terms of the drawdown itself, the report noted that UNMIT police were expected to have ended operational support to the PNTL by 31 October. It is anticipated that UNMIT police would then proceed with a drawdown throughout November.

In the concluding section of the report, the Secretary-General stated that he was “pleased to recommend that UNMIT continue to proceed with its phased drawdown through the next three months until completion of its mandate on 31 December, consistent with the views of the government.”

Human Rights-Related Developments

During a press conference in Dili on 15 August, the Secretary-General was asked whether the UN supported the pursuit and prosecution of people involved in human rights atrocities committed in Timor-Leste from 1974 until independence, including people who are now in Indonesia. Ban responded that the UN’s position on this issue was clear and consistent: all the perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes must be brought to justice. The Secretary-General said that experience showed that political stability could not be sustainable when there was no justice for crimes against civilians, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Key Issues

The key issue for the Council is ensuring that the full transfer of UNMIT’s responsibilities to Timor-Leste is smooth and that the transition period leading up to 31 December is seamless.

An ongoing priority for the Council is that the political and security situations remain stable after UNMIT’s departure. (UNMIT was established in 2006 following a political, humanitarian and security crisis in the country. The UN’s second peacekeeping mission in Timor-Leste—UNMISET—had concluded its mission the year before.)

A further issue for the Council is the UN’s capacity to encourage developments by the government after UNMIT’s departure. These include the need to act against impunity and promote accountability for serious offences committed during the 2006 crisis and prior to independence.

Options

The Council is not required to take any formal action in order for UNMIT’s phased drawdown to be completed or for the UN’s post-UNMIT country team to operate.

However, in order to demonstrate its continued support for Timor-Leste, including in the implementation of its Strategic Development Plan 2011-2030, the Council could adopt a presidential statement closer to the time of UNMIT’s withdrawal. Such a statement could incorporate the views of Council members following the November visiting mission to Timor-Leste. (Under broadly similar circumstances, the Council expressed its continued support for Nepal’s peace process in a presidential statement of 14 January 2011. The UN Mission in Nepal completed its departure the following day.)

Council and Wider Dynamics

The Council has been largely unified on Timor-Leste. Several Council members with links to Timor-Leste, and those regional states that are part of the wider core group on Timor-Leste, have emphasised the need to listen to the new Timor-Leste government as to its preferences for the UN’s post-UNMIT presence. While some have been mindful of recent history and want to ensure that Timor-Leste is fully prepared to maintain stability and security without the likelihood of another UN peacekeeping mission, it seems that there is consensus in the Council that the country is ready to embark on its post-UNMIT future.

Concerning the visiting mission in November, some elected members including Portugal and South Africa—the latter has the lead on Timor-Leste—considered that the trip was important for Council members to see first-hand the progress that had been made and the potential lessons for other situations. The permanent members’ decision not to go on the trip perhaps reflects their wider viewpoint that the Council should be focused more at this time on situations more directly affecting international peace and security. (The Council had intended to visit Timor-Leste in November 2010 although that trip was postponed.)

UN Documents on Timor-Leste
Security Council Resolutions  
23 February 2012 S/RES/2037 This resolution extended the mandate of UNMIT until 31 December 2012.
25 August 2006 S/RES/1704 This resolution established UNMIT, comprising 1,608 police and 34 military liaison officers.
Security Council Press Statements  
25 April 2012 SC/10626 The Council welcomed the presidential elections in Timor-Leste.
Secretary-General’s Reports  
15 October 2012 S/2012/765 This report of the Secretary-General covered developments in Timor-Leste from 7 January to 20 September 2012
Security Council Letters  
2 October 2012 S/2012/736 This letter contained the 20 September letter from Prime Minister Gusmão to the Secretary-General.