Expected Council Action
At the end of December, the mandate of the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) concludes. At press time, it seemed the Council might adopt a presidential statement or resolution marking the end of the mission and perhaps formally deciding to remove Timor-Leste from its agenda.
No Council action is required however, as resolution 2037 of 23 February already endorsed UNMIT’s phased drawdown, in accordance with Timor-Leste’s wishes.
Key Recent Developments
Two significant developments concerning Timor-Leste took place in November: a Council visiting “mini-mission” from 3-6 November and the final debate on UNMIT in the Council on 12 November.
Led by Ambassador Baso Sangqu of South Africa, which has been the lead on Timor-Leste in 2012, the visiting mission to Timor-Leste provided an opportunity for Council members to view the progress made as the country prepares to embark on its next chapter. (Six delegations took part in the mission: Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Portugal, South Africa and Togo.)
The members praised the “historic milestones” that Timor-Leste had reached since its independence in 2002, particularly in the wake of the crisis that engulfed the country in April 2006. This year, as an illustration of that progress, the country marked its 10th anniversary of independence and held largely peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections in March/April and July respectively, leading to the inauguration of a new President and the formation of a new government.
During the visiting mission, the Council members met with President Taur Matan Ruak, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão and other key government ministers. The visit also afforded members the opportunity to meet with opposition figures, members of parliament and political figures outside of parliament, including Mari Alkatiri—who was the first Prime Minister of internationally recognised Timor-Leste. (Alkatiri is now Secretary-General of FRETILIN, the main opposition party.)
In briefing the Council on 12 November, Ambassador Sangqu reiterated that one of the key purposes of the visiting mission, as UNMIT withdrew from the country, was to underscore the international community’s long-term commitment to Timor-Leste’s peace and development. He stated that interlocutors in Timor-Leste had reinforced the message conveyed in a 20 September letter from Prime Minister Gusmão to the Secretary-General that Timor-Leste no longer required the presence of either a UN peacekeeping or political mission. Instead, the country would like to establish an “innovative working relationship of cooperation” with the UN, which would remain an important partner. He also conveyed Timor-Leste’s clear position that it does not seek to remain on the agenda of the Council. (The 20 September letter also stated that, in the view of the government, there was “no requirement for the continued consideration of Timor-Leste affairs by the Security Council.”)
During the debate on UNMIT that followed the briefing, Acting Special Representative Finn Reske-Nielsen reiterated many of the positive statements concerning Timor-Leste’s progress. The one area where UNMIT’s work would not be completed by 31 December, Reske-Nielsen noted, was the investigations into cases relating to crimes against humanity and other serious crimes committed between 1 January and 25 October 1999. (Out of 396 investigations, the UNMIT Serious Crimes Investigation Team had completed 319, and another 16 investigations were projected to be concluded by 31 December, which would leave 61 investigations outstanding.) Reske-Nielsen concluded that despite the challenges still faced, a peacekeeping mission was no longer the best option. He noted that this was consistent with Timor-Leste’s own assessment and that work was ongoing with Dili to shape the future partnership between the UN and Timor-Leste.
Foreign Minister José Luís Guterres participated in the debate and spoke about the critical reforms undertaken in the security and defence sectors and the establishment of new institutions, including an anti-corruption commission and an independent civil service commission. Guterres also noted Timor-Leste’s formal application in 2011 to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and highlighted the steps taken by Dili demonstrating the importance it attached to joining the 10-member regional bloc. He spoke of the “profound appreciation” for the countries that had supported Timor-Leste and its deep gratitude to the UN, saying that as Timor-Leste did its best to guarantee peace and stability, it would share its experiences and lessons learned.
The key issue for the Council this year, as UNMIT winds up its mandate, has been that Timor-Leste’s transition towards the next stage in its development continues to be smooth.
A remaining issue, as mentioned by Reske-Nielsen, is the outstanding investigations of the UNMIT Serious Crimes Investigation Team for crimes committed in 1999.
A procedural issue for the Council will be whether, in line with the express wishes of the Timor-Leste government, formally removing the item “The situation in Timor-Leste” from the agenda. (In line with current Council practice, as described in presidential notes S/2008/847 and S/2010/507, an item remains on the agenda—also referred to as the “seizure list”—for three years after it was discussed by the Council at a formal meeting. It is then automatically deleted unless a member state asks the President of the Council to retain the item on the agenda. The most recent situation of a mission being terminated was the UN Mission in Nepal, closed down on 15 January 2011. The Council marked the occasion with a presidential statement, however the agenda item under which the matter was discussed continues to be included on the “seizure list”.)
One option for the Council is to take no further action concerning Timor-Leste and allow UNMIT’s mandate to expire on 31 December without further pronouncements. (Having Timor-Leste formally on the Council’s agenda still would enable the Council to discuss the situation on an ad hoc basis should the need arise.)
Another option that has been voiced by some Council members is to adopt a resolution or presidential statement in December as a final Council text on UNMIT’s conclusion and on the next stage in the UN-Timor-Leste partnership.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members have continued to largely see eye-to-eye concerning Timor-Leste. Without exception, they acknowledge the significant strides the country has made, particularly the important electoral developments this year and its assumption of full policing responsibilities. For many Council members, Timor-Leste is a success story and a model from which lessons can perhaps be learned for other UN missions. Some Council members accentuate more than others the challenges still ahead for the country in order for it to avoid a return to conflict and instability, but there is general recognition that the time is right for the UN’s attention to turn from peacekeeping to development, in line with Timor-Leste’s preferences.
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 Meeting Records
|12 November 2012 S/PV.6858
|This was the briefing by Ambassador Sangqu (South Africa) on the 3-6 November 2012 visiting mission to Timor-Leste.
|12 November 2012 S/PV.6859
|This was the final debate on UNMIT.
|Security Council Letter
|2 October 2012 S/2012/736
|This letter contained the 20 September letter from Prime Minister Gusmão to the Secretary-General.
|Notes by the President of the Security Council
|26 July 2010 S/2010/507
|This was a note which focused on enhancing Council transparency, as well as interaction and dialogue with non-Council members.
|31 December 2008 S/2008/847
|This was the result of the 2008 work of the Informal Working Group on Documentation revising procedures regarding the list of items with which the Council is seized.
|5 November 2012 S/2012/10/Add.44
|This document contained the list of matters of which the Council was seized as of 5 November 2012.