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Timorese Institute Asks for Improved UN Role

Timorese Institute Asks for Improved UN Role in Their Country

The Dili-based Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis is proposing an expanded and extended United Nations mission in Timor-Leste (East Timor), beginning shortly and lasting several years. In a detailed memorandum to UN staff and Security Council members, the Institute (known in Tetum as La’o Hamutuk) draws on six years experience monitoring UN activities in Timor-Leste to urge “that both the quality as well as the duration of the international presence there be evaluated and improved.”

The 11-page paper, available at, recommends that all UN activities in Timor-Leste be in cooperation with the sovereign Timor-Leste government. The memo was sent prior to the resignation of the Prime Minister, but it addresses longer-term concerns:

« Foreign security forces in Timor-Leste, including Australian military and police, must be under coordinated UN command.

« Previous UN missions were too short and inadequately consulted Timorese officials and civil society. The new mission should last at least five years, learn from past UN mistakes, and overcome UN structural and institutional constraints.

« This mission should address the deep-seated causes of the current crisis: massive unemployment, limited popular confidence in democratic processes and the rule of law, traumatization, and inadequate skills and experience in state institutions and personnel.

« Prevailing impunity for crimes against humanity committed during the Indonesian occupation adds to the current crisis because new perpetrators expect to evade accountability and victims take justice into their own hands. The UN must renew efforts to end impunity, restore effectiveness to and confidence in the Timorese judicial system, and exemplify accountability and transparency in its own operations in Timor-Leste.

« The role of the Timor-Leste military (F-FDTL) was poorly thought through during the transitional government, and ill-conceived international training and arms supplies have exacerbated current problems. The upcoming UN investigation of violent incidents of April 28 and May 25 should be comprehensive and its report made public. In addition, the UN should encourage a broad-based, national discussion to help Timor-Leste determine what local security forces are appropriate. In the meantime, the UN and other international supporters must train police and military forces in human rights, the rule of law, command structures, and how to interact with the civilian population.

« The “bubble economy” created by UNTAET should have done more to jump-start local economic development by hiring more Timorese staff and purchasing locally-produced supplies and services. The next UN Mission must give attention to the consequences of unemployment and alienation, and work with the Timorese government to expand public-sector employment and effectively train Timorese managers.

« The next mission should involve more women at every level, as required by UN resolutions. Nearly all of those directly responsible for the current crisis in Timor-Leste are male, but women and children suffer the burden of displacement from their homes.

« The UN’s responsibility does not end with the 2007 elections, and its civic education programs should involve more than training in election procedures. The next UN mission should help expand awareness that healthy, informed political debate, focused on issues and conducted respectfully and nonviolently, is an essential part of democracy.

La’o Hamutuk’s memorandum concluded:

“Timor-Leste began with handicaps…. The millennium’s first new nation was a “poster child” for successful (albeit belated) international intervention, but it has also been a guinea pig and training ground for experimental projects by the UN and other multilateral institutions. We hope that the current crisis is a wake-up call for both the international community and the Timorese leadership, and that the next UN mission in this country will prioritize the long-term needs of the million people who live in Timor-Leste, .. to support their efforts to live in stability, democracy and peace.”


After 24 years of illegal Indonesian military occupation, which killed more than 100,000 Timor-Leste people, the international community became involved in Timor-Leste. On August 30, 1999, more than 78% of the people voted for independence in a UN-conducted referendum amidst a campaign of terror and destruction by the Indonesian military and the militia they directed. Following the vote, Indonesian-controlled forces killed more than 1,000 people, destroyed 75% of the country’s buildings, and displaced three-fourths of the population before withdrawing from the country.

There have been four UN Missions in Timor-Leste: UNAMET (conducting the referendum), UNTAET (1999-2002, transitional government), UNMISET (2002-5, support), and UNOTIL (May 2005-present).

With the breakdown of civil order and threats to constitutional government during the past few months, the UN Security Council extended UNOTIL to allow time to design a new mission. Since Timor-Leste’s independence, major powers, including the United States and Australia, pressed for rapid termination of UNTAET and UNMISET, but a revised consensus is likely to give the new mission a broader mandate and longer duration than UNMISET or UNOTIL.

A UN Assessment team, headed by Ian Martin, is now in Timor-Leste and is expected to report to the Security Council on August 7. La’o Hamutuk has given its memorandum to that team to help their work. The Security Council has until UNOTIL’s current expiration on August 20 to authorize the new mission.

La’o Hamutuk (“Walking Together”) is an independent Timor-Leste non-governmental organization formed in 2000 to monitor and analyze the activities of international organizations in the country, and to improve communications and understanding between civil society and international institutions operating there. The institute has issued numerous reports and radio broadcasts in Indonesian, English and Tetum with the goal of helping the new nation achieve stability, the rule of law, and economic and social justice. This memorandum is based on dozens of La’o Hamutuk investigations, referenced in the memorandum and available at

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