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La'o Hamutuk writes U.N. Security Council

UN has responsibility to end impunity

20 October 2009

Links to Printable PDF version of this letter and annexed supplement.

Versaun Tetum karta no anexu ida ne'e (PDF)

Members of the United Nations Security Council
New York, New York, USA

Dear Distinguished Members of the United Nations Security Council:

Over the last nine years, La’o Hamutuk has written to you many times about the situation in Timor-Leste, to help improve your discussions and ensure that you have current and comprehensive information. This letter, as well as the enclosed documents, are another effort in this direction. We hope that you find them helpful, and look forward to continuing communication with people throughout the United Nations system regarding our country.

When you meet this week on Timor-Leste, your discussions will include people who have travelled from Timor-Leste to represent the RDTL government and the UNMIT mission. Inevitably, their political and diplomatic presentations are likely to include distortions, omissions and missing context regarding the situation in this country and the views of its citizens. To make wise decisions, you require complete and accurate information, as the UN’s deliberations – including reviewing UNMIT’s current activities, its mandate extension next year, and appointing the next SRSG – will have significant impacts on the people of our country, as well as for the credibility and effectiveness of the United Nations system.

In particular, recent actions and statements of the Prime Minister and the President of the Republic regarding justice, impunity and the release of Maternus Bere are out of step with the wishes of the large majority of Timorese people, who believe, consistent with Timor-Leste’s constitution and international legal principles, that people who commit serious crimes must be brought to trial in a legitimate judicial process. This week, several dozen Timorese citizens have written to you that our leaders’ support for impunity does not represent their views and has grave implications for the future.

Like you, we closely read the Secretary-General’s recent report on UNMIT (S/2009/504). We are concerned that diplomacy and self-censorship (as well as the pervasive use of passive voice) limit the information in this report, leaving out essential facts, context and responsibilities. We have annexed our attempt to fill some of these gaps and to include some information which  became available after the report was written, and hope you find it useful. In addition, our website includes more on many relevant topics.

The remainder of this letter focuses on justice and impunity, and on the responsibilities of the Security Council, the United Nations, and the international community to complement what the governments of Timor-Leste and Indonesia can not or will not do, rather than once again instructing these two governments, with their bloody past history and problematic current relationship, what they should do.

In late August, La’o Hamutuk published Justice for Timor-Leste Remains an Unfulfilled International Obligation, a briefing paper on ten years of ineffective justice mechanisms, and Amnesty International published We Cry for Justice: Impunity Persists 10 Years on in Timor-Leste. These reports are a useful reminder that the past decade has seen numerous false starts, unfulfilled promises, and political compromises which followed 24 years of crimes against humanity: the Indonesian invasion and illegal occupation which killed more than 100,000 Timorese people, predominantly civilian noncombatants.

When Timor-Leste politicians tell you that our people don’t want justice, do not believe them. In 2008, The Asia Foundation conducted more than a thousand interviews across Timor-Leste for their report Law and Justice in Timor-Leste: A Survey of Citizen Awareness and Attitudes. When asked “Suppose some person commits murder. Do you think that there are times when this person should be able to ‘avoid punishment’ or be free from ‘compensating’ the victim?” 90% of the respondents said no and only 6% said there might be cases when a murderer should not be punished.

Paragraphs 3 and 53 of the Secretary-General’s report discuss the peaceful commemorations of the tenth anniversary of the referendum. However, 1999 in Timor-Leste had 364 days in addition to 30 August, many of which hosted horrendous crimes, terror, displacement and killings. High UN and Government officials generally ignored the tenth anniversaries of these other days, but many of Timor-Leste’s citizens cannot forget so easily. We call your attention to two events in April, which commemorated massacres by Indonesian police and military-supported militia. They murdered dozens of peaceful, cowering refugees while negotiations in New York were leading to the 5 May agreement, in which the UN approved Indonesian armed personnel in Timor-Leste for the first time. Our web pages on the commemorations of the massacres at Liquiçá Church and Manuel Carrascalão’s home include English translations of the survivors’ current demands for justice.

Paragraphs 54 and 55 celebrate dialogue. While it is almost always better to talk than not to talk, talking alone cannot replace substantive actions or the rule of law. We urge the UN to deepen its analysis and understanding of the roots of problems here, the dynamics of society, and what is required for effective, durable solutions. In particular, dialogue cannot overcome official actions which ignore or undermine the constitution, rule of law, international human rights conventions and global principles of accountability.

Regarding the recent illegal release of indicted mass murderer Maternus Bere to Indonesian diplomats, paragraphs 33, 34 and 55 omit facts, apparently to hide international responsibility for justice. For example, the “outstanding warrant” against Bere was issued by the UN-initiated Serious Crimes Unit and Special Panels in 2003, and circulated by Interpol. La’o Hamutuk has posted many documents, analyses and other information on this case, and we encourage you to read them.

Although the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was more active than UNMIT and the SG in responding to this violation of separation of powers and rule of law, her actions have had little concrete result. Like others in the UN system, she puts the entire responsibility for this impunity on Timor-Leste’s leaders. Although the President and Prime Minister of this country sprung Bere from jail (in response to Indonesian threats), Indonesia itself provided sanctuary for him for the past six years, and the United Nations has failed to take any steps to assist service of the indictment against him and the 300 other SCU indictees protected by Indonesia. It is hypocritical and self-serving for the Secretary-General to write “It is also my hope that the Governments of both Timor-Leste and Indonesia will ensure that Maternus Bere is brought to justice, taking into account the report of the Commission of Experts appointed in 2005.” (paragraph SG-55).

In her private September 2 letter, the HCHR wrote President Ramos-Horta restating “the United Nations’ firm position that there can be no amnesty or impunity for serious crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.” That sentence needs a subject – and the United Nations must act as well as lecture if it is to retain any credibility. The governments of Indonesia and Timor-Leste have repeatedly shown, including in their conspiracy for Maternus Bere to escape accountability, that they do not have the will or the capacity to end impunity.

In citing the Commission of Experts Report (S/2005/458), the Secretary-General’s report misrepresents its concluding paragraph (emphasis added):

The international community is fully aware of the story of murders, rape, torture and enforced disappearances of East Timorese in 1999 and before. These are crimes that extend beyond the responsibility of the Governments of Timor Leste and Indonesia. These are crimes that concern humanity. The Report of the Commission of Experts may provide the last opportunity for the Security Council to ensure that accountability is secured for those responsible for grave human rights violations and human suffering on a massive scale and delivery of justice for the people of Timor-Leste.

The Commission of Experts’ four-year-old recommendation is clear (emphasis added):

525. If for any reason the above recommendations relevant to Timor-Leste and Indonesia are not initiated by the respective Governments within the time frames set out above (six months from 2005), or are not retained by the Security Council, the Commission recommends that the Security Council adopt a resolution under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations to create an ad hoc international criminal tribunal for Timor-Leste, to be located in a third State.

Between 1975 and 1998, Indonesian government forces killed more than 100,000 people in Timor-Leste while the UN stood by and passed toothless resolutions without enforceable provisions. Members of the Security Council today may prefer to shirk your responsibility and put the burden on others, but this is neither fair, legal, pragmatic nor honest.

If the UN does not act effectively to bring Maternus Bere to justice, his release overturns the position of the UN, expressed in the formal disclaimer to the Lome Agreement, that impunity cannot apply to serious violations of international humanitarian law. Bere’s release overturns the foundation of the Statute of the International Criminal Court: “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished.”

Paragraph SG-34 understates the broad societal debate on the Bere release and consequent legal issues, which includes church, civil society, victims groups, media, human rights groups, and others. On 12 October, Parliament debated the issue for ten hours with the Prime Minister’s participation, rejecting the no confidence motion on party lines. However, many Parliamentarians, including those in the governing coalition, agreed that the motion was correct on the law, although they were forbidden from voting against the Prime Minister. The debate highlighted whether leaders can put their personal interpretation of the “national interest” above the constitution and the law. Although former guerrilla commander Xanana Gusmão claimed this right, members of Parliament observed that similar claims had been made by Suharto, Marcos and Pinochet.

During the debate, the PM took full responsibility for Bere’s release, although he sometimes called it a “transfer” as if the Indonesian embassy were a prison, or tried to invent a back-dated medical rationale. The ensuing controversy has highlighted many fundamental issues here, including the constitutional separation of powers, unlawfully freeing a legally-imprisoned individual (punishable by 2-6 years in prison, according to Chief Judge Claudio Ximenes), and whether anyone supported by high Timor-Leste officials will ever be able to be brought to justice. The issue has grave implications not only for the future of the Serious Crimes process for past crimes, but for current and future rule of law, public confidence in governmental institutions, and public security in Timor-Leste.

Discussion of the four-year-old CAVR recommendations (SG-31 and SG-55) in Parliament and elsewhere could be useful, and implementing those recommendations would be even better. But selective attention to the easy ones – and ignoring those which require political courage and/or international involvement – is hypocritical and ineffective. In addition to recommendations for Timor-Leste and Indonesia, the CAVR report recommends many actions by the UN and international community (including numbers 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9, 1.10, 5.15, 7.1.1-7.1.12, 7.2.1 and 12.10). We wish to call your attention to one particular recommendation:

7.2.1. The United Nations and its relevant organs, in particular the Security Council, remains seized of the matter of justice for crimes against humanity in Timor-Leste for as long as necessary, and be prepared to institute an International Tribunal pursuant to Chapter VII of the UN Charter should other measures be deemed to have failed to deliver a sufficient measure of justice and Indonesia persists in the obstruction of justice.

The UN should be ashamed of the information given in SG-32, regarding the Serious Crimes Investigations Team. After more than three years, only 89 of 396 cases from 1999 have been investigated, and only 21 more are in process. When will the other 286 be done, or the tens of thousands of cases from before 1999? The UN has been here for more than ten years – how can it still be surprised by weather and road conditions?

Furthermore, the extremely limited mandate of SCIT results from an unacceptable series of compromises that has eroded justice to mere symbolism. There is no mechanism for indictments, extradition from Indonesia, arrests, or trials. Timor-Leste authorities have repeatedly demonstrated that they are too afraid of their larger neighbor to support any processes for justice. In fact, only one of the 84 Timorese militia convicted by the Serious Crimes Process remains in prison. President Ramos-Horta has even asked the SCIT to close (although apparently this was based on misinformation which has since been clarified). The issue is not capacity – but legality, courage and responsibility. If RDTL cannot meets its national and international legal obligations to end impunity, the UN must.

Paragraph SG-50 gives an unduly optimistic impression of progress in improving the functioning of the judiciary, accountability for criminal activity, and repairing the justice sector. In truth, there is a long way to go, and the examples of impunity and false “reconciliation” set by government leaders make it difficult for such systems to be perceived as fair. There is a widespread public perception that justice and accountability are only for “small people,” and that big people and their friends will enjoy impunity. This leads both to crime and to vigilante vengeance, undermining current and future stability and security. Although the government often gives lip-service to respect for the rule of law, their actions belie their promises, and the UN must not be afraid to look beneath the surface.

Paragraph SG-50 states that “the Government has sought at various levels to ensure strict ethical standards and to enhance respect for the rule of law” without mentioning the many times the ethics of members of the government have been questioned with regard to corruption and other issues, or that the principal leaders have undermined respect for the rule of law. As the Prime Minister told Parliament (and the national radio and television audience) on the Bere release, “we needed to consider the problem from a political viewpoint, rather than from a legalistic one, but as the legal path was barred …”

We encourage you to read The Justice System of Timor-Leste: An Independent Comprehensive Needs Assessment issued by UNMIT on 13 October. Two excerpts from the Executive Summary are especially relevant:

8. Protecting Judicial Independence and Respecting the Separation of Powers

Judicial independence is a prerequisite to the rule of law. It is enshrined not only in international law, but also in the Constitution of Timor-Leste. Judicial independence must be observed in two ways. Not only must individual judges perform their judicial functions independent of outside influence or interference, but also the judicial branch as a whole must operate independently of the other, separate branches of government. Both the decisional independence of judges and the institutional independence of the judicial branch must thus be respected.

Judicial independence is not an end unto itself, but is a means to an end, ensuring that judicial decisions are made solely on the basis of the law applied to the facts of a particular case and not on the basis of outside influence or interference. Judicial independence is also grounded in the separation of powers, allowing judges to make decisions even when they run contrary to the preferences of another branch of government.

The current situation in Timor-Leste as it relates to judicial independence is problematic. Although the country’s judges have consistently asserted their independence in the cases that have come before them, the institutional independence of the judiciary is still not fully recognized by other state actors.

This fact has been made evident most recently in the case of Maternus Bere, who is under indictment for crimes against humanity and other serious offenses allegedly committed in Suai in 1999. Bere appeared before a Timorese judge and ordered held in Becora Prison as a pre-trial detainee. Despite the fact that no further judicial proceeding was held and no additional judicial order issued, Bere was released at the direction of a high official in the Timorese government. This disregard for a judicial order and direct interference with the judicial system was a grave violation of judicial independence and the separation of powers.

It is the responsibility of all those who serve in the four organs of sovereignty, including those at the highest levels, to respect judicial independence and the separation of powers. It is imperative that a commitment be made to promote a culture of respect for the rule of law and to avoid those actions that would jeopardize it.

14. Confronting Impunity and Requiring Accountability

The judicial system of Timor-Leste, as currently constituted, is not actively engaged in the process of addressing the crimes of the past or holding accountable those who committed them. There is no question, however, that Article 160 of the Constitution contemplates prosecution for offenses occurring between 1974 and 1999 in either the national court system or before an international court. Similarly, Article 163.1 provides for a hybrid special panel of national and international judges with jurisdiction over serious crimes committed between 1 January and 25 October 1999. The preamble of the Decree- Law promulgating the Code of Criminal Procedure also acknowledges the existence of such panels and Article 3 of the Decree-Law confirms that the legal framework for the operation of the Special Panels remains in place, although they are not currently functioning.

Regardless of whether an international tribunal were to come into being as recommended by the Commission of Experts, there are still numerous domestic indictments and arrest warrants pending against hundreds of defendants charged with crimes against humanity and other serious offenses committed during 1999. To the extent that the leadership of Timor-Leste chooses not to support a domestic judicial process to ensure that those responsible for past serious crimes are held accountable, it should nonetheless be made clear by both the UN and other donors that, if requested, they are prepared to provide the necessary resources to support such a process.

In any event, in light of the possible return to Timor-Leste of defendants who are already under indictment, such as Maternus Bere, national judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers should be provided appropriate training through the Legal Training Centre to handle such cases.

The Serious Crimes Investigation Team should continue to function and be appropriately supported and resourced until it has concluded all investigations and has provided to the Office of the Prosecutor General all materials and documentation necessary to permit those cases to be prosecuted in the future. Moreover, proper facilities should be arranged so that forensic and other evidence required by the SCIT can not only be stored, but also properly conserved, considering the challenges presented by the local climate. Finally, the SCIT should also be supported to help develop the domestic capacity to prosecute those serious crimes investigated by the unit, whether they amount to violations of domestic or international law.

Civil society’s presentation to the April Development Partners Meeting (SG-40) includes the following:

First and foremost, particularly as we approach the tenth anniversary of the human rights violations of 1999, we continue to call for an end to the ongoing cycle of impunity which dates back to 1975. There is a strong perception that people who commit political crimes go free even if they were recommended for prosecution by independent commissions. Most cases from 2006 still remain unresolved. The granting of parole, including to those convicted of crimes against humanity, undermines efforts at seeking justice for serious crimes. Furthermore, despite several national and international commissions since 1999, the most important of which was to create an international tribunal to try crimes against humanity committed during the Indonesian occupation, very few of their recommendations have been implemented. We therefore call upon the government to hold a full and proper parliamentary debate of the CAVR report and take action on its recommendations. The international community must now implement the UN’s repeated promises by allocating the necessary political, financial and legal resources to end impunity for these crimes against humanity.

As always, La’o Hamutuk is happy to respond to your questions or requests for additional information.

Thank you for your attention and concern, and we hope that you can put some action behind the eloquent words that are often spoken in the Security Council’s chambers.


Ines Martins, Mariano Ferreira, Juvinal Dias, Charles Scheiner
La’o Hamutuk Justice Team

Cc: SRSG Atul Khare and others at UNMIT, media, RDTL officials, others.
Enc: La’o Hamutuk Supplement to Secretary-General’s Report on UNMIT January-September 2009

Supplementing Secretary-General’s Report S/2009/504
Regarding UNMIT for January-September 2009

20 October 2009

For the last nine years, La’o Hamutuk has observed developments in Timor-Leste in many areas, especially the activities of international institutions, including the United Nations. We offer these comments to fill out issues discussed in the Secretary-General’s recent report on UNMIT (S/2009/504), which, perhaps due to political or diplomatic priorities, leaves out important information which the Security Council needs to make wise decisions. We believe that this tenth year of UN missions in Timor-Leste is an important opportunity to try to correct the past record and improve future strategy, especially given the current political crisis in Timor-Leste, recent personnel changes in UNMIT Political Affairs, and the impending new SRSG.

Today, La’o Hamutuk is sending a six-page letter to the Security Council on justice and impunity, so this supplement does not discuss these issues in depth. We continue to believe that they are the most important unfulfilled obligations the United Nations has to the people of Timor-Leste, and encourage the UN to review and expand its actions in this critical area.

This memo focuses on aspects of Rule of Law, Governance, Security, and Economic Stability. La’o Hamutuk cannot monitor everything in detail, so we write about the sectors we follow. If groups with other expertise were to read the report (unfortunately it is unavailable in Tetum or Bahasa Indonesia), they would have additional observations.

Several paragraphs (4, 5, 8 and others) in the Secretary-General’s report focus on 2006 events, but the trauma, instability, violence and insecurity of Timor-Leste and its people stem from the quarter-century of Indonesian occupation and before. Until the UN (including UNMIT, the Secretary-General and the Security Council) recognizes and understands this, you will not be able to effectively support Timor-Leste’s evolution into a peaceful, stable democracy under rule of law. Dialogue between 2006 factions and leaders may be useful, but is far from sufficient in addressing the underlying causes and finding durable solutions.

Paragraph 56 states that “security institutions” (i.e. police and soldiers) are the key to long-term security and stability. We hope that you have a broader understanding and realize that addressing the causes of disaffection, violence and insecurity is more effective (and more consistent with the ideals of the United Nations) than deploying men and women with guns, no matter how well-trained they are. Timor-Leste’s people are still recovering from centuries of military-imposed occupation by Portugal, Japan and Indonesia, and we urge the UN to help change public and leader’s thinking from “rule by force” to “rule of law”, from “deter your potentially hostile next-door neighbor” to “live in mutual respect of each other’s rights.” Regrettably, UNMIT’s mandate and orientation prioritizes short-term force of arms as the principal way to address security, without enough vision to look ahead to a Timor-Leste when foreign or domestic armed forces will not be required to keep the peace, where economic and social justice rather than enforced order will enable the development of Timorese society. This is not only about “public confidence,” but about human rights.

Rule of Law and Democratic Governance

As discussed in our letter, the illegal release of mass-murderer Maternus Bere threatens the rule of law, and we will not repeat those points here. However, other recent developments also undermine public confidence in the quality and consistency of “rule of law” in Timor-Leste:

  • Complex and important laws are often enacted without sufficient understanding of their content and implications, either by Parliament or by Government officials. For example, the law on Budget and Financial Management, which replaced the UNTAET regulation on the budget process while expanding Government’s powers, was passed with insufficient time, discussion or comprehension.

  • Laws, even when passed, often don’t effectively address the issue they are intended for. For example, the Anti-Corruption Commission Law is very weak, does not define corruption, does not avoid the political and logistical bottleneck at the Prosecutor General’s office, has not been implemented, and required immediate revision.

  • Political interference in the judicial system, highlighted by the Maternus Bere case, occurs regularly, such as in the decision to terminate Judge Ivo Rosa, the premature release of Rogerio Lobato, the large backlog of anti-corruption cases, and the failure to renew the Provedor’s mandate.

Paragraph 10 says that “all political parties continued to demonstrate respect for State institutions,” but this is clearly not the case in relation to the Maternus Bere case. The members of Parliament from the governing AMP coalition, in rejecting the No Confidence vote, showed that their political loyalty to the Prime Minister overrode the fact that he transgressed the constitutional separation of powers and violated the integrity of the judiciary.

On August 30, three students were arrested and held for 72 hours when they held a peaceful impromptu press conference, even though all charges were dropped. More positively, a spontaneous peaceful vigil outside the Indonesian embassy on the 6 September anniversary of the Suai Church Massacre was allowed to proceed for several hours, even though it was in technical violation of the Demonstration Law (which itself transgresses Constitutional guarantees of free speech and assembly).

Paragraph 49 mentions several laws currently under consideration which relate to the security sector. As the SRSG told Timorese NGOs a few weeks ago, many of these laws raise serious concerns about human rights, corruption or potential abuse of power, and we encourage the Security Council to look more deeply.

Paragraph 12 discusses some actions taken with the goal of improving public administration. In spite of these events, there is widespread belief that corruption is pervasive and increasing. The Government’s recent covert transfer of tens of millions of dollars from the problematic Heavy Oil Power Plant to the “referendum package” of non-specified projects awarded without competitive bidding exemplifies a lack of respect for Parliamentary budgetary processes.

We welcome the UN’s work in support of the Provedor’s office described in paragraph 29, but are concerned that the Government seems to want to weaken this critical institution. The mandate of the Provedor for corruption was taken away, leaving citizens with no safe avenue to bring complaints. The Provedor’s term of office expired last June, but no new appointment has been made. When the Provedor issued findings which were uncomfortable for the Government, they attacked him publicly and personally. In addition, almost none of the cases referred by the Provedor to the Prosecutor General have been brought to court.

The State has done nothing to establish the High Administrative, Tax and Audit Court and the Supreme Court of Justice, both of which are mandated by the Constitution. With the continuing presence of an high official from the Prime Minister’s political party on the Superior Council which oversees the judiciary, it appears that neither the UN nor the RDTL government has found a way to ensure an effective, independence, sovereign judicial system.

Public security

Paragraphs 24 and 25 discuss the role of the F-FDTL military, but this discussion (as well as Government and UN actions) seems to ignore the Constitutional purpose of this force, which is only for external security. Why did F-FDTL need to recruit 579 new soldiers? We encourage the UN to do more to help F-FDTL stick to its constitutional mandate, especially since the overblown size and activities of Timor-Leste’s military have their roots in decisions taken by UNTAET. In addition to the SRSG attending a meeting, the UN needs to set better models. In particular, the International Stabilization Force (unfortunately not under UNMIT command, but hired by UNMIT to provide security for UN facilities) is a strong and ubiquitous example of confusing the functions of the military and the police, with soldiers dressed in camouflage and armed with machine guns patrolling through residential neighborhoods.

Just as F-FDTL wants to take on domestic policing responsibilities, it seems that PNTL wants to be perceived as a military force, for the population to fear. UN and other training and publicity materials for PNTL largely promote their role as “maintaining order” rather than “enforcing the law” or “protecting human rights.” The new PNTL commander has brought paramilitary style, weapons and uniforms to his force, and his public image (including PNTL trainings shown on local television) portrays a uniformed force armed with heavy weapons fighting against an armed enemy.

Economic stability, sustainability and development

Economic fairness is key to the future. If people feel alienated, or believe that distribution of public resources unfairly benefits an elite few, this sows the seeds for future instability. The “resource curse” trap wherein oil-dependent countries like Timor-Leste squander temporary windfalls on short-term benefits and cash handouts, will result in massive problems, including economic and social insecurity, when the oil money runs out. Although the 2005 Petroleum Fund Law discusses intergenerational equity, current policies violate it.

Regarding paragraph 39, La’o Hamutuk analyzed international assistance allocated to Timor-Leste through various channels over the last ten years. We found that approximately $5.2 billion had been spent, including $2.3 billion on UN missions. However, we estimate that only about 11% of this money ever came into the Timor-Leste economy, which is one of the reasons for increasing poverty and the low level of economic development. As in other countries, many of the foreign assistance projects here are not well-matched to Timor-Leste’s needs.

The 12.8% increase in “non-oil GDP” during 2008 is almost entirely composed of government spending oil revenues. In that year, Government expenditures were $480 million (of which $396 million was from oil), up from an annual rate of $112 million ($80 million from oil) during the last half of 2007. This spending spree went largely to cash distributions – salaries and benefits for government workers, and payments to IDPs, fired soldiers, veterans and widows. These unsustainable payments give the message that people who make trouble get money, further undermining public confidence and security.

Neither Timor-Leste, Indonesia nor the United Nations has paid any reparations or compensation to victims of 1975-1999 crimes as restorative justice or even to help them overcome poverty and trauma. The survivors are understandably angry that both perpetrators and victims of the 2006 domestic crisis received thousands of dollars per family (paragraphs 46, 47, 53). We do not understand why the government and UN focus exclusively on the 2006 crisis (which took about 200 lives and displaced fewer than 100,000 people), while largely ignoring the far more serious 1975-1999 international occupation (which took more than 100,000 lives and displaced virtually the entire population, most more than once).

Paragraph 42 discusses government efforts to improve local food production, but understates the impact of the approximately $85 million the Government spent during the last twelve months to subsidize imports of more than 100 million tons of rice, more than half the country’s total consumption. In this  archetypal example of “resource curse” policy, a short-term cash windfall paid for overseas purchases which, in the medium and long term, hurt local agricultural producers and increase food dependency and insecurity.

La’o Hamutuk and others have been critical of the Government’s plan to spend $392 million to buy used heavy oil electric generating plants from China, but the Government allocated the money and Chinese Nuclear Industry Construction Company No. 22 began the work in February. However, work on the project has stopped, and it will not achieve the Prime Minister’s optimistic promise to electrifying every district capital by the end of 2009. The Government hastily improvised, reallocating around $30 million to small infrastructure projects which will be done by local companies without planning, specifications or competitive bidding.

Paragraph 60 commending efforts “to ensure responsible management of State resources” is factually incorrect. Recent government policies – massive budget increases, spending on short-term subsidies rather than long-term development, cash handouts, not considering long-term plans, squandering transient oil revenues – are the exact opposite. According to the IMF, petroleum revenues were 98.2% of Timor-Leste’s government income in 2008 (and 83% of GDP), making this the most oil-dependent country in the world.

High petroleum revenues in 2008, fuelled by high oil market prices and the all-time peak of production from Bayu-Undan (Timor-Leste’s only current source of oil and gas revenues), provided money for the government to spend without much thought. Although some of these tendencies have been slightly curbed in the proposed 2010 State Budget, the probability of Timor-Leste of falling into the “resource curse” is still high. The budget re-estimates the sustainable level of Petroleum Fund spending at 25% higher than last year, and plans to spend all of it in 2010.

Bayu-Undan will be exhausted in 13 years, and very little is being done to develop the non-oil economy. If current trends continue, Timor-Leste will have two million citizens in 2023, mostly poor, struggling to live in an import-dependent economy, They will be sad and resentful that their nonrenewable resource birthright was squandered while UNMIT’s limited vision did nothing to help them avoid the predictable “resource curse.”

In late September, Timor-Leste enacted a Financial Management and Budget law which allows the Minister of Finance to borrow from other governments, companies or institutions without public discussion or parliamentary approval of the conditions, interest or repayment of the loan. The Government has already signed an MOU with Portugal for a line of credit, and is negotiating with China and others, hoping to borrow about $3 billion for infrastructure projects. Neither the budget nor the law explains how a future government will be able to repay the loans after the oil revenues run out in less than two decades.

What will the UNTANGLE Mission (United Nations-Timor Attempt to Narrowly Grasp the Latest Emergency) be able to do in 2023 to support the resolve of the Timor-Leste’s people “to build a democratic, peaceful and stable society” (paragraph 61)? What lessons will have been learned too late to benefit Timor-Leste? Why is it necessary to wait?


The Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (La’o Hamutuk)
Institutu Timor-Leste ba Analiza no Monitor ba Dezenvolvimentu
Rua D. Alberto Ricardo, Bebora, Dili, Timor-Leste
P.O. Box 340, Dili, Timor-Leste
Tel: +670-3321040 or +670-77234330
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