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Timor-Leste Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis
Institutu ba Analiza no Monitor ba Rekonstruksaun iha Timor-Leste
1/1a Rua Mozambique, Farol, Dili, Timor-Leste
Tel: +670-3325013 or +1-914-831-1098
email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Suggestions for the Next United Nations Mission in Timor-Leste
by Charles Scheiner
Timor-Leste Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis[*]
22 June 2006
The Timor-Leste Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis (La'o Hamutuk) has, together with others in Timor-Leste civil society, closely monitored and reported on activities of international institutions in Timor-Leste, including the United Nations, for the past six years. During this time, we have identified numerous problems with the mandates and operation of UNTAET, UNMISET and UNOTIL and have made many recommendations. We are informed and independent analysts, both Timorese and non-Timorese, based in Timor-Leste but without financial or official links to the UN or other international institutions. We believe this enables us to monitor independently and to have a broader view than many people within the UN system or development industry. As such, we have identified lessons not often noted by those constrained by organizational or cultural limitations.
This memorandum does not provide a comprehensive analysis or set of recommendations for how future international involvement in Timor-Leste should be designed. Rather, it discusses several vital or controversial issues that must be taken into account to improve the next UN Mission and ensure that it best serves the needs of the people of Timor-Leste. We hope that it is a helpful contribution to the debate, and look forward to ongoing dialogue and discussion.
Many diplomats over the last few weeks have referred to Timor-Leste as a "child" of the international community or the United Nations. Although we agree that the international community should continue to assist Timor-Leste's development as a sovereign member of the community of nations, we caution against the intrinsic paternalism of the parent-child analogy and relationship. As in human parenting, support for nation-building should heed Kahlil Gibran's advice to respect "their own thoughts" and "seek not to make them like you." In addition to recognizing the sovereignty of Timor-Leste's government, the international community should heed the needs and desires of its people.
We are particularly troubled by Australia's desire for exceptional status in the international community's involvement in Timor-Leste. Australia's government repeatedly demonstrated its lack of respect for Timor-Leste's sovereign rights and the rule of law during negotiations over Timor Sea oil and gas reserves. More recently, Australia sent inappropriately trained soldiers and has only reluctantly coordinated its security personnel with other international contributors, preferring that they be under Australia's direct command. The Australian government has suggested that an Australian officer take control of Timor-Leste's national police for the foreseeable future. The United Nations must not endorse or accept involvement by Australia or any other nation except as a full partner in a multilateral United Nations force, under UN command.
During the past two weeks, we have received many reports of arrogant or racist actions by Australian military personnel in Timor-Leste. They have detained a prominent Timorese journalist, repeatedly slandered Timor-Leste's elected leaders, and abused alleged "Lorosa'e" people. In addition to failing to stop house burnings and other violence, Australian soldiers have aggressively broken into homes and terrorized their occupants, including Cuban doctors. Many in Australia's mainstream media vindictively attack Timor-Leste's Prime Minister, and decisions from Canberra reflect the bias which this creates among Australian citizens, soldiers and political leaders. If Timor-Leste is anyone's "child," it needs protection from this abusive would-be foster father who lives next door. There can be no excuse for allowing Australian soldiers or police to have a different command structure than other UN and international military, police and civilian personnel in Timor-Leste.
For the last four years, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste has been an independent, sovereign member of the community of nations. Consequently, any action by the United Nations or the international community in Timor-Leste must be undertaken with the cooperation of the legitimate government of that nation. Under Timor-Leste's Constitution, government officials and institutions continue to carry out their legal roles and responsibilities. The UN and other international agencies present in Timor-Leste must respect the decisions of that government, and coordinate with it at the national and District levels, as well as with other Timorese institutions. The legitimacy of the RDTL government does not evaporate because of rumors, allegations, vituperative slander, or paramilitary opposition.
However, if in the future Timor-Leste's government should lose its capacity to function or if the RDTL Constitution should be rendered ineffective by illegal or violent means, the United Nations must not become paralyzed. Rather, it should act in the interests of the people of Timor-Leste, providing humanitarian assistance, protecting human rights, and assisting in the restoration of peaceful, democratic rule. Timor-Leste is far from this point and we hope will never descend to it, but the UN should ensure that neither Australia nor any other domestic or foreign actor is allowed to subvert Timor-Leste's sovereignty and constitutional democracy.
Currently, there is widespread consensus that the United Nations withdrew from Timor-Leste prematurely. Many now understand that nation-building is difficult and takes time, and cannot be rushed or aborted to meet financial or political desires of Security Council member states.
As the UN prepares to re-engage in Timor-Leste, it is crucial that the quality as well as the duration of the international presence there be evaluated and improved. If UNTAET and UNMISET had lasted twice as many years, but used the same methods, personnel, projects and priorities, Timor-Leste might well have evolved into a crisis similar to the present one.
Over the last six years, the UN and other international institutions have learned much about nation-building. Timor-Leste, as the first sovereign transitional government undertaken by the United Nations, experienced many trial-and-error experiments. The people of Timor-Leste endured the consequences of a learning process which may benefit citizens of other emerging nations. Both the Timorese and the international community can gain some small satisfaction that there will now be a second chance. We hope that lessons learned since 1999 will be applied in Timor-Leste this time – but even more we urge the United Nations and other international participants in this process to think outside the box and to make every effort not to repeat mistakes which stem from structural or political limitations of United Nations Missions. This time, let's get it right!
In 2000, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. This recognizes the unique consequences of armed conflict on women, and the benefits of increased participation by women in peacekeeping, other UN operations and decision-making. As the UN designs its next mission in Timor-Leste, a gender perspective is essential, with more women involved at every level than there were in UNTAET, UNMISET and UNOTIL. Although nearly all of those directly responsible for the current crisis in Timor-Leste are male, women and children are suffering the main burden of displacement from their homes.
The next UN mission is being designed in an emergency atmosphere. Although immediate humanitarian and security concerns must be dealt with, there are deeper-seated causes of the current problems, and crises will recur if they are not addressed. We hope that the UN will find ways to attend to these – economic development, broad civic education, trauma recovery, transparency, capacity-building and justice – in comprehensive and effective ways. As in UNTAET, security and emergency relief can be dealt with relatively quickly, but these more difficult issues should be the main foci of UN activities in Timor-Leste for the next several years.
The resurrected UN mission should be planned to last five years or more. Although international facilitation and support for the 2007 elections is important, the responsibility of the international community must not end with democratic, free and fair elections and the installation of the elected government. These are steps in the journey toward stability and constitutional democracy, not the final destination.
Over the past six years, UN Missions in Timor-Leste have been authorized one year or less at a time, with much frenetic attention given at the end of each period to the mission's renewal or transformation to its next incarnation. This process wastes valuable political and human energy and removes many of the best international personnel from Timor-Leste. As contracts near their end, UN staff and Volunteers begin looking for their next postings; the most capable and experienced people will find new jobs. The current month-by-month extension is the most vivid example of this problem that has plagued Timor-Leste since 2001. We strongly encourage the Security Council to give the new mission a mandate of at least two years, with a presumption of renewal rather than of termination when the time is up. The recent extension of MINUSTAH in Haiti contains the phrase "with the intention to renew for further periods," and a similar intention could be expressed for Timor-Leste if the Security Council is unwilling to authorize a mission longer than two years at this time.
It is widely recognized that the government of Indonesia, the international community, and the government of Timor-Leste have failed to secure justice for crimes against humanity and other serious crimes committed during the 24-year illegal occupation of Timor-Leste by Indonesia, or even the small percentage of those crimes committed during the UN presence in 1999. This memo will not describe the prevailing impunity or the deep frustration felt by victims of these crimes over the lack of accountability. This has been well documented by many qualified observers, including in the reports of the UN Commission of Experts and Timor-Leste's Commission for Truth, Reception and Reconciliation (CAVR). The CAVR's Final Report describes the legacy of the lack of justice for years of human rights violations: "Impunity has become entrenched" and "Respect for the rule of law and the organs of the state responsible for its administration, a fundamental pillar of ... nation building in Timor-Leste, will always be extremely fragile in this context."
We concur and add that the repeated advocacy of "reconciliation" and "amnesty" by President Xanana Gusmao and other Timor-Leste leaders exacerbates this situation. However, most Timor-Leste leaders remember 24 years of serious crimes committed against their people, when the international community turned a deaf ear to their cries for help. We should not be surprised that Timor-Leste feels unable to single-handedly take up the burden for prosecuting crimes against humanity committed by Indonesian nationals acting on behalf of the Indonesian government. The international community has an unfinished obligation, and the primary responsibility should rest with the United Nations and not be left to RDTL's government. These were, after all, crimes against humanity.
Over the last few months, two consequences of the failure to provide justice have become manifest: perpetrators anticipate impunity for serious crimes, and victims, lacking confidence that the justice system will do its job, take matters into their own hands. The frequent inability of Timor-Leste's court system to deal with recent crimes is an obstacle, but the abandonment of justice responsibilities by UNTAET and its successors is the larger problem, and both should be addressed by the next UN Mission. Reconstructing the police force will deal with only part of Timor-Leste's security deficit. Until there is widespread confidence in the judicial system and the rule of law, Timor-Leste's peaceful and constitutional government will remain in danger, as some will resort to illegal or extra-constitutional processes to gain property or power.
In addition to securing justice and establishing the rule of law for past and current crimes, the United Nations itself should set a better example. Status of Mission Agreements for UNTAET and UNMISET, which secretly granted UN personnel and contractors immunity from Timor-Leste laws, should not be perpetuated. The UN must commit itself to follow Timor-Leste's laws and to break the pattern exemplified by the UNTAET-approved illegal tax exemption given to the Amos W floating hotel and the lack of public accountability and transparency for violent demonstrations and police killings in Dili on 4 December 2002. Timor-Leste's government has also failed to publish its findings about this incident, but the United Nations should fulfill its responsibility to transparency, because UN police were largely responsible for PNTL at that time. One legacy of the lack of information and accountability for 4 December is that people have little faith in the commissions formed by the RDTL government to investigate charges of discrimination within F-FDTL and the events of 29 April. The new international commission researching the April and May violent incidents must set a better precedent.
The design and creation of the Falintil-FDTL military force during UNTAET were heavily influenced by the Kings College study and other international advice. Among the major considerations were providing dignified employment to FALINTIL veterans and deterring militia incursions from West Timor. In 1999, this latter concern had caused the CNRT to abandon its view that Timor-Leste did not need a military force, opting instead for an army and future navy to provide external security. However, the border with West Timor was to remain under police jurisdiction, provided that Indonesia also demilitarized the border.
Since Indonesia has officially accepted Timor-Leste's sovereignty and most of the Indonesian military is increasingly under government control, Timor-Leste's reconciliation efforts with Jakarta have substantially reduced the security threat from the north or west. Any threat from Timor-Leste's other neighbor, Australia, will be dealt with by diplomacy rather than military combat. Hence the F-FDTL, with no clear purpose and no apparent enemies, is left looking for something to do, resenting the clearer mission and greater resources of the police, creating intelligence units to find enemies, and occasionally taking on unauthorized or unconstitutional internal security functions. Short-term decisions made by UNTAET, CNRT, and the Constituent Assembly may have contributed to a long-term nightmare.
Many F-FDTL soldiers, including all of its higher-level officers, developed their military experience as part of the underground guerilla resistance during the Indonesian occupation. As such, they are used to taking initiative in a highly-decentralized structure, operating secretly and independently, distributing weapons clandestinely from black-market sources. Distinctions between soldiers and civilians were blurred, as individuals alternated between the armed resistance and the civilian underground, often assuming multiple roles. Although these tactics and skills are essential for a guerilla resistance, they are anathema to a defense force commanded by an elected civilian government. As new recruits without guerilla experience are added to the force, the intrinsic contradictions become increasingly unstable.
During the last few years, F-FDTL has received training and weapons from a variety of international sources, but this support did not adequately address the historical and internal inconsistencies with F-FDTL's stated mission. Furthermore, since F-FDTL has no constitutional role in internal security, training did not prepare them to interact with the civilian population, respect human rights, use firearms appropriately, coordinate with PNTL or perform policing tasks. The disastrous results became apparent on 28 April and 25 May 2006, although many informed observers and Timorese citizens were aware of them long before. It's a sad irony that Falintil virtually never killed Indonesian noncombatants during 24 years of resistance to military occupation, but after four years of independence and international training they have turned their guns on their compatriots.
In addition to publishing a thorough report on these incidents, the RDTL government, together with the next UN Mission and other international advisors, should give careful thought to the role of military forces in Timor-Leste's future. This should be planned for the long-term, focused on the needs of the nation rather than historical inertia, rivalries or role models. There are better ways to honor the heroes of Timor-Leste's liberation than preparing them to fight a war they have already won and which will never happen again.
Some have proposed that Timor-Leste's military include a battalion to serve on UN peacekeeping missions in other countries. We do not believe that this makes sense at this time, as most developing countries which lend their armies to the UN do it to bring revenues into their government budget. Since Timor-Leste is blessed with petroleum reserves, it does not need money from exporting its military forces. Rather, their human capital is needed in Timor-Leste, and their skills and commitment to the nation should be utilized in ways which assist the development of Timor-Leste's economy, infrastructure and long-term future, honor the veterans, and provide them with employment and income.
Other suggested future roles for the F-FDTL include functions usually done by civilians, such as public works and natural disaster relief. The continuation of Timor-Leste's military force, and the revision of its responsibilities, are serious decisions which require deep discussion and consultation at all levels of society over an extended period of time. Since most of the proposed future roles do not involve combat, training during the discussion period can impart essential knowledge to both military and police forces in human rights, the rule of law, command structures as well as legal and illegal orders, and how to interact with the general population.
Lao Hamutuk has reported about problems with international police training and the difficult transfer of authority from the UN police (UNPOL) to the Timor-Leste National Police (PNTL), which was spotlighted on 4 December 2002. Although some of the most egregious shortcomings have since been addressed, problems remain at both the operational and command levels. We are also concerned about paramilitary units of the police, and inappropriate, large weapons issued to PNTL which have leaked into the population. As with F-FDTL, clandestine habits have no place in a democracy's security forces.
The current crisis, including the virtual disappearance of PNTL from Dili in recent weeks, illustrates the need for better training about its public service role and the need for credible, independent, civilian oversight of police operations. The police should not be turned into a political instrument at the beck and call of particular politicians. But this does not mean it should be under a foreign commander, as Australia has suggested. Rather, it should be run as part of the civil service, with a professional, neutral commander acceptable to all components of Timor-Leste society. The Interior Ministry should be kept free of politics, perhaps with an independent oversight board similar to the advisory councils for the Petroleum Fund and other sensitive government functions.
Traditionally, sustainable economic development has not been considered part of UN missions, but there is an unbreakable link between economic development and security. As Dili has graphically illustrated over the past month, a society with a significant proportion of unemployed, alienated young men can easily spin out of control if the institutions responsible for law and order are disrupted. Sporadic riots of such people occur occasionally even in long-established, prosperous democracies.
Much has been written about the temporary "bubble economy" created by the fraction of UNTAET and UNMISET money that entered the Timor-Leste economy and provided employment and supported secondary businesses. In fact, less than 1% of the money spent on these missions paid salaries of Timor-Leste workers, and the bulk of the money received by international staff never came to Timor-Leste. Furthermore, these administrations were among the most militarized in history, with most of their personnel and the majority of their dollars allocated to armed forces.
As the UN increases its operations in Timor-Leste, it should use UN activities to stimulate Timor-Leste's nascent local economy. In the past, the UN imported many supplies and services (food, water, printing, etc.) from overseas, foregoing the opportunity to use money designated for Timor-Leste within the country. Priority was given to water, electricity and communications systems to support UN operations, rather than the nation as a whole. If more thought had been given to this, with a longer-term rather than a crisis response orientation, Timor-Leste's economic development would be stronger now, as more businesses and public services jump-started with UN expenditures would have survived the drawdown, continuing to provide jobs.
Another area where the UN and aid agencies can help is by promoting public employment. For ideological reasons, the World Bank and other agencies have pushed Timor-Leste to minimize the number of public-sector jobs. But since unemployment creates instability, and since Timor-Leste's petroleum revenues would allow it to employ significantly more government workers, there is no logical reason not to hire the people required to perform necessary functions, such as road construction and repair, school construction, health care delivery, and rural electrification. When countries like the United States experienced unemployment levels in the 1930s similar to Timor-Leste's today, they created the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. The UN Mission could hire large numbers of unemployed people on temporary contracts, putting their skills to productive use, improving their sense of participation in the society, imparting work skills and experience, and leading to some longer-term jobs.
Timor-Leste's government has had difficulties administering programs and projects, partly because of inadequacies in capacity building, over-zealous anti-corruption procedures and excessive centralization. The UN could assist with expanded public works programs by providing training and advice and by helping to design improved, decentralized procedures.
All such activities must be undertaken in close coordination with the Timor-Leste government, and the international civil servants and consultants who implement them should have appropriate teaching and mentoring skills. They must be accountable to Timor-Leste's needs, rather than to UN organizational structures and distant supervisors. To accomplish this, the UN needs to conduct an long-overdue review of how it recruits, evaluates and promotes staff and volunteers.
It took UNTAET two years to realize that Transitional, not Administration, was the most important word in their name. Now that this is understood, international advisors should be selected for their ability to train and support local staff to do line functions, not to carry them out in isolation. Attention must also be given to trainers' language skills – not only politically selected Portuguese but also practically useful Tetum and Malay languages are important in training people whose formal education has been in Indonesian.
Previous UN Missions have a structural weakness which is particularly damaging to efforts to strengthen state institutions and their personnel: short-term contracts and delays in recruiting qualified international advisors. In a stable government, it can take a decade or more for someone to gain the skills and experience to manage a department or project, and they learn from their superiors and co-workers throughout this period. But in advisor-heavy Timor-Leste, mentors and advisors come and go several times a year, without enough time to fully understand the institutions or the people they are working with. Significant time is lost to recruitment delays, and advisors nearing the end of their short contracts spend their last months looking for their next assignment. There has to be a better way, and authorizing the mission for a longer period (see above) is a prerequisite.
One of the root causes of the current crisis is that neither the public, government officials, nor politically active citizens have confidence in constitutional methods for resolving disputes. This is not surprising, as the great majority of Timor-Leste citizens have never lived in a functioning democracy where issues are debated and decided legally and peacefully. Broad-based civic education is necessary not only to teach the mechanisms of electoral processes, but to persuade the population that such processes can be effective and serve the long-term interests of the entire society, regardless of who wins in the short term.
The ineffectiveness of internationally-provided civic education and political party development in Timor-Leste can be seen from the results. Political debates are conducted ad hominem, rather than on substantive issues. Politicians attack their adversaries' integrity, rather than suggesting alternative policies. Dissatisfied voters insult or give up on their elected representatives, rather than persuading them to change their views. Political leaders are beholden to their party or patron, rather than the electorate. Media coverage amplifies personal charges and counter-charges, without analysis or facts to help the reader or viewer decide what is true. And when tensions escalate, most people – journalists, police and other civil servants, political leaders – abandon their public responsibilities to respond to personal and family needs. These are fundamental problems, which cannot be fixed by training in election law. But they must be addressed if Timor-Leste is to endure as a stable nation, where human rights are respected and disputes are resolved peacefully, legally and democratically.
As the UN works to re-establish the rule of law, it must also give attention to developing a consciousness in both leaders and the general public that healthy political debate, focused on issues and conducted respectfully and nonviolently, is an essential part of democracy. Reconciliation between formerly polarized individuals and institutions is essential, but it must incorporate compromise and common interests, not only apology, compensation and forgiveness. And it cannot substitute for justice.
One of the contributing factors to the current crisis is the propensity of many Timorese to panic easily, a result of decades of military atrocities leaving nearly the entire population with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The UN should address this problem among the larger population, both as a public health matter and as a prerequisite for confidence in democratic processes. Communications media – telephone, newspapers, internet, radio and television – must be improved, made more accessible and utilized for rumor control and to disseminate complete and accurate information. When people do not trust information from public sources, they rely on rumor, imagination and disinformation, heightening tensions and displacement.
Nation-building is always difficult, and Timor-Leste began with handicaps resulting from international criminality and deliberate ignorance prior to 1999. 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, overcoming institutional practices and customary constraints to support their efforts to live in stability, democracy and peace. This would not only support state institutions in Timor-Leste, but could provide essential experience in successful institution-building and capacity development for the United Nations, as the international community enters a new era of peacebuilding.
[*] The Timor-Leste Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis, also known as La'o Hamutuk (Walking Together) is an East Timorese non-governmental organization which, since 2000, has monitored the activities and programs of international institutions active in Timor-Leste. Many of its reports and publications can be found in English and Bahasa Indonesia at www.laohamutuk.org. Among other things, these reports discuss United Nations Missions in Timor-Leste, bi- and multi-lateral assistance, international financial institutions and Timor-Leste's petroleum development. The Dili office contact information is at the top of this page; in addition, La'o Hamutuk researcher Charles Scheiner is currently reachable at P.O. Box 1182, White Plains, NY 10602 USA; +1-914-831-1098, +1-914-473-3185 (cell) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
 "Your children are not your children. / They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. / They come through you but not from you, / And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. / You may give them your love but not your thoughts. / For they have their own thoughts. / ... / You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you." (excerpt from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, 1923).
 In May 2002, La'o Hamutuk published East Timor Faces Post-UNTAET Challenges: What is to be done?
 As early as April 2001, many Timorese observers identified financial and structural problems in UNTAET's administration. La'o Hamutuk reported on budgetary issues, highlighting how few of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on Timor-Leste enter the local economy or follow Timorese priorities.
 S/Res. 1658 (2006), Section 1.
 S/2005/458. In October 2005, La'o Hamutuk wrote to SRSG Sukehiro Hasegawa outlining the most important points relevant to "practically feasible approaches" to justice that he, the Secretary-General and the Security Council had requested. We have published dozens of articles and reports about different facets of the justice issue; see website index.
 See, for example, CAVR recommendation #7 (Justice and Truth) on page 183 of the English CAVR Executive Summary: "the Commission concludes that the demand for justice and accountability remains a fundamental issue in the lives of many East Timorese people and a potential obstacle to building a democratic society based upon respect for the rule of law and authentic reconciliation between individuals, families, communities and nations." La'o Hamutuk's analysis of the CAVR recommendations.
 La'o Hamutuk, Can the Rule of Law Prevail? Pressure from UNHQ Exacerbates Amos W Tax Controversy, March 2002. After that article was published, SRSG Sergio Vieira de Mello decided to grant New York's wishes, and allowed the ship to depart without paying taxes required by UNTAET tax laws he had promulgated.
 La'o Hamutuk, Disorder in East Timor: The International Community Must Accept Responsibility, December 2002.
 La'o Hamutuk, An Overview of FALINTIL'S Transformation to F-FDTL and its Implications, April 2005.
 RDTL Constitution, Article 146.2 (Defense Force): "FALINTIL-FDTL shall guarantee national independence, territorial integrity and the freedom and security of the populations against any aggression or external threat, in respect for the constitutional order."
 At present, Timor-Leste has approximately $600 million in its Petroleum Fund in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Although this money is set aside to be used sustainably with the benefit of future generations, some suggest that more of it could be spent now to establish security for the future and invest in human development.
Optimistically, Timor-Leste could net as much as $1,000/soldier/month in UN reimbursements for PKF; this would be less than 2% of its current revenues from oil and gas.
 La'o Hamutuk has published two reports on UN support for Timor-Leste's police: An Assessment of the UN's Police Mission in East Timor (February 2002) and UNMISET and Internal Security in East Timor (May 2003).
 See La'o Hamutuk's review of the UNTAET and related budgets in 2000-2001. The 2002-2004 UNMISET budget is depicted in an article on UNMISET support for security.