Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to hold an open debate on Timor-Leste in February and renew the mandate of the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) before it expires on 26 February. Major changes to the mandate seem unlikely.
The Secretary-General’s progress report is expected in early February. Council members are likely to be interested in the medium-term strategy and benchmarks for tracking progress, which it had asked the Secretary-General to develop in consultation with Timor-Leste in resolution 1802 in February 2008.
These strategy and benchmarks are likely to focus on these areas:
- review and reform of the security sector;
- strengthening the rule of law;
- economic and social development; and
- promotion of a culture of democratic governance and efforts to enhance dialogue and reconciliation.
Key Recent Developments
Since the February 2008 attacks on President José Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão by a group led by former military officer, Alfredo Reinado, the security situation has remained relatively calm.
A press report on 23 December stirred up controversy when it quoted a purported UN security report as stating that Timor-Leste remained on the brink of anarchy. UNMIT’s acting special representative, Finn Reske-Nielsen, on 24 December said that UNMIT felt good about the progress made in Timor-Leste in 2008. He also praised the resiliency of the Timorese people given the difficult start to the year. The Timor-Leste government questioned the authenticity of the report.
Progress continued to be made in resolving the problems of the internally displaced persons (IDPs). Some 55,000 IDPs have been relocated either to their original places of residence or to another residence. Most of the IDP camps in Dili are closed, and the remaining nine camps are expected to be disbanded in February.
The National Police Force of Timor-Leste (PNTL) has begun taking over responsibility for policing from UNMIT following two years of certification and training.
The UNMIT Serious Crimes Investigations Team (SCIT) started its investigations last February after UNMIT and the Timorese government signed an agreement to allow investigators access to files of the former UN Serious Crimes Unit. SCIT was created in January 2007 following the adoption of resolution 1704 of 25 August 2006. The Council decided that UNMIT would assist the Office of the Prosecutor-General of Timor-Leste, through a team of investigators, to investigate cases that had not been covered by the former Serious Crimes Unit (SCU) and to address the outstanding cases of serious human rights violations committed in the country in 1999.
The former SCU had been established by the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor following resolution 1272. It was responsible for conducting investigations and preparing indictments to bring to justice those responsible for crimes against humanity and other serious crimes committed in East Timor in 1999. The mandate of the SCU was not renewed in May 2005. The new SCIT is limited to investigation tasks. Unlike the SCU it does not have the power to indict. Prosecution lies in the hands of the Timor-Leste Office of the Prosecutor. The SCIT has 396 cases to investigate over the next three years. It has so far conducted 36 investigations.
On 11-12 December, the Timorese government, with support from the UN, hosted a seminar on security sector reform and development. A diverse range of national and international actors attended and discussed topics including national security legislation and policy.
On 19 August, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of UNMIT, Atul Khare, briefed the Council during an open debate. Following the debate the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2008/29) which commended the Timorese leaders and institutions for the “rapid, firm and responsible manner” in which they responded to the events of 11 February. It also reaffirmed the importance of the review and reform of the security sector and the need for sustained support from the international community in helping Timor-Leste develop its institutions and justice sector.
Options for the Council include a resolution renewing UNMIT and:
- acknowledging progress made in the overall security situation while cautioning that the political, security, social and humanitarian situation remains fragile;
- reiterating its commitment to long-term stability in Timor-Leste;
- welcoming the Secretary-General’s medium-term strategy and benchmarks to measure and track progress of key areas;
- stressing the importance of the reform of the security sector in Timor-Leste;
- addressing the urgency of managing the economy and addressing socioeconomic problems; and
- emphasising the importance of continued support from the international community.
Other possibilities include:
- adjusting UNMIT’s mandate to include greater attention to peacebuilding issues, particularly security sector reform and training;
- asking the Secretary-General to produce an assessment of when the PNTL will be ready to assume full policing responsibility in order to set clear transfer deadlines and benchmarks;
- setting benchmarks that show clear progress in key areas which need to be met during the period of the new mandate;
- considering a review of the justice sector by the government and UNMIT;
- reiterating the need for a comprehensive review of the future role and needs of the security sector called for in resolution 1802; and
- highlighting the importance of continued efforts to reach accountability and justice and the promotion and protection of human rights.
A key issue is ensuring that the security situation remains stable. Recently, crimes have been assault, public disorder and domestic disputes. However, the underlying tensions between key political actors and groups continue to simmer. There has also been some discord over UNMIT mentoring among members of the PNTL, and issues remain over when the PNTL would be ready to take over full policing functions.
Another important issue is how to move the priority from maintaining security to peacebuilding and achieving durable peace and stability, keeping in mind the importance of national ownership.
There are several issues related to the national police. First, the mistrust between the Timor-Leste Defence Force and the PNTL continues. A second issue is how to close the remaining capacity and operational gaps so that the PNTL can take over from the UN Police. UNMIT has said that PNTL still has to meet several criteria before it can assume full responsibility. This includes the PNTL being able to respond appropriately to the security environment, final certification of at least 80 percent of eligible officers, availability of initial operational logistical requirements, institutional stability and mutual respect between military and the national police. Finally, there is the issue of whether a robust UN police presence is needed beyond UNMIT and if so, how to provide this.
A question related to the larger strategic issue is how best to use the benchmarks provided by the Secretary-General for the four priority areas (security sector, rule of law, economic and social development, and democratic governance) in renewing UNMIT’s mandate and eventually drawing down the mission. In this sense the discussion in February can be seen as an initial practical example of the challenges raised in the Council debate on peacekeeping and effective oversight on 23 January.
In this regard an example of a potential ongoing issue is how to monitor the relocated IDPs in the receiving communities so that there is early warning of any potential reemergence of security problems.
A significant issue is what extra capacity will be needed for the UN to assist with elections for village (suco) and sub-village (aldeia) chiefs and councils which will be held country wide in the second half of 2009. (UNMIT has already received requests from the government for assistance.) The February mandate renewal may need to reflect resources needed for this.
Human rights and justice issues include:
- the need to strengthen UN support in the justice sector to address issues like the backlog of cases; and
- continuing impunity for crimes committed during the 2006 crisis, as well as during the 1999 UN sponsored referendum on independence. (In May 2008 President Horta issued a decree granting full and partial pardons to 94 prisoners.)
- Economic issues include falling oil prices and its effect on the Timorese economy, and the ability to create sustainable, long-term economic growth in the non-oil sector based on job creation and expanding the public investment programme.
Council and Wider Dynamics
At the moment Timor-Leste is not at the top of Council priorities. Most members are awaiting the Secretary-General’s report before deciding on their positions. At the last public debate no Council members chose to speak and the floor was dominated by members of the core group such as Australia, Portugal, Malaysia and New Zealand. In January, Japan became the lead country in the Council on this issue and it is likely to give it some priority.
There is unlikely to be opposition to renewing UNMIT’s mandate as there appears to be consensus over a continuing UNMIT presence in Timor-Leste. The dangers of a premature withdrawal have not been forgotten. There is also some agreement that it is not the right time to reduce the UNMIT police and that even after the transfer of police authority from UNMIT police to Timorese police, substantial numbers of UNMIT police will be needed in a mentoring and support role.
Some members may wish to have clearer benchmarks in the new mandate so that adjustments to UNMIT’s mandate and strength can be made in the future. They may wish to discuss ways benchmarks could be used.
Although most IDPs have been moved out of the camps, the government is now struggling to provide essential services in communities where there has been a large influx of former IDPs. Other problems involving IDPs include disputed land ownership issues and a lack of employment opportunities.