posted on MON 12 NOV 2012 9:10 AM
Final Timor-Leste Debate

This afternoon (12 November), the Security Council is scheduled to hold a debate on the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), whose mandate will expire at the end of December. The Acting Special Representative for Timor-Leste, Finn Reske-Nielsen—who assumed the role in June—is expected to brief. Timor-Leste’s Foreign Minister, José Luís Guterres, is also set to make a statement. No outcome is planned for the debate as UNMIT’s mandate will not be extended and no resolution is required to authorise the UN’s post-UNMIT presence. (The Council has, however, chosen to sometimes adopt a presidential statement highlighting key issues when a mission ends as it did when the UN Mission in Nepal closed in January 2011.)

Council members have a positive and seemingly united view of the situation in Timor-Leste. There is general agreement that the country has made considerable progress since its independence in 2002 and particularly after the crisis in 2006 that led to UNMIT’s establishment. As the mission draws down, attention has turned to the UN’s relationship with Timor-Leste post-UNMIT. (The government has stated that it no longer requires UN support through the presence of either a UN peacekeeping or political mission beyond the end of this year. Instead, it would like to establish an “innovative working relationship of cooperation” focused on development and strengthening its institutions.)

The exact role the UN will play from next year has yet to be confirmed. However, Timor-Leste has been clear that it no longer considers it necessary for the Council to consider its affairs and does not seek to remain on the Council’s agenda. (As is customary, Timor-Leste will formally remain on the Council’s agenda for three years even though there will be no regular reports or debates on the situation.) In a recent letter to the UN Secretary-General (S/2012/736), Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão suggested that a Special Envoy could be appointed for, say, a two-year period, focusing on development and “institutional strengthening.” It is envisaged that such a special adviser on Timor-Leste would not be based in-country but rather visit intermittently and work with Timor-Leste to implement its long-term Strategic Development Plan 2011-2030.

An issue which has drawn attention from Council members and the wider core group is the ongoing investigations of serious human rights violations committed in Timor-Leste in 1999. (Resolution 1704, which established UNMIT in 2006, enabled the creation of a Serious Crimes Investigation Team which assisted the Office of the Prosecutor-General of Timor-Leste to conduct investigations into these serious crimes.) It seems that during the recent visiting mission by some Council members, Gusmão assured the mission that the remaining cases would be a priority and dealt with by the Prosecutor-General. The issue has been of ongoing interest to some member states and NGOs who have sought assurances that following UNMIT’s departure the international community would continue to emphasise the need for accountability for these serious crimes.

Briefing on Council Members’ “Mini-Mission” to Timor-Leste

Prior to the debate, the Council will be briefed by Ambassador Baso Sangqu (South Africa), the leader of the visiting mission to Timor-Leste from 3 - 6 November. Sangqu is expected to speak about the progress made over the last few years but also highlight the challenges Timor-Leste still faces and the importance of a continuing UN partnership with its government.

The visiting mission, which also included Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Portugal and Togo, went to Timor-Leste to reaffirm the Council’s commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of the country and the promotion of its long-term stability. The mission met key political figures in the country, including the President and Prime Minister, as well as the leader of the main opposition party. Meetings were additionally held with NGOs, judicial and security actors as well as representatives from UNMIT and other UN agencies.

One of the key messages that the visiting mission sought to convey to the Timor-Leste authorities was that while UNMIT was withdrawing, the strong partnership between the country and the UN would continue. While the UN would support national institutions and implement programmes aimed at accelerating Timor-Leste’s development, the mission emphasised in its meetings that this new phase would be characterised by national ownership.

The visiting mission also received a briefing from the International Stabilisation Force, led by Australia and New Zealand, whose operations—like those of UNMIT—are drawing down in the coming weeks, save for a limited number of troops who will continue to work with the Timor-Leste Defence Force at the latter’s request.

The mission had a timely meeting with senior members of the national police force, which only days earlier (31 October) had received the final certification of its “reconstitution.” As of 1 November, the national police force is no longer operationally supported by UNPOL. Although institutional challenges still remain for Timor-Leste’s police force such as budgetary assistance issues and its disciplinary regime, its progress has generally been favourably assessed by the Secretary-General in his recent report (S/2012/765) and most recently by a joint UN-Timor-Leste police working group.

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