Past United Nations missions in Timor-Leste

The establishment of the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) was preceded by a number of other United Nations operations or missions deployed in Timor-Leste beginning in 1999.

  • The United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) (June - October 1999) was mandated to organize and conduct a popular consultation to ascertain whether the East Timorese people accepted a special autonomy within Indonesia or rejected the proposed special autonomy, leading to East Timor's separation from Indonesia. UNAMET was a political mission.
  • The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) (October 1999 - May 2002) was a peacekeeping operation. The Security Council established UNTAET following rejection by the East Timorese of special autonomy. UNTAET exercised administrative authority over East Timor during the transition to independence.
  • The United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) (May 2002 - May 2005), also a peacekeeping mission, was mandated to provide assistance to the newly independent East Timor until all operational responsibilities were fully devolved to the East Timor authorities, and to permit the new nation, now called Timor-Leste, to attain self-sufficiency.
  • Once the peacekeeping mission withdrew, a new political mission, the United Nations Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL) (May 2005—August 2006), supported the development of critical State institutions and the police and provided training in observance of democratic governance and human rights.

April/June 2006 crisis

UNOTIL was scheduled to end its mandate in May 2006, and the Security Council had already received the Secretary-General's recommendations for the post-UNOTIL period. However, a series of events in Timor-Leste culminating in April-June in a political, humanitarian and security crisis of major dimensions led the Council to prolong UNOTIL's mandate, ultimately to 20 August 2006, and to request the Secretary-General to present new recommendations taking into account the need for a strengthened United Nations presence. Against this background, Timor-Leste urgently requested police and military assistance from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal. On 26 May, incoming international forces began securing key installations in the country.

«UNMIT was established with a far-reaching mandate to assist the country in overcoming the consequences and underling causes of the 2006 crisis.»

Reporting to the Council in August 2006, the Secretary-General noted that the level of violence had abated significantly since its peak in late May and early June and that a new Government had been installed on the pledge to unify the nation. His view, however, was that the crisis was far from resolved, with many of the underlying factors needing attention over the longer term. Among these were the failure of government to engage with people, the unhealed wounds of the past and high youth unemployment. The Secretary-General noted that the resolution of the political stand-off merely created an opportunity to address the grievances that gave rise to the crisis and the longer-term issues.

In assessing the situation, the Secretary-General's report pointed to the mixed legacy of the 24 years of occupation, resulting in a gulf of understanding separating those who spent years as resistance fighters, those who lived in occupied towns and villages and those who went into exile. Veterans and young people were also likely to be divided by a generation gap. Furthermore, the single party that had dominated politics since 2001 rested its claim to be the party of government. Among other factors were long-standing frictions between easterners and westerners in the armed forces and the police. The report also noted that the roots of the imbalance in power between the institutions of State, allowing the executive to operate with few constraints, were political, institutional and constitutional. Poverty and its associated deprivations had contributed to the crisis.

Request for a new mission

On 11 June 2006, the President of Timor-Leste, the President of the National Parliament and the Prime Minister wrote to the Secretary-General requesting that he propose to the Security Council to establish a United Nations police force in Timor-Leste to maintain law and order until the national police could undergo reorganization and restructuring. The Secretary-General requested his Special Envoy, appointed on 25 May 2006, to lead a multidisciplinary assessment mission to Timor-Leste to identify the scope of tasks to be undertaken by a post-UNOTIL mission and to develop recommendations for a future UN presence. The mission conducted its assessment from 26 June to 9 July.

Secretary-General's recommendations

In his report to the Security Council dated 8 August 2006, the Secretary-General stated that much had been achieved since independence in major areas of institutional capacity building. Nevertheless, the United Nations and the international community had learned from lessons elsewhere, and had been starkly reminded by the Timor-Leste crisis, that nation-building and peacebuilding were long-term tasks. This was especially true of the time required to build a new police service and justice system.

The Secretary-General went on to note that successes achieved through the work of successive peacekeeping missions would be undermined if a failure of socio-economic development left the people of Timor-Leste in poverty and unemployment. Long-term development efforts to translate available budgetary resources into programmes addressing rural poverty and urban unemployment were as crucial as anything that could be done through a new United Nations mission.

He stressed that an enhanced international role in the security sector and elsewhere must fully respect the national sovereignty of Timor-Leste, and the process of nation-building must be Timorese-owned and led. At the same time, the international community should be able to expect that the country's political leadership, having reflected on the crisis, would work together to broaden the country's political functioning into an open, pluralistic democracy in which all Timorese felt that they have a stake.

The Secretary-General recommended the establishment of a United Nations multidimensional, integrated mission, with the mandate to support the Government of Timor-Leste and to assist it in its efforts to bring about a process of national reconciliation; to support the country in all aspects of the 2007 presidential and parliamentary electoral process; to ensure, through the presence of United Nations police with an executive policing mandate, the restoration and maintenance of public security; to assist in liaising with the Indonesian military through the impartial presence of United Nations Military Liaison Officers; and to assist in further strengthening the national capacity for the monitoring, promotion and protection of human rights.

Establishment of UNMIT

Welcoming the report of the Secretary-General and, among other things expressing its appreciation and support for the deployment of the international security forces, the Security Council, by its resolution 1704 (2006) of 25 August 2006, established UNMIT with a far-reaching mandate to assist the country in overcoming the consequences and underling causes of the April/June 2006 crisis. The Council decided that it would consist of an appropriate civilian component, including up to 1,608 police personnel, and an initial component of up to 34 military liaison and staff officers. The Council requested the Secretary-General to review the arrangements to be established between UNMIT and the international security forces and affirmed that it would consider possible adjustments in the mission structure taking into account the views of the Secretary-General.

Since its establishment, UNMIT has been working with the Government of Timor-Leste, various political parties and other partners and stakeholders in the country and elsewhere to ensure the effective implementation of the entrusted mandate.

2007 elections

Following the deployment of UNMIT, the overall situation in Timor-Leste improved, although the security situation in the country remained volatile and the political climate fluid. The three rounds of presidential and parliamentary elections in Timor-Leste concluded in June 2007, characterized by high voter participation of 80 to 82 per cent (47 to 48 per cent for women), a generally calm security environment and results widely accepted by all political actors, demonstrated that there had been considerable progress in dialogue and reconciliation since the April-May 2006 crisis. As a result of these elections, former Prime Minister José Ramos-Horta was sworn in as the new President on 20 May, succeeding Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, and the new 65-member Parliament was inaugurated on 30 July 2007.

February 2008 events

On 11 February 2008, the armed group led by the fugitive Alfredo Reinado, the former Military Police Commander of the Falintil-Forças de Defesa de Timor-Leste (F-FDTL), carried out separate armed attacks against the President, José Ramos-Horta, and the Prime Minister, Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, resulting in the nearly fatal injury of the President and the death of Reinado. Rapid medical intervention, in Dili and, subsequently, in Australia saved the life of the President.

The incidents presented an unexpected and serious challenge to State institutions, but encouragingly, and in contrast to the events of 2006, the situation did not precipitate a crisis destabilizing the entire society. The institutions of the State responded in an appropriate and responsible manner that respected constitutional procedures. The Prime Minister demonstrated firm and reasoned leadership; the Parliament functioned effectively as a forum for debate in response to the events; and leaders of all political parties urged their supporters to remain calm, while the general population demonstrated faith in the ability of the State to deal with the situation.

The Security Council, by its resolution 1802 of 25 February 2008 extending the mandate of UNMIT, condemned in the strongest possible terms the attacks on the President and Prime Minister of Timor-Leste and all attempts to destabilize the country, noting that these heinous acts represent an attack on the legitimate institutions of Timor-Leste. The Council also entrusted UNMIT with some additional tasks.

UNMIT continues mandate implementation

Since then, the security situation in Timor-Leste had remained calm, albeit fragile, and UNMIT’s efforts to foster dialogue and reconciliation and to effectively implement other provisions of its mandate continued. The Mission maintained its integrated “one United Nations system” approach and made significant progress in achieving integration across all relevant areas of the mandate. The joint efforts of UNMIT and the United Nations country team were instrumental in providing coordinated policy, political, technical and financial support to help Timor-Leste accomplish its goals.

In September 2011, the Government and UNMIT signed a Joint Transition Plan (JTP) to guide planning for UNMIT’s expected withdrawal by the end of 2012. The plan, the first of its kind in peacekeeping, mapped out priorities and objectives until UNMIT’s departure, and identified 129 UNMIT activities to be completed by the end of December 2012 or handed over to partners thereafter.

UNMIT completes mandate

Thanks to the resilience and determination of the Timorese people and their leaders, and with the support of the international community, Timor-Leste has made tremendous progress since 2006. The displaced people peacefully returned to their homes. Since March 2011, the national police had been responsible for policing throughout the country, with no major breakdown of law and order. Timorese news media and civil society were growing ever stronger, making important contributions to the democratic debate in the country. Poverty decreased as a result of public investments in infrastructure and services. Since 2005, life expectancy at birth had increased by more than two years and averaged 62.1 years by the end of 2012. Primary school enrolment, a key element to future stability and growth, jumped from 63 per cent in 2006 to 90 per cent in 2012. The country was on track to eradicate adult illiteracy by 2015.

On the political front, 2012 saw free and peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections, followed by the smooth formation of a new Government. Well over 70 per cent of the population went to the polls to vote in both the presidential and parliamentary elections. Through a quota system, women comprised 38 per cent of the parliament, the highest representation of women in parliament in the Asia-Pacific region. Beyond its borders, Timor-Leste had transitioned from receiving peacekeeping assistance to contributing personnel to United Nations operations in other parts of the world. The country assumed a leadership role with the g7+ and was a key contributor to the New Deal for aid effectiveness.

By its resolution 2037 of 23 February 2012, the Security Council extended the mandate of UNMIT for a final period until 31 December 2012. The departure of the Mission, however, does not mean the end of the United Nations engagement in the country as Timor-Leste continued to face many challenges. The United Nations has been determined to embrace the Government’s proposal for the global body to continue to be an important partner in the new phase of the country’s development and to establish an innovative working relationship of cooperation for the post-UNMIT phase focusing on institutional strengthening and development.

As UNMIT was completing its mandate, the Security Council, in its statement of 19 December 2012, commended the remarkable achievements made by Timor-Leste over the past decade and recognized the important contribution of UNMIT in promoting peace, stability and development in the country.