UNITED NATIONS MISSION IN TIMOR-LESTE:
Great expectation to leave “good memories” and “positive legacies” before ending its mandate in 2012
A Local Perspective
By Rui Manuel Hanjam, M.phil
A former local staff of UNAMET and UNTAET (1999/2000) - Now Vice Minister of Finance.
The United Nations, as an institution, has devoted extraordinary efforts to resolve conflicts around the world. The world needs a strong, neutral institution to perform an important role in conflict prevention and resolution. Timor-Leste is part of this global institution’s mandate to maintain its presence in order to guarantee the country self determination, stability, a smooth transition towards independence and the development of democratic state institutions. This mandate has progressed through various missions, namely: UNAMET, UNTAET, UNOTIL, UNMISET and UNMIT.
For each mission in Timor-Leste, the UN headquarter has assigned Special Representatives of the Secretary General,of different nationalities (with the exception of Kamalesh Sharman and Athul Khare who both hold Indian nationality) each with different characters and styles of leadership: Ian Martin, for UNAMET’s popular consultation in 1999; the late Sergio Viera de Melo for the United Nations Transitional Administration (UNTAET), Kamalesh Sharman for the United Nations Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL), later replaced by Sukehiro Hasegawa for the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNMISET), and Athul Khare for the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT). The successor of Athul Khare is Ameerah Hag from Bangladesh, who is presently serving for the UNMIT mission, (until now, there is no further information on whether the UN headquarters will review and change the name of the current mission UNMIT, based on Ian Martin’s Technical Assessment Mission)
This article is a contribution, from a local perspective, that intends to discuss the successes and failures of these successive UN missions and provide recommendations for improving future missions, specifically in terms of communication and capacity building with the local counterparts.. This will allow the UN, as an institution, to make adjustments or changes based on these recommendations. Until now, in Timor-Leste, there is a wide-shared belief and high expectations that by the end of the mission in 2012, the UN will leave “good memories” or “positive legacies” rather than negative ones. It is hoped in the future these negative examples may be avoided so that other host countries will smoothly deliver efficient and effective administrations.
UNAMET and its impossible mission
The UNAMET mission, of which I was a part , was considered to be a very successful mission from its inception with the signing of the May 5th agreement in 1999 until the popular consultation, carried out on August 30, 1999 and the announcement of the result on September 4, 1999.
The success of the mission can not be separated from the “strong leadership” that was exercised by Ian Martin as a capable diplomat with vast experiences dealing with human rights matters in Amnesty International and as Deputy of the UN mission in Haiti. Both experiences enriched his career allowing him to control elements inside the mission itself, such as UNPOL, Military Liaison Officers, Military Observers, as well as the UN Voluntary staff, who supported the popular consultation on the ground upon their deployment.
The mission, in a short time, under the guidance of high caliber professionals in the media like David Wimhurst and his team, was able to disseminate educational information about ballot papers, how to vote etc. by using various channels of information such as TV, radio and other printed information like pamphlets and leaflets, so that people were educated in a short time and were able to absorb information about the voting process.
As a result, the popular consultation was carried out professionally with an excellent turnout and minimum irregularities by which the majority of the voters confirmed their position of self determination by casting their votes leading to independence. Therefore, many Timorese whom I have met regard this mission as an “impossible mission”.
Many people who were impressed by the victory expected a peaceful hand over, such as; Macao (from Portugal to China) or HongKong (from Great Britain to China).Unfortunately, there was no “happy ending” of the UNAMET mission due to the premeditated Indonesian “scorth earthed policy” in 1999 to burn down and to destroy the 27th Province. Timor’s infrastructure and thousands of homes were reduced to smoke and ashes in only two weeks and the violence resulted in massacres and deaths, injuries and forced deportations.
The UN could have handled the Timorese refugees within the siege of the UN compound more competently and compassionately. The Timorese civilians in the compound were there only because, out of desperation, they threw their children over the razor wire and then stormed the compound after being harassed and threatened by armed Polri in the school grounds who said when the UN left they would kill them- These threats had been earlier reported to JOC nevertheless they were left helplessly in the school yard until they took their safety in their own hands.
With UN personnel and 1500 Timorese refugees in UNAMET HQ under siege, we knew, for sure, that Ian was under pressure to communicate the reality on the ground to the headquarters in New York so that the headquarters would accept the evacuation of the Timorese staff and refugees with UN staff in 1999. As Timorese local staff, who worked for this mission, we clearly understood that the negotiation was very tough. Ian Martin was struggling to convey the message through the mission’s political section to convince Kofi Annan in NY to influence the Security Council to take urgent action to address the critical condition in 1999.
Meanwhile as part of “bargaining power” to allow local staff and civilians who resided temporarily in UNAMET compound to be evacuated to Darwin , local staff had gathered together with the civilians to lay down on the ground at the main gate of UNAMET compound prepared to let the UN vehicles pass over them if the UNAMET only evacuated international staff. This action was also a statement to show the international community that Timor was not under the control of the Indonesian security forces as spelt out in the agreement. Furthermore, most UN staff and remaining journalists within the compound also refused to leave without the Timorese. If it was not for the mutiny within the compound, the UN would have abandoned the Timorese families to a horrific fate. After the evacuation the UNHQ was moved to the Australian consulate because the walls were high and Timorese refugees would not be an issue. The final decision took longer than expected which is why the process of evacuation was executed only on the 12 September, eight days after the violence erupted on the 4th after the announcement of the result in 1999.
The tragic violence in September 1999 was beyond the unarmed UNAMET mission’s control; however, it maintained continuity of mission by moving its operation temporarily to Darwin. The successful evacuation of the civilians and local staff was intended to justify the intervention of the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET). UNAMET waited until the INTERFET was able to restore and normalize the chaotic situation before deploying humanitarian assistance and handing over to UNTAET.
UNTAET and its preparation of Timorese Administration
The United Nations Transitional Administration was established in July 2000, under the Security Council Resolution 1272. . The UNTAET mission was to support a greater autonomy of decision making and the progressive transfer of governance to a full Timorese government. In a meeting held in Tibar, the then SRSG, Sergio Viera de Mello proposed the concept of a joint government, which gave rise to the East Timor Transitional Administration (ETTA) combining International staff and Timorese to fill the nine portofolios of the transitional government structure The UNTAET also created the first Council of Ministers with its thirteen portofolios to make important decisions and carry out a democratic election to form Constituent Assembly which was considered to be the embryo of the Timorese Parliament.
Initially the lack of crucial resources was debilitating for the huge task at hand. While departments tried to function with one or two computers. It appeared that the procurement of some resources was badly mismanaged by an Indian who was appionted to be the procurement advisor, eg the choice of Tata vehicles which were generally useless in the districts because of perpetual mechanical problems and low quality of the vehicles. The presence of the ship-hotels was another sign of mismanagement..It would have been cheaper to construct dormitories and leave the Timorese with infrastructure than use the ships which were also a blatant symbol of inequality and decadence in the shattered little nation.
There is no doubt that the establishment of the Transitional Administration encountered many challenges both from the Timorese side to reach “common consensus” and from the UN side to efficiently manage its multi agencies and multi-nationalities under the UNTAET umbrella in order to lead the country to move ahead. In this regard, Sergio Viera de Mello played an important role with his combination of Latino and Commonwealth style (see Dionisio Babo’ Paper). There was also the additional challenge of bringing together all political parties and successfully unifying them in the decision making process. This was successfully achieved by Sergio, hand in hand with the Conselho National da Resistençia Timorense (CNRT), under the leadership of Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao. As a Brazilian, Sergio absorbed and adapted easily to Timorese culture that had historically been partially influenced by Portugal. Sergio was also sensitive to local culture and religion which was a consideration of each decision that he made. Not only that, Sergio had a strong leadership style and was able to bring all entities within the UN system together and he focused on this important task. However, dealing with the reality on the ground is always difficult and he faced many challenges. Sergio honestly recognised UN weaknesses in the ruling Transitional Administration. This was expressed as I quoted in my interview with him during my research for my Masters thesis as follows:
“,....There are lots of “trials and errors” at the beginning. The UN was not prepared, equipped either in materials, words or in terms of human resources to assume those functions quickly and efficiently. So, it is very difficult to adapt other experiences. We were not governing in Cambodia, we were not governing in Namibia. So, we could not really compare everything. What we are doing here is new and particularly difficult because of the destruction and the collapse of the previous administration. We have never seen that before. Therefore we have to “invent” UNTAET. It is like a laboratory. New experiment, with mistakes, like the old experiment. In experimental science, you try, you make mistakes, you do not really find the answer, you try again until you say, yes this is the way. That is how we do it here...” (clip interview, 2001)
Sergio Viera’s comments reflected the reality in Timor. This also sent a clear message that “successful lessons learned” from elsewhere cannot be simply adopted due to complexities of the host countries in many areas such as the political sphere, culture, religion etc.
Despite the successes mentioned above and consultative processes that were initiated by Sergio, the mission, according to Timorese public opinion, failed to implement the Pacta Unidade Nasional (National Unity Pact) that required unity and power sharing both in government and parliament among the leaders of political parties that had grievances in the past (Fretilin, Apodeti, UDT, Kota and Trabalista). This exacerbated the situation when there was no democratic election, but rather a transformation of the Constituent Assembly to become the legislative body in the parliament. This was considered to be a disaster in a post conflict country like Timor-Leste, where a period of 10-5 years is necessary to acquire leadership maturity to maintain unity, stability and full acceptance of democratic elections (read also Bishop Belo’s comments) and the endorsement of a check and balance mechanism.
There are many commentators who stated that the crisis of 2006 was due, in part, to the lack of experience of the leaders to exercise the state democratic rules and to carry out their functions and this created conflicts. The situation was worsened by the unhealthy communication by the leaders to maintain their interests. Timorese leaders should have assumed their responsibility and function as “role models” for democracy. Unfortunately, the concept of a democratic institution is still vague and not understood clearly by the public and in particular by Timorese leaders.
Again, going back to de Mello’s image of a laboratory experiment, there is a common perception with its argument that the UNTAET was keen to test the rules, values and norms of democracy in the initial stage, in order to be able to ensure that the result corresponded to the mission’s mandate. If the 2012 mandate is the last mandate, then a democratic country in its infant stage should have been established and begun to develop towards a mature democracy like those in the West..
Human rights in theory and practice: the case of all missions in Timor-Leste
Human rights cannot be a mere slogan for people. The values of human rights should be upheld by everybody, particularly all UN staff everywhere. By upholding the values and principles of human rights and attaching and embedding them in their daily lives, they can serve accordingly without any constraint in practical terms of their daily work.
But, what is nicely written on paper is sometimes different in reality. There were several incidents that reflected “inconsistency” with these values and principles. Consequently, we, local staff, felt very frustrated and powerless during the UN missions in Timor-Leste where overt inequalities were practiced by an institution that operates under the concept of multinationalism .
UN staff who left Timor-Leste had contributed many “good” memories and some bad memories. The good of course, should be the guidelines and continued practice of the country’s future administration and the bad should be discarded. However, we need to consider the bad for reflection on institutional improvement.
Many Timorese commented that the “transfer” of the Serious Crime Unit work into National Court, was an attempt by the UN to escape its responsibility. Ironically, on the one hand, this helped the Timorese to accelerate the process of reconciliation, but on the other hand, as a strong institution, the UN should continue to stand firm. Human rights must be internationally upheld without weakening the UN commitment to them,. otherwise a negative message is sent setting a precedence of inconsistency.
There were also a series of incidents which indicated the violation of human rights and the UN code of conduct. Unequal treatment was experienced by many local staff. For example, during UNAMET in Ermera, three local staff and an international staff member had arrived by helicopter from the Public Information Office based in Dili. A UN staff, Mr. Samukai from Liberia forced the three local staff to squeeze in the back of the car next to piles of baggage, tires and papers while the international staff member had plenty of room in the front seat. I was one of the three local staff and we did not press the matter because of our focus and commitment to help the UNAMET to hold the consultation without constraints. Later I discovered that Mr Samukai held an important position in his country. We discussed among ourselves that we were entitled to equal treatment As Timorese, of course, we were shocked because we assumed the human rights value of equality would prevail as it has perpetually been promoted by every UN mission as a guideline for its staff.
In the initial stage of transition from UNAMET to UNTAET, there was a shop open for UN staff that provided fast food. All the items were brought from Australia. After the destruction most Timorese staff were hardly able to find such shops. Another frustration for the locals was the decision that items had to be purchased on presenting an international passport. Of course, it meant only internationals, were served, not the Timorese. I was lucky that some generous international staff with whom I worked helped me by buying limited goods for me from the shop, most Timorese were not so lucky. I mention this to underline that equal treatment should be across the board in UN missions which would ensure that the institution would be respected by everyone. I tink. This will be a challenge for the UN as an institution that is currently led by the Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
Moreover, a Human Rights Unit is always attached to UN missions in conflict areas. During UNAMET, Ian Martin, as a person who worked for Amnesty International, was fully aware of human rights issues and he absolutely disagreed with unequal practices if three of us were able to bring these issues to his attention.
During the transition from UNAMET to UNTAET, Timorese staff including myself worked for the Public Information Office. We had to rush to finalize media releases and news for radio and TV and to meet deadlines for broadcasting. A female staff who arrived late was kicked in her bottom and, she fell and smashed her own computer. I again, I was shocked, and we raised questions among ourselves- “is this the real UN with human rights values or is it just empty rhetoric?” or was the UN unable to program its own multinational staff . I joined our other friends, (who have now mostly become diplomats,) to discuss with Manuel Almeida, who was our new Public Information Office Director, how to solve the issue. Again, I was informed that Sergio might be upset if the issue was brought to his attention.
These are just two examples of discrimination. There were many abuses and discriminative acts practiced by internationals during that period which were not brought to the attention of the head of both UNAMET and UNTAET. But, I was very optimistic that the Head of the two missions would have seriously taken action if those issues were brought to his attention.
There were many criticisms directed at all the UN Missions in Timor-Leste. A serious issue is UN immunity that is applicable to all UN mission staff in most conflict and post conflict countries. This allows UN staff to exercise their roles without fear in helping the country move towards peace and harmony. However, there were several incidents where the UN staff and UNPOL were involved in criminal “hit and run” cases, and immediately the UN Headquarters arranged for the perpetrators to leave the country without further investigation, resolution or compensation to the families of the victims (read the statement of discontent expressed by both PNTL General commander and an article by the Secretary State for Defense and some images of torture captured by local TV). During several discussions that I had with the family of the victims, they raised their concerns.
The incidents that involved UNPOL members in two violent acts resulted in the UN leadership intervening in order to deport the UNPOL members back to their own countries. Furthermore, this was done without a transparent mechanism to satisfy the families of the victims. These incidents have set a bad example in police practice. Commenting in a workshop, Longinhos emphasized, Timorese police lack capacity because their teacher (UN) is unable to provide the best quality of capacity building, meaning when “the teacher is weak the students are also weak” (Suara Timor Lorosae, February 15, 2010) Many people have no doubt that if Timorese police are unable to act professionally in dealing with criminals and traffic violators it is partially due to the unprofessional manner some UNPOL handle law breakers and enforce the rule of law..
This also applies to unprofessional and disrespectful behaviors by some UNPOL to local authorities. For example in the case of searching the vehicles of Taur Matan Ruak jointly by UNPOL and ISF (International Stability Force). And in the case of the smashing of vehicles and the rude behavior by Philipino UNPOL to the Vice Minister of Finance which was brought to the attention of the SRSG Atul Khare. The investigation had been carried out in an unsatisfactory manner, so the SRSG requested to have a second investigation, however the SRSG stated, he was not aware of the incident and sent his deputy and political staff to convince the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister to drop the case because he was worried about the image of the UN mission and his own reputation.
Several times, when local authorities were invited to Obrigado Barracks for UN ceremonies, they felt intimidated at the UN gate by the bad-mannered attitude of security personnel. These incidents always caused tension.
Good Governance and bad practices to avoid
Good governance is a key word for post conflict countries. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is mainly responsible for assisting these countries to establish a transparent, effective and efficient governance. The UN defines “good governance” as,
The process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented). In addition, good governance has 8 major characteristics. It is participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society.
As most Timorese observe, the UN efforts to enhance the capacity of the bureaucracy and administration of the new country is crucial. At least, the eight characteristics mentioned above should be fulfilled. All discussion about the national interest ensures high participation of all stakeholders. The process has been developed to the extent where these characteristics are generally implemented. My view is that good governance should be guided by the UN mission in Timor with good will and good example to be followed.
The critics of the good governance practices are prevalent. This is understandable in a post conflict country where everyone is in the process of learning. Nevertheless, the Country Assessment Strategies and other developmental documents are mostly prepared without the involvement of the Timorese (see the collection of 1500 documents produced during the State of the Nation Report). On many occasions, a process of consultation is held after these documents have been prepared by consultants hired by the UN missions - with the exception of the local decentralization document that is currently in the implementation stage to establish the thirteenth municipality.
Participation can be either direct or through legitimate intermediate institutions or representatives. And, significantly, participation by both men and women is a key cornerstone of good governance. Most Timorese stakeholders have shared their concerns about gender participation. After gender education was lectured by many gender advisors hired by the UN, now, at last, we have for the first time where a female SRSG appointed to Timor-Leste. One wonders if gender participation is as well exercised as it is defined?
The issue of capacity building is being argued by some line ministries who work together with the UN international staff to provide training and the effective transfer of knowledge until such time when the UN leaves the country. However there is a growing feeling among the national stakeholders that the capacity building only takes place inside “Obrigado Barracks” i.e. HQ. If the UN believes in the capacity building with their Timorese copunterparts, by now, we would have witnessed the visible counterparts of UN advisors seating side-by-side with their counterparts in Line Ministries. However, the end result is mixed. It comes as no surprise that the government has to offer significant incentive to attract national staff who work for the UN to work for the government regardless of the cost that the government has to bear for the efficiency and effectiveness of transferring knowledge to the local counterparts who are, to some extent, performing below the standard requirements and low level of work ethos.
Another national concern is the increase in poverty and unemployment despite billions of dollars in donor aid. President Horta addressed this conundrum in is speech to the 63rd Session of the UN General Assembly, pointing out that the monies had not gone directly to rural projects but the bulk went to overgenerous foreign consultancy fees, unnecessary reports and recommendations and study missions. High international salaries, overseas procurement, imported supplies, foreign military and security spending have also siphoned off the major volume of donor aid from urgent development programs and the struggling economy. To ensure future donor effectiveness, a comprehensive enquiry into how the aid was spent must be conducted. Semilarly, in a workshop for preparation of rural development framework, the president reafirmed his statement “ if that is true, araound three billions have been spent, perhaps all the farmers or poor people in rural areas have enjoyed their lives and they have been able to drive BMW to the town.....”
There is a double standard by many UN staff who use UN vehicles to enjoy their off-duty life along the beaches while advising the government, in the interest of good governance, not to use government vehicles during the weekend.
Another hypocrisy occurs by some UN staff and UNPOL members who insist the owner of rental houses reduce the cost of the rent, yet demand the owners sign a false receipt showing the amount that matches the UN entitlement, meanwhile they rent the rooms to their friends at a higher charge and double the profit. What sort of good governance, integrity and honesty is this? Can this be a good example to follow? These kind of practices reflect badly on the UN which should take measures to prevent the exploitation of local people by its staff members and more carefully oversee the efficiency and effectiveness of its internal management.
Some of the UN staff have left their childreen. The former Aileu District Administrator, Mrs. Maria Paixao, in a discussion of gender issue took place in Hotel Timor, reafirmed that there are more then 100 childreen that need protection. For that, the UN HQ in Dili has requested to draft an UN intenal regulation for protection of the victims. It was brought into public discussion and consultation, meanwhile publicly never heard of its implementation.
The resolution of the maritime boundaries both with Indonesia and Australia is crucial for protecting Timor-Leste’s sovereignty and the prosperous development of its potential natural resources. Peter Galbright, played important role in the negotiation along with his Timorese counterpart, the former Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri who was in charged of Minister of Economy at the time of negotiation. This effort should be praised as the success that potentially has channeled revenue to the new born country’ prospect of development. However, having only facilitated half the process of joint exploration and shared profit with Australia , the UN must not leave Timor-Leste with the issue unresolved. Given the circumstance where the country has to sacrifice its maritime boundaries within fifty year time frame for negotiation.
In conclusion, the people of Timor-Leste appreciate the many achievements of the UN Missions in Timor-Leste in its efforts to assist our new nation to develop its governance in an efficient and effective manner. For the government and people of Timor-Leste, bad lessons will act as references to be avoided and to indicate moves in the right direction. Furthermore good and bad lessons can educate the UN to perform in a professional, impartial, and affirmative way that will benefit other post conflict countries.
There remain great challenges for Ameerah Hag to work with her Timorese counterparts to bring about significant changes and we are optimistic that we will meet them successfully together. I hope that Ameerah will have gained lessons learned from her predecessors and apply sensible approach to the remaining period of the UN mission in Timor-Leste. Let’s hope that the bitter memories will never be repeated and that the UN can claim a lasting memory when they leave Timor-Leste once and for all.