History of East Timor Part IV
Conflict resolution through the United Nations
The turning point came when the Asian crisis collapsed Indonesia’s mirage of economic growth and political stability like a house of cards. The forced resignation of dictator Suharto in May 1998 paved the way for a political solution to the conflict. In January 1999, President BJ Habibie announced a referendum on the approval or rejection of a far-reaching autonomy of Indonesia. Under the auspices of the United Nations (UN), Indonesia and Portugal agreed to a corresponding treaty on May 5, 1999. The UN was given the task of conducting a survey. The United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) was set up for this purpose. Indonesia refused to monitor the contractual provisions by armed UN security forces, but guaranteed the strict neutrality of the military and police, who were given the task of ensuring a climate free from violence and intimidation. But the military had their own plans.
With an overwhelming majority of 78.5 percent, the East Timorese voted on August 30, 1999 to break away from Indonesia. Pro-Indonesian militias, who acted as henchmen for the Indonesian military and terrorized the population even before the referendum, then reduced the country to rubble. They drove hundreds of thousands to neighboring West Timor and committed massacres. At least 1,500 people were killed in those days. Alarmed, the UN and the international community urged the Indonesian government to agree to the deployment of a multinational peacekeeping force. On September 14th the UN Security Council authorized the deployment of a multinational protection force (INTERFET- International Forces for East Timor). When troops under Australian leadership landed in East Timor on September 20, 1999 and ended the violence, 70% of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed. The UN Human Rights Commission then held a special session in Geneva and decided to commission a commission to investigate human rights violations in East Timor in 1999. The commission appointed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan also included Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger. The commission recommended the establishment of an international court of justice.
United Nations Interim Administration and Missions: Political System & Elections
According to commit4fitness, the situation in East Timor called for swift action. The country was almost completely destroyed and the administration collapsed. On October 25, 1999, the Security Council gave the United Nations the mandate to establish the administration in East Timor (Res. 1272 (1999); UN Transitional Authority for East Timor – UNTAET) as part of a peace-building measure with blue helmets. In addition, UNTAET was given responsibility for coordinating humanitarian aid and holding free elections. The country continued to receive support from UNDP, UNHCR, FAO, UNICEF and the World Bank, among others.
The UNTAET was headed by the Brazilian UN special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. The UNTAET administration had to fulfill almost all government tasks until independence in 2002. For the first time in its history, the United Nations was de facto the executive, judicial and legislative branches of a country legitimized by the world community. An East Timor Transitional Government (ETTA) was set up under the aegis of the UNTAET head to enable the political representatives of East Timor to participate in the planning and development of the country.
Elections to the constituent assembly were held on August 30, 2001, two years after the referendum. On April 14, 2002, East Timor elected the resistance leader Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão as president, and on May 20, 2002, independence was restored in a large celebration with numerous guests of state. The constituent assembly was transformed into the country’s first parliament. The largest parliamentary group with 55 out of 88 seats was the Fretilin party.
The United Nations continued to see its responsibility afterwards, but reduced its missions (UNMISET, UNOTIL) more and more. In 2006 they were about to withdraw completely. But Timor-Leste, as the new state officially calls itself, plunged into a political crisis that resulted in the collapse of the security sector. 150,000 people sought refuge in camps and the prime minister had to resign. The crisis revealed the fragility of the state, which until recently had been celebrated as a success story of the UN. The Security Council responded and continued the UNMIT missiona. Its core task was to take over internal and external security and to reform the police (PNTL) and the military (F-FDTL). In March 2011 the national police resumed their duties and after the successful elections in 2012, the United Nations mission came to an end on December 31, 2012. The results are mixed. Celebrated in 1999 as the midwife of independence, the relationship had recently cooled noticeably. UNMIT has contributed to stability, but it has not achieved too much in terms of mandate. The government has implemented few reforms in the security sector and seemed tired of outside interference. The UN’s criticism of impunity and amnesties also fell on deaf ears.
Nonetheless, Timor-Leste has left the crisis years behind and sees itself as an independent state with leadership responsibility. A return to violence is not to be expected, there is a great need for political stability. But there are still major deficits in economic and social development. The widespread poverty and unemployment can endanger the peaceful development of the young nation.
“Without the generous support of the international community and the United Nations in the form of UNMIT, we would not have got where we are today. East Timor’s success is also a success of the United Nations,” said José Ramos-Horta in front of the Security Council on February 23. 2012.