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Letter from La'o Hamutuk to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan about tasks remaining for UNMISET

25 July 2003

United Nations Secretary-General Hon. Kofi Annan
President of the United Nations General Assembly, Hon. Jan Kavan
Special Representative of the Secretary-General for UNMISET Hon. Kamalesh Sharma
Members of the United Nations Security Council
Ambassadors interested in East Timor

Dear Excellencies:

In less than one year, the United Nations Mission in Support of East Timor (UNMISET) will be over. This mission, the third UN mission here since 1999, has accomplished much but has left much to be accomplished.

As you discuss the final months of UNMISET, and what form United Nations support for East Timor will take after June 2004, there are many factors to be considered. We are writing to offer a perspective from East Timorese civil society. La’o Hamutuk has monitored and interacted with UNAMET, UNTAET and UNMISET over the last four years, and we hope our suggestions are useful.

Much has been written about “lessons learned” from UNAMET and UNTAET, and we will not repeat those conclusions. Rather, we would like to highlight the fundamental difficulty of supplying government or advice from afar, using personnel and institutions that are not accountable to the people they are intended to govern. We believe that the concept of a United Nations Transitional Administration is problematic, and that UNTAET barely overcame the challenges stemming from using personnel, “volunteers,” and consultants who were answerable to structures and regulations designed and managed by an institution on the other side of the world. UNTAET’s mandate was mostly over by the time it understood that “transitional” was more important than “administration” in its name, that its primary purpose was to provide capacity and structures which would enable the newly-independent nation of East Timor to govern itself.

For UNMISET, with “support” as its middle name, the intention is clearer and more democratic. Nevertheless, we believe that there are serious shortcomings in how UNMISET has performed during its first 14 months, and we offer some suggestions as to how the remaining time can be used more effectively.

We believe that the international community has a continuing obligation to provide support for Timor Leste. For a quarter-century, international hypocrisy and deliberate neglect allowed Indonesia to inflict an illegal, brutal occupation. Even in 1999, when the United Nations finally decided to take effective action, international deference to the fiction of Indonesian sovereignty facilitated pre- and post-ballot terror and devastation by Indonesian’s military forces. East Timor still suffers from the legacies of 24 years of crimes against humanity, for which the international community has largely failed to hold the perpetrators accountable.

In a just international order, the powers that supported Indonesia’s occupation and failed to prevent the destruction of 1999 would pay reparations to the people of East Timor. But even in today’s world order, the international community, including the United Nations, has an obligation to finish tasks that it has started. Furthermore, the world owes some honesty and consideration to the people of East Timor, who were neglected for so many years, and were then subject to pioneering projects in transitional government and post-conflict reconstruction, development and justice. Where those experiments are failing, the responsibility remains with the international community to set them right.
According to Security Council Resolution 1410, “UNMISET will, over a period of two years, fully devolve all operational responsibilities to the East Timorese authorities as soon as is feasible, without jeopardizing stability.” That two-year period is more than halfway over, and it is a good time to look at what international responsibilities remain today, and which will remain after May 2004.

We have a continuing concern that many Mission activities do not adequately address the post-UNMISET period, when East Timorese will be responsible to carry out functions currently performed by international staff and advisors. One improvement would be to provide trainings, training materials, and other information in languages understood by most people in this country: Tetum and Bahasa Indonesia, and to hire international personnel who can communicate in those languages.

For each task that UNMISET has taken on, there are several possibilities:

  1. The task is being done well, and will be completed by the end of the mandate.

  2. There are problems with performing the task or completing it before the end of the mandate. These can be addressed by improving or modifying UNMISET’s performance.

  3. The task, with or without improvements, will not be completed by the end of the mandate. The UN should find a way to ensure that it can be completed after the mission ends.

  4. There are problems with the task, but UNMISET is unable adequately to address them. In these cases, there is no point in perpetuating that part of the Mission, and it should end before or as scheduled.

Military (external) security: Peacekeeping Forces and Military Observers

UNMISET’s mandate is to “Contribute to maintenance of external and internal security of East Timor.” Although PKF has protected East Timor’s border since late 1999, many East Timorese are concerned that East Timor’s Falintil-FDTL defense force is not adequately trained to fulfill this responsibility after PKF leaves. We recognize that training East Timor’s military has not been PKF’s role, but we suggest that F-FDTL should be allowed to work more closely with PKF, learning from international soldiers and military units with more training and different experiences. During UNMISET’s final year, joint operations and information sharing with F-FDTL, together with gradual transfer of responsibilities, will provide greater security in the future.

After next May, East Timor should no longer require defense by international troops, although UN soldiers could serve as advisors and training. Command responsibility and operational control should rest entirely with the government of East Timor.

Internal security: United Nations Police (UNPOL)

Part of UNMISET’s mandate is to provide interim law enforcement and public security, which has seen some successes and some notable failures, especially the 4 December 2002 Dili incident. UNPOL, which has command responsibility over the East Timorese police (TLPS), has fallen short in transparency, coordination, and accountability. UNPOL also fails to act effectively in crisis situations, and does not give clear direction to TLPS.

UNMISET is also responsible to assist in the development of the East Timor Police Service. Although UNPOL is training many TLPS officers, the training is inadequate in time and content, given the large number of inexperienced officers. Furthermore, well-equipped UNPOL units do not leave their equipment with TLPS when an area is handed over.

Greater efforts should be made to improve the effectiveness of the training, using more accessible materials and giving increased attention to human rights. When UNPOL transfers an area to TLPS responsibility, the vehicles, weapons, communications and other equipment they have been using should remain in the area. The UN can work with donor agencies to obtain additional equipment for TLPS.

For the remainder of the UNMISET mission, operational decision-making should be transferred to East Timorese police officers as much as possible. After UNMISET ends, international police should remain here as mentors, to provide additional classroom and field training, but they should not have operational or command responsibilities

Justice: Investigate, prosecute and try perpetrators of serious crimes committed in and against East Timor between 1975 and 1999

Many of these crimes were “crimes against humanity”, and all humanity has a responsibility to ensure that those who committed them do not escape with impunity. Most of the perpetrators are given sanctuary by the government of Indonesia, which has shown itself unable to provide justice within its own judicial system, and unwilling to cooperate with UNTAET, UNMISET and other international processes. Many of them are repeating the same crimes they directed here against the people of Aceh and elsewhere.

If the international community is not willing to compel Indonesia to cooperate with justice, there is no reason to continue a hypocritical charade. The following suggestions optimistically assume that there will be international political will for justice for a quarter-century of crimes against the people of East Timor and humanity.

We continue to believe that an international tribunal for East Timor would be the best option. However, we offer some observations on the justice process as currently constituted, and about some of its problems.

Although the Serious Crimes Unit was slow getting started, it has now indicted more than 300 people, including some Indonesian generals who masterminded crimes here during 1999. Unfortunately, more than 70% of those indicted enjoy impunity in Indonesia, which refuses to honor its commitment to cooperate with investigations and extradition. Only a few warrants have been listed with Interpol, and no alleged perpetrators have been arrested outside East Timor. Many other investigations are not yet completed. Furthermore, the Serious Crimes Unit has limited its investigations to the last year of the illegal Indonesian occupation (1999), although more than 98% of those killed during the occupation died before 1999 and the SCU legal mandate includes such crimes with no time limit.

The very slow process is causing frustration among the victims and other East Timorese people.

If the international community is serious about justice, and is able to get Indonesia to cooperate, the UN might then be able to fulfill its responsibilities to justice and to the people of East Timor. Investigations started by May 2004 should be completed, now matter how long it takes. All suspects who have been or will be indicted should be arrested and brought to trial.

An essential element of justice is to conduct trials, appeals, and sentencing for people who have been accused and indicted. The Special Panels for Serious Crimes were established by UNTAET to perform this function, and they have continued under the joint sponsorship of UNMISET and the government of East Timor. However, they have been slow and ineffective, and still suffer from lack of institutional support and resources. Only about 11% of those already indicted have been brought to trial, and very few appeals have been heard. This is clearly an unfinished task, and one which will not be finished before the end of the UNMISET mission.

If the United Nations intends to achieve justice, that intention can only be realized with improved commitment, resources and political will from the international community. Until the Security Council establishes a true international tribunal, the hybrid international-national Special Panels should be kept in place to finish what the UN started, until all those indicted by the SCU have been brought to trial. The Court of Appeal must also continue with international judges and support so that those brought to trial can enjoy their full legal rights.

On the other hand, if the international community does not want justice here, and if the Serious Crimes Unit is only an international public relations exercise to issue indictments with no serious possibility of arrest and trial, the hoax should not continue.

Civilian Support Group (Technical Advisors)

Unfortunately, the traumatic history of East Timor and the shortage of experienced government officials and administrators continues to require international advisors in some key areas of government. These advisors should “help, not do” -- their primary function should be to build the capacity of East Timorese, so that fewer international advisors are needed in the future, rather than to impose inappropriate concepts or models from other countries. For the remainder of the Mission, East Timorese must have greater control over who the advisors are and what tasks they are assigned. If the Civilian Support Group is able to improve its performance and language skills, they could continue to serve East Timor after UNMISET’s mandate ends.

Human Rights

The Human Rights Unit of UNTAET and UNMISET has provided valuable services, but it could be greatly improved. Additional materials need to be developed in local languages. The HRU should work more closely with civil society, especially outside Dili, establish information centers in each district on human rights with documents accessible by everyone, and develop a pool of East Timorese human rights trainers and educators across the country.

After the end of UNMISET’s mandate, a UN Human Rights presence in East Timor should continue, to perform the tasks listed above and to assist civil society, Parliament and Government with training and information on international human rights standards, procedures and conventions.


After four years of massive UN presence in East Timor, some lessons learned have been applied here, while others will improve the future missions elsewhere.

However, the United Nations has not yet finished the task it came to East Timor to do. East Timor is now politically independent, but dependencies caused by past and current international ineffectiveness still abound. If the international community intends to keep its promises, an international presence will be needed in East Timor after June 2004. However, without the significant changes discussed above, the presence would be a waste of time and money.

Many in the United Nations community think of East Timor as one of the organization’s great success stories. But if that success is to be more than mere mythology, many adjustments and much work remains to be done.

Thank you for your support for East Timor since 1999, and for your attention to our suggestions. Over the past three years our institute has reported on many of these issues, and the reports are available on our web site at www.laohamutuk.org. As we continue our monitoring and reporting, future reports will also be on that site.

We would be glad for the opportunity to discuss or provide additional information on any of these subjects.


Inês Martins

Cc: President Xanana Gusmão
Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri
President of the National Parliament Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres