The UNMIT mission in Timor-Leste
August 2006 - 20 December 2012
Skip down to list of relevant documents and reports
2006: UNMIT's Creation
The UNOTIL Mission in Timor-Leste was set to expire on 20 May 2006. This mission, which followed on UNAMET, UNTAET and UNMISET, had evolved into a small support mission, which was to be phased out in 2006. However, the collapse of local security and resurgence of violence which began in April caused the UN to re-think its disengagement policy, recognizing that Timor-Leste's transition to independence was not yet complete and that the UN needed to provide additional support to the nascent nation. La'o Hamutuk, among others, wrote to the UN with suggestions about how past mistakes could be corrected in a new mission. The Security Council extended the UNOTIL mission by one month as they investigated the situation and debated what to do, and then by two more, until 20 August 2006.
There was consensus on most of the recommendations made by the UN Secretary-General in early August, which would include 1,608 international police in a new mission. However, the Security Council was deadlocked on who would command the military contingent of the Mission, proposed to be up to 350 soldiers. The mandate of the military force is described in this excerpt from the UN Secretary-General's 8 August recommendations to the Security Council (see paragraph 119), and includes providing security for UN mission headquarters, being available for rapid response to assist UN police in emergencies, liaising with the international security forces, and advising security forces on the border with Indonesia. On 4 August, Timor-Leste's new Prime Minister José Ramos-Horta wrote to the Security Council, calling for "a small military force, under the command and control of the United Nations."
Australia insisted on keeping its soldiers (the majority of the multinational force deployed in Timor-Leste since late May at the request of Timor-Leste) under Australian command. Their position was supported by the U.S. and U.K, but opposed by the UN Secretary-General, the RDTL government, Portugal, Malaysia, NGOs in Timor-Leste and many others, who prefer a unified military force integrated into the UN Mission.During the week of 14 August, there was much heated private discussion within the Security Council about Australia's desire to keep the military outside of the UN mission structure. Japan, as chair of the UN core group on Timor, drafted a Security Council resolution reflecting the Australian position, which differed from the Secretary-General and Timor-Leste's views.
The draft resolution generated more heated discussion, and Japan asked its ambassador in Dili to talk with Timor-Leste's prime minister. The ambassador reported that Ramos-Horta had changed his position. However, a letter from Ramos-Horta (dated 18 August but not officially circulated) restated the 4 August letter, but added that the Japanese position had some merit. Some Security Council members took this to mean that Timor-Leste was backing down. Because of the confusion about Timor-Leste's position and continued disagreement within the Security Council, the Security Council extended UNOTIL for five days (until 25 August) on 20 August, allowing another week to find a compromise.
La'o Hamutuk encouraged friends in Australia to support a unified UN force. Several international analysts, including James Dunn and Helen Hill, have written on this question. The International Federation for East Timor (IFET), representing supporters of Timor-Leste from around the world, has also called for all foreign soldiers in Timor-Leste to be part of an integrated UN mission.
On 25 August, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1704 creating a new mission, called UNMIT. The compromise allows Australia to continue leading the multinational Joint Task Force outside of UN command, but directed the Secretary-General to review this issue and report back to the Security Council within two months. The relevant paragraph reads:
Keeping ISF outside of UN Command
On 8 September, La'o Hamutuk and the International Federation for East Timor wrote to friends of Timor-Leste in Japan to ask them to press their government to change its position. In addition to chairing the Core Group and taking the lead within the Security Council on Timor-Leste, Japan will be the rotating president of the Council during October, with authority to determine the Council agenda.
On 26 October, Timor-Leste's parliament held an special session and approved a resolution concerning "The Security System in Timor-Leste", which called for all foreign troops in the country to be under a unified UN command. The following day, the Timor-Leste government issued a press release expressing full support for the Australian and New Zealand troops, as well as a statement responding to Parliament and explaining that Prime Minister Ramos-Horta had written to Secretary-General Kofi Annan on October 18 indicating his interest in negotiating a trilateral agreement between the UN, Australia and Timor-Leste for an Australian-led military force, with more soldiers than the UN Security Council had envisioned under UNMIT.
On 27 October, the Security Council held informal (private) consultations on Timor-Leste. After receiving the letter from Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta, the council decided to continue to current arrangement (with a separately led military force).
On 1 December, the heads of UNMIT and the RDTL government signed an Arrangement detailing how the UN police will work with the Timor-Leste Police.
On 26 January 2007, the Foreign Minister of Timor-Leste, the Ambassador of Australia and the head of UNMIT signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the provision of assistance to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste which lays how the three parties will coordinate police and military operations.
On 12 February 2007, the UN Security Council had extensive discussions on UNMIT's future, considering the recent Report of the Secretary-General. On 22 February, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1745 (2007), extending UNMIT until 26 February 2008.
A delegation from the Security Council visited Timor Leste in November 2007, reporting back to the Security Council, which discussed the report the following week.
In mid-December, the Secretary-General visited Timor-Leste, where he addressed the Parliament.
In late January 2008, the Secretary-General reported to the Security Council on events in Timor-Leste during the past six months. The report acknowledged that during the past 18 months, UNMIT had done almost nothing to implement the part of its mandate relating to justice for serious crimes committed during 1999. An agreement between UNMIT and the RDTL Prosecutor-General was signed in February to enable this to begin.
The Security Council met three times on Timor-Leste in February 2008. They condemned the attacks on the President and Prime Minister, had an open debate on UNMIT, and passed a resolution extending UNMIT until February 2009. They met again in August and reiterated their commitment.
In November 2008, the Australian Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade conducted an Inquiry on Human Rights Mechanisms and the Asia-Pacific. Submissions relating to Australian forces in Timor-Leste were made by La'o Hamutuk and Clinton Fernandes, resulting in newspaper coverage. All 17 submissions to the inquiry and other information are available at http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/jfadt/asia_pacific_hr/index.htm.
After an open discussion on 19 February 2009, the UN Security Council met the following week and passed Resolution 1867 (2009), extending UNMIT's mandate to 26 February 2010.
Another open discussion was held on 23 October 2009, considering the Secretary-General's latest report. Among the topics discussed were the increasing level of impunity in Timor-Leste, as exemplified by the illegal release of indicted mass murderer Maternus Bere.
On 10 December 2009 (Human Rights Day), La'o Hamutuk published an analysis of the gap between the words and the actions of the Security Council on Timor-Leste during the past ten years.
On the day before Christmas 2009, Timor-Leste's Foreign Minister Zacarias Albano da Costa notified UN authorities that he had fired Timor-Leste Ambassador to the United Nations Nelson Santos. Santos had just voted in favor of a General Assembly resolution on human rights in Burma (Myanmar), which passed 86-23 with 39 abstentions. Santos was continuing Timor-Leste's previous policy of supporting this annual resolution, following guidance from President Jose Ramos-Horta. However, the Minister had instructed Santos to abstain from this vote to be more in line with ASEAN countries' votes. When Santos voted in favor during the night of 23 December in New York, da Costa immediately sacked him.
Article 87(b) of Timor-Leste's Constitution assigns to the President of the Republic the authority "To appoint and dismiss ambassadors, permanent representatives and special envoys, following proposal by the Government." During the first week of February 2010, Nelson Santos, the President, the Foreign Minister and both deputy Prime Ministers had several discussions in Dili about how to salvage the situation, as well as to resolve Constitutional questions. No resolution was reached, and Mr. Santos, now unemployed, returned to his family in New York.
Several Ministry officials privately told La'o Hamutuk that Timor-Leste continues to support democracy and human rights, recognizing that similar support for Timor-Leste from others during the 24-year Indonesian occupation was critical to Timor-Leste's obtaining independence. However, the Minister's action, which apparently stems from an ad-hoc approach to foreign policy, has raised concerns among people who believe that Timor-Leste's leaders should continue to support universal human rights principles, as they did prior to independence. On 9 February, Foreign Minister da Costa announced the appointment of Sofia Borges as Timor-Leste's ambassador to the UN filling the vacancy, and she presented her credentials on 4 March.
On 2 February, the Timor-Leste National Alliance for an International Tribunal wrote the Council with suggestions about justice.
Resolution 1867 required the Secretary-General to make recommendations to the Security Council by 1 February 2010 about adjustments to UNMIT's mandate and strength, but his report was not provided until 12 February. La'o Hamutuk wrote the Council with comments. The Security Council held a closed meeting on 22 February on police and military issues, had an open debate on 23 February and adopted resolution 1912 extending UNMIT on 26 February, the day the current mandate expired.
The Security Council met on 19 October, after receiving a report from the Secretary-General on UNMIT and Timor-Leste during the previous nine months.
The Security Council held its annual meeting (transcript) to renew UNMIT's mandate on 22 February 2011, with debate informed by the Secretary-General's latest report (also Tetum) on the mission and an address by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão. Prior to the meeting, the Timor-Leste National Alliance for an International Tribunal wrote to the Council (also Tetum) and to diplomatic representatives in Timor-Leste. On 24 February, the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1969 (2011), extending UNMIT for one more year.
After extensive discussions, the Government and UNMIT published a "Joint Transition Plan" (also Portuguese) in September to "Ensure the transition from peacekeeping to sustainable security, peace and development" as UNMIT withdraws from Timor-Leste.
The Security Council dicussed UNMIT on 22 November 2011 (transcript). Prior to the meeting, the Secretary-General submitted a report on UNMIT's progress between January and September, and La'o Hamutuk wrote the council urging more attention to ending impunity and promoting sustainable economic development.
On 18 January 2012, the Secretary-General reported to the Security Council on UNMIT activities and Timor-Leste events between 20 September 2011 and 6 January 2012. This report, as well as a letter from La'o Hamutuk, informed the Security Council debate on 22 February (transcript), which led to unanimous passage of Resolution 2037 on 23 February extending UNMIT's mandate through the end of 2012.
During the last week of January, a high-level mission from UN headquarters came to Timor-Leste to assess the best ways for the UN to remain engaged after UNMIT ends in December 2012, guided by the September 2011 Government/UNMIT Joint Transition Plan.
The UN Human Rights Council completed its first quadrennial Universal Periodic Review of the human rights situation in Timor-Leste in a meeting of the Council on 16 March 2012.
Following her November 2011 visit to Timor-Leste, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty reported to the Human Rights Council in June 2012, and La'o Hamutuk joined with three international NGOs to present video and written submissions on her report. See our web page and blog entry for details and documents.
On 2 October 2012, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão wrote to the UN Secretary-General appreciating past support and stating that "Timor-Leste no longer requires United Nations support through the presence of a United Nations mission, either peacekeeping or political, beyond the end of 2012. Consequently, it is our view that there is also no requirement for the continued consideration of Timor-Leste affairs by the Security Council."
On 15 October 2012, the Secretary-General reported to the Security Council (also Tetum) on UNMIT activities and Timor-Leste events between 7 January and 20 September 2012. The Security Council has sent a delegation to Timor-Leste during the first week of November, and held its final meeting on Timor-Leste on the afternoon of 12 November, the 21st anniversary of the Santa Cruz massacre. For the first time in nine years of debates on Timor-Leste, the word "impunity" was not uttered by a single participant (see graph below). During UNMIT's final days in December, their dwindling international staff in Timor-Leste launched a celebratory multimedia website and the President of the Security Council commended Timor-Leste for its remarkable achievements during the past decade.
Additional information (in reverse chronological order in each category)
Contents (click on item below to see links to documents)
La'o Hamutuk and ANTI Letters, statements and press releases
Background information and analysis
Status of Forces Agreements for foreign soldiers, police and investigators deployed in Timor-Leste
Letters from the RDTL Government to the United Nations
Letters from other governments to the United Nations
Reports from the United Nations Secretary-General since independence
Resolutions of the United Nations Security Council on East Timor/Timor-Leste
General Assembly reports and resolutions regarding UNOTIL and UNMIT financing
Reports from Timor-Leste to UN Human Rights Bodies
Press releases and transcripts of the United Nations Security Council since 1999
Transcripts of Security Council meetings on Timor-Leste from 1999-2003 (no meetings were held in prior years)
The Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (La’o Hamutuk)