Timor-Leste is on an important transition path to overcome the political and institutional weaknesses that resulted in the bloody unrest of 2006, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the country said today.
Ameerah Haq told the Security Council that she met with President Jose Ramos-Horta and other Government officials last month, agreeing to set up a joint mechanism to guide the transition planning of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the fledgling nation, known as UNMIT.
That system, she said, seeks to ensure that the transition process is consistent with Government strategies and that there is a smooth transfer of the mission’s functions to Timor-Leste’s institutions.
“I want to emphasize that transition is a reconfiguration of the mission’s activities within its mandated areas to ensure that, when UNMIT does withdraw, and it will, it has done everything possible to ensure that future success of State institutions,” Ms. Haq noted, adding that preparations will emphasize capacity-building, not only in policing, but in all aspects of its mandate.
Security and political situation in the country continues to be stable, enabling Timor-Leste to focus on the longer-term challenges, said Ms. Haq said.
“This is observable in political debate, which has generally moved beyond backward looking discussions on how to move past the events of 2006, to forward looking discussions on how to build on the gains made and ensure the future prosperity of Timor-Leste,” Ms. Haq said.
She lauded the role the Polícia Nacional de Timor-Leste (PNTL) and the UNMIT police had played in ensuring stability in cooperation with the international security forces from Australia and New Zealand.
Last May, the mission began handing over primary policing responsibilities of the country’s districts and departments in a bid to establish a professional and credible police force in Timor-Leste.
So far, policing responsibilities for 10 districts, including Baucau, the second largest city, and six units have been handed over, with only three districts remaining under UN policing command. In addition, the PNTL has taken over the Immigration Department, Border Patrol Unit, Interpol Office and others.
Ms. Haq said that process had gained momentum, but voiced concern that the number of uncertified PNTL officers remained high.
The PNTL was established in March 2000 by the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), which was set up to assist the country during its transition to independence, attained in 2002.
UN Police (UNPOL) took over law enforcement duties in 2006 after fighting – attributed to differences between eastern and western regions – erupted following the firing of 600 striking soldiers, or one-third of the armed forces. Ensuing violence claimed dozens of lives and drove 155,000 people, or about 15 per cent of the total population, from their homes.
UNMIT was set up that year to replace several earlier missions, including UNTAET, in the country that the world body shepherded to independence in 2002.
Ms. Haq said today that the national elections slated for mid-2012 will be the PNTL’s first significant test in effectively providing security for a complex event, recommending that more that nearly 1,300 UNMIT police be present through the “crucial” period.
She also noted that there has been steady progress in strengthening the justice system in the country, noting that international legal experts have transitioned into advisers.
However, the official warned that the country’s willingness to support the rule of law and human rights can be negatively impacted if the public believes that individuals involved in high-profile cases are given preferential treatment.
She told the Council she had expressed that concern to the President following his decision to commute the sentences of those convicted for involvement in the February 2008 attacks against him and the Prime Minister.
In his latest report on Timor-Leste to the Security Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon notes encouraging advances in all of UNMIT’s priority areas, including the PNTL’s resumption of responsibility and dialogue on critical issues.
While these are examples of the country’s increasing focus on the more challenging long-term issues it confronts, “nevertheless, they are but initial steps on the country’s long road to sustainable peace and development,” he stresses.
The report underlines the need for enhanced efforts to overcome the political, institutional and socio-economic weaknesses that contributed to the 2006 violence, urging continued support from the international community.
Mr. Ban writes that he is heartened that all political parties, including the opposition, continue to demonstrate their commitment to channelling political expression through democratically-sanctioned arenas.