Subject: JRH: A UN role in Timor Leste

Boston Globe

A UN role in Timor Leste

By Jose Ramos Horta and Raj Purohit July 4, 2006

IN RECENT weeks commentators have framed the uprisings in Timor Leste as a country that has spiraled into violence despite UN peacekeepers. This gives the false impression that the United Nations has failed in the country formerly known as East Timor. The reality is significantly different.

Having declared its independence a mere four years ago, Timor Leste is still a fledgling nation emerging from the aftermath of a long, and often bloody, struggle for freedom. Though citizens have been ably assisted by various UN missions as they attempt to build the country, Timor Leste still has many challenges to overcome. These challenges include speeding up reconciliation, building a democratic political culture, instilling the rule of law, and creating an economy that is able to provide sustainable livelihoods for its people.

While critics correctly note that efforts for reintegration and development must be redoubled, they fail to note that international commitment to long-term peace-building processes must also be redoubled. Peace-building processes that pay attention to a nation's need to feed, employ, govern, and heal itself are essential in any nation-building process. But the world failed to offer sufficient assistance to Timor Leste. The world community, including the United States, moved on to the next failing state before Timor Leste had sufficient strength to stand on its own.

Now we are at the point in Timor Leste's nation-building process where the key stakeholders need to make a calculated assessment of what needs to be done next, coupled with a renewed political and financial commitment to a UN-driven process. Yes, missteps occurred, but this does not demand a radical change of direction nor should nations abandon Timor Leste at this critical juncture.

The first order of business is to address the violence caused by the dismissal of 600 striking soldiers. In the short term, the combination of regional and UN assistance coupled with a commitment from local government officials to address the tension will help dampen the fighting. In the long term, Timor Leste, working with regional governments, in particular Australia, will need to address the broad security challenges underlying the current instability.

Second, and perhaps more significant, it is vital that the UN continue to lead an inclusive effort to ensure that Timor Leste becomes a strong, democratic member of the international community. The UN is the logical body to coordinate this initiative and it seems logical that the new UN Peace Building Commission should play a central role in this effort.

The Peace Building Commission was formed to improve the coordination of relevant actors within and outside the UN and to extend the period of attention given by the international community to post-conflict recovery. In the case of Timor Leste, the commission should coordinate efforts to ensure that:

There is an aggressive and sustained campaign to improve the livelihood of Timor Leste's people. This effort requires local buy-in and assistance from the World Bank and national and regional development groups.

Local systems of governance are developed and respect for the rule of law is cultivated. In particular, emphasis should be placed on judicial institutions, which will enable accountability for past and current crimes.

Peace and security is guaranteed for Timor Leste. Peacekeepers, instead of leaving prematurely, must remain to support military and police troops.

The Peacebuilding Commission is selecting which post-conflict nation-states to adopt. Along with Burundi and Sierra Leone, Timor Leste is high on the list. The world community has an opportunity to rally behind Timor Leste, rather than abandon it, and help this nation become healthy and strong -- a peace-building process that will take a long-term commitment from every international institution.

Ian Martin, former special representative for the UN secretary general for East Timor, is forecasting a larger role for the UN. He should recommend that the Peacebuilding Commission take the lead in ensuring Timor Leste finally takes its place among the world's stable democratic countries.

Jose Ramos Horta is Timor Leste's minister for foreign affairs and cooperation and a 1996 Nobel Peace laureate. Raj Purohit is an attorney and senior fellow in international law and justice at Citizens for Global Solutions.

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