22 February 2011

Upcoming Elections among Critical Tests of Timor-Leste’s Resiliency,

Timor Leste was the only territory to achieve full self-government during the first or second International Decade(s) for the Eradication of Colonialism (1991-2000, 2001-2010)

United Nations Press Release
Security Council
6485th Meeting (AM)

UN Special Representative Paints Calm Security Picture,
Outlines Preparations for National Police to Assume Greater Responsibility

With Timor-Leste’s broad transition strategy showing solid progress on security- and judicial-sector reforms, the top United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today that upcoming elections and the transformation of the world body’s mission there would be important political tests for the resiliency of the Timorese Government and the durability of the institutions built since the military crisis of 2006.

“All institutions and leaders will need to show that progress to date results from measures, processes and commitments that can be sustained in the long term,” said Ameerah Haq, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), in a cautiously optimistic briefing to the Council.  She highlighted, among other things, the calm security and political situation, reinvigorated national development initiatives, preparations for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held in 2012 and the eventual drawdown of UNMIT following those polls.

Much of her assessment focused on the gradually increasing responsibilities of Timor-Leste’s national police forces, and she expressed confidence that the process could be finalized in the coming months, with the Policiá Nacional de Timor-Leste taking over all districts.  During the initial period, overall crime rates had remained low and there had been no indication of any politics-related violence, reflecting a general desire for peace, stability and unity at all levels of society.  While the Government coalition and opposition parties still had their differences, they continued to channel them through established democratic institutions and processes.  “Timorese leaders at the national, district and community levels and across the political spectrum, while recognizing that there are still challenges ahead, including presidential and parliamentary elections planned for 2012, are optimistic that the current peaceful situation can be maintained through the end of 2010 and beyond,” she said.

Ms. Haq shared the optimism that such progress could hold if all political leaders and the wider public continued to act in a responsible manner and the security situation remained stable.  “Investment in human capital, particularly for the youth, will improve the lives of the population and provide increased economic dividends down the road,” she said, emphasizing also the importance of investing in rural areas — home to some 80 per cent of the Timorese population — and of providing more employment opportunities for young people.

The Government was aware of such expanding challenges, and hopefully, ongoing initiatives and programmes focused on district-level development would further efforts to guarantee responsible spending, she said.  An increased focus on social and rural initiatives would help facilitate the realization of the Millennium Development Goals, she said, noting Timor-Leste’s significant progress in that regard.  The country had already met the Goals for reducing infant mortality and ensuring antenatal coverage, she said.

In his address to the Council, Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, Prime Minister and Minister for Defence and Security of Timor-Leste, outlined the achievements made in various sectors by the five-party Coalition Government since its entry into office in August 2007.  He described the restoration of peace and stability following the crisis of 2006 as primarily a result of the reforms started in the national police and defence forces, which had finally overcome their “petty differences” by 2008.

He said he was attending today’s meeting in order to correct some reports about Timor-Leste that “tend to sound more like verdicts”, without underestimating the difficulties and challenges ahead.  In becoming gradually stronger, Timor-Leste was taking its due place in the region, he said, pointing out that the Government was currently formalizing its application for membership in the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), while also cooperating with other friends in Asia and the Pacific region, as well as the Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) community.

He went on to note that the transfer of executive responsibility from the United Nations police to the national force should be completed by 27 March and from that point on the latter would be responsible for conducting, leading and controlling all police operations.  He underlined the Government’s commitment to strengthening command-and-control and to applying disciplinary procedures in a serious manner, so as to ensure the integrity of the police force.

Expressing confidence that the upcoming elections would take place in tranquillity, as in 2007 and despite challenges, the Prime Minister noted, however, that the national police force would continue to require advisory and capacity-building assistance from the United Nations police.  It would be ideal if advisers to the national force had technical and professional skills in legislation, training, administration, discipline and operations, he said, adding that, if possible, he would like to see advisers already cooperating in those areas remain there until the end of their mandates.

The post-UNMIT period following the elections, when the Mission might start to withdraw, would remain under consideration by the Government, in consultation with all partners, he said.  The United Nations had been present from the moment that Timor-Leste had started to be built, he recalled.  “As such, I urge you to remain with us in solidarity so we may fulfil the dreams of our people,” he said.  “Today, those dreams are about peace and development.”

When Council members took the floor, most speakers generally praised UNMIT, describing its work in assisting Timor-Leste’s transition towards lasting stability and democracy as a major United Nations success story.  However, they cautioned against resting on such achievements, with the representative of France among those who stressed that long-term stability could only hold if more progress was made in the fight against impunity.  On that subject, Colombia’s representative emphasized the results of the concluding conference of the National Dialogue on Truth and Reconciliation, especially regarding reparations for victims of human rights violations committed between 1974 and 1999.

Among Timor-Leste’s main bilateral partners attending the meeting, Australia’s representative said significant challenges remained for the Timorese Government and people, pointing out that, while there had been some progress in reducing poverty, increasing school enrolment and improving immunization programmes, the country was off track to meeting more than half of the Millennium Development Goals.  Poverty levels remained high, especially in rural areas, while health and education sectors remained underdeveloped.  “None of this is easy — for any Government,” he said.  “Acknowledging the problems is not to criticize but really to state the enormity of what needs to be done.  And this is a task where the international community continues to have a critical role to play,” he said.

The representative of New Zealand, another key bilateral partner, cautioned that the next 18 months would test the extent to which the current political and security climate could withstand the heat of competitive democratic elections.  They would also test the readiness of core State institutions to sustain themselves with reduced international support.  “This period also represents a window of opportunity for consolidating and extending recent achievements, and for preparing for significant changes to the international presence post-2012,” he said.  It was also necessary to consider Timor-Leste’s needs beyond 2012, he said, adding that the international community must consider its role in helping the country address its longer-term socio-economic challenges, including the 41 per cent of the population still living below the poverty line.

Other speakers today included representatives of India, United States, Russian Federation, Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Africa, Nigeria, United Kingdom, Portugal, Gabon, China, Colombia, Lebanon, Germany, Brazil, Japan and the Philippines.

Also delivering a statement was the Acting Head of the European Union Delegation to the United Nations.

The meeting began at 10:30 a.m. and ended at 1:30 p.m.
The full press release can be read at: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs//2011/sc10179.doc.htm

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