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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of International Organization Affairs > Reports to Congress, U.S. Votes, Fact Sheets, Testimony > Other Remarks > 2002

UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET)

Richard S. Williamson, U.S. Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs
Statement in the UN Security Council Open Meeting
New York, New York
November 14, 2002

Released by the U.S. Mission to the United Nations

We appreciate the progress achieved in the first six months of UNMISET's mandate, and the good work done by Ambassador Sharma and his staff. We welcome Ambassador Sharma's assessment that the mission phase-out remains on target for June 2004. Over the next 18 months, we hope the relationship between Timor-Leste and Indonesia will continue to flourish. We encourage both sides to continue their cooperation to delineate their mutual border by June next year.

The United States agrees with the Secretary-General's report (S/2002/1223) that "the functioning of Timor-Leste's justice system is of central importance for the stability and development of the State." Therefore we are concerned about the shortcomings of the judicial system highlighted in the report: a lack of clarity regarding the separation of powers among the judiciary, legislative and the executive; that the members of the Superior Council to the Judiciary have not been appointed thereby delaying filling judicial and prosecutorial vacancies, the need for capacity-building for the administrative staff of the minister's office, the need to train prosecutors, and so on. The reports that "the majority of the prison population are being held for prolonged periods without trial" and that in an August 16 prison disturbance "nearly 193 prisoners forced their way out of prison" also are troubling. We expect the government of Timor-Leste, working with UNMISET, to seriously tackle these areas of concern in the judicial sector.

We note that the downsizing of the military component is on track. The United States is pleased that the UN is committed to terminating the mission in the summer of 2004, provided no significant challenges occur. Indonesia no longer presents a significant threat to Timor-Leste. There have been no recent UN military engagements with the "militia" or even sightings of them in Timor-Leste. The United Nations has demonstrated its ability to adapt UNMISET's downsizing plan to an unforeseen delay in the normalization of the border with West Timor. The evolving situation in Timor-Leste (continued reduction of the militia threat, but delays with border normalization) highlights the need for constant review and reassessment of UN downsizing plans for UNMISET. The UN's reassessment of the changing situation in Timor-Leste can be a model for the UN to follow with the UN Mission in Sierra Leone. In the case of UNMISET, the UN's reassessment found a solution that permitted a continuation of its original, projected downsizing rate; whereas, if additional challenges were present, the UN might have been forced to recommend a decrease in the rate of withdrawals, and perhaps extend the projected mission termination date. The United States commends UNMISET and the government of Timor-Leste for their agility and for this progress.

The Security Council is united in its commitment to a Timor-Leste with both political independence and the infrastructure of a stable, just and efficiently governed state. The progress has been remarkable. While, as I have noted, there is more that needs to be accomplished, overall Timor-Leste is a great success story. And, there are lessons to be learned from this progress.

Therefore, six months into UNMISET, we think it is constructive to reflect on the factors behind the good news we have heard today. Why have the UN's efforts in Timor been a success? A number of reasons come to mind:

First and foremost, the brave people of Timor-Leste deserve credit for their commitment, dedication and hard work in achieving independence, letting democracy take root, and building institutions and the economy necessary for a better future for themselves and their children. The leaders of Timor-Leste should also be acknowledged for their good work. Any sustainable progress must be constructed on the hopes of the people coupled to their dedication to translate those hopes into reality.

Second, there was overwhelming consensus support in the international community -- and among the Timorese -- for the initial intervention, and the UN's assumption of administrative powers.

Third, both peacekeeping missions, UNTAET and UNMISET, have had a clear endgame. For UNTAET, it was political independence. For UNMISET, it has been to provide the training wheels to help the Timorese build their own functioning administration, civil services, police, and security force.

Fourth, after the initial intervention, there were no major armed groups for the peacekeepers to disarm.

Fifth, the peacekeeping force was highly professional and operated under robust rules of engagement. There was no prospect of blue helmets becoming human shields.

Sixth, the relatively small size of Timor-Leste, with a population of under a million and a land border with only one neighbor made the logistics of establishing security and administration more manageable. Compare this to a vast country like Afghanistan, with its 20 million people, and the point becomes clearer.

Seventh, the local population has always had a strong, cohesive sense of national identity -- less riven by ethnic and religious strife than elsewhere.

Eighth, the lack of lust for revenge and reprisal among the Timorese has enabled a smooth return and reintegration of the vast majority of refugees who fled the violence of 1999.

While the combination of these circumstances may be unique, collectively they set a standard of success that future UN operations should seek to follow. Over the next 18 months, we look forward to UNMISET continuing to be a success -- a success with lessons upon which we should draw. And, most importantly, a success that will bring a better life to the people of Timor-Leste.

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