Global Policy Forum

East Timor


(Timor Leste)


Photo Credit: Halldin

In 1975 Indonesia invaded East Timor when the former Portuguese colony declared independence. The UN never recognized East Timor as being under Indonesian sovereignty. The UN Security Council established a UN Mission in East Timor (UNTAET) in 1999 to oversee a referendum in which the East Timorese voted for independence. The ballot was followed by violence perpetrated by pro-Indonesia militias. UNTAET acted as a transitional administration while the fragile nation rebuilt. East Timor achieved full independence on May 20, 2002, becoming the first new country of the 21st century. UNTAET was subsequently replaced by a UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) in 2002, and transformed into a scaled down UNOTIL in 2005.

While initially viewed as a success for UN peacekeeping and nation-building, a dispute within the new country's military in May 2006 led to violent clashes between the army and disaffected soldiers. The violence soon spread throughout the country, igniting latent hostilities between the various ethnic communities in East Timor. Following the government's appeal for international assistance, Australia, Malaysia, Portugal and New Zealand sent troops to attempt to restore order. Further violence erupted in East Timor following the attempted assassination of both President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao in February 2008. As a result, the Australian government sent 140 troops to the country to bolster the UN peacekeeping presence.

These pages look at the process of governance of East Timor, with commentary on the role played by the UN and its interaction with the interim East Timorese Cabinet, followed by the first election in August 2001 and what role the UN has played in building the new nation.

UN Documents | Reports | Articles

UN Documents


Security Council Resolution 1802 on Timor-Leste (February 25, 2008)

The Security Council has extended the mandate of the UN Mission in East Timor (UNMIT) by twelve months. The extension follows disturbances in the country after the attempted assassinations of the President and Prime Minister in February 2008, by a group loyal to rebel leader Alfredo Reinado. The mandate allows UNMIT to strengthen democratic institutions and support the police in providing a safe environment for Timorese citizens.

Strengthening Accountability and Transparency in Timor-Leste (January 2006)

The UN has presented new East Timorese Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta with this report aimed at strengthening government and the rule of law in the divided country. The report, drawn up by experts from the UN, UN Development Agency, the World Bank and the government of Finland, makes recommendations on fighting corruption, developing a code of ethics for public officials and on ensuring transparency in government. The UN hopes the implementation of the report will restore confidence in the government as East Timor attempts to recover from weeks of violence. (World Bank and UN Development Programme)

Report of the Secretary General on the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (October 6, 2003)

This report provides updates of political developments and highlights the progress of UN assistance programs in legal and judicial capacities and law enforcement.

Security Council Resolution 1410 (May 17, 2002)

The UN Security Council voted on a resolution to establish the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), which will succeed the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). The mission will provide assistance to the new administration and help secure the viability and political stability of East Timor.

Report of the Secretary-General on the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (October 18, 2001)

The report describes developments in East Timor since July 24, 2001 and outlines the plans for an international presence in East Timor following independence.

Interim Report of the Secretary General on the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (May 2, 2001)

In this report, the Secretary General indicates progress has been made, but says a lot remains to be done to prepare the country for independence.



Timor-Leste: Reconciliation and Return from Indonesia (April 18, 2011)

Timor Leste is facing a challenge to integrate thousands of refugees who fled the country in the late 1990’s. Additionally, the lack of cooperation between Indonesia and Timor Leste has stalled justice for the victims of the conflict. Both these issues need to be settled to stabilize the post-conflict region.  This International Crisis Group report focuses on the challenges facing East Timor and provides a set of recommendations on moving forward. (International Crisis Group)

East Timor in Transition: From Conflict Prevention to State-Building (May 2001)

IPA report by Simon Chesterman analyzes "state building" and UN transitional administrations from West Papua to present. The report looks in detail at East Timor's vote for independence and the ensuing issues in creating a new East Timor.

Crimes Against Humanity in East Timor, January to October 1999: Their Nature and Causes (February 14, 2001)

Here is the Dunn Report, investigating crimes having taken place during the independence ballots.




World Bank Faults Itself for East Timor's Struggles (April 23, 2011)

The World Bank’s internal auditors have released a scathing report blasting the bank’s performance over the past decade in East Timor. The report critiques the bank for its unsatisfactory support of education and its strict adherence to procurement rules, which stalled the construction of health clinics that were badly needed. World Bank officials acknowledge that some polices were ill-advised. (New York Times)

Security Handover on Track, Says UN (April 12, 2011)

According to the UN, the peacekeeping troops in Timor Leste will be leaving the country following the May 2012 elections. Observers are concerned about the economic implications of the mission’s departure because the UN mission pays a large sum in annual salaries and greatly contributes to the annual spending.  However, the Timorese government believes that their petroleum wealth will be enough to make up for the lost support. (IRIN)

Timor-Leste: Chronic Malnutrition Among World's Highest (February 25, 2011)

Afghanistan, Yemen and Timor-Leste have the highest rates of chronically malnourished children in the world. Meat, eggs and dairy products are unaffordable for families in Timor-Leste. Governments in these areas are weak and often cannot cope with food and hunger shortfalls, whilst conflict restricts aid efforts. According to the World Health organization, premature death, physical and mental disability can result from poor nutrition. (IRIN)


Timor-Leste: Time for the UN to Step Back (December 15, 2010)

This Briefing Report calls on the UN to reduce its policing Mission in Timor-Leste since security has improved. The country's political leaders are the better placed to address instability than the international police force. Whilst there is much progress to be made, the UN mission's role has been rejected by the Timor-Leste government. The UN should acknowledge the "futility" of its reform efforts "in the face of government disinterest."(International Crisis Group)


E Timor's Wealth: Blessing Or Curse? (September 24, 2008)

In spite of the US$3 billion that East Timor accumulated from its oil and gas incomes, the country suffers from an unstable economy, corruption and a lack of transparency. The government does not adequately invest the natural resource revenues in education or infrastructure but subsidizes rice and fuel prices instead, leaving its citizens poor. (BBC)

Security Council Reaffirms Need for Sustained International Presence in Timor Leste (August 19, 2008)

The attempted assassination of President Jose Ramos-Horta in February 2008 underlined the need for stronger security in Timor-Leste. Atul Khare, the UN Special Representative for Timor-Leste, urges the Security Council to strengthen its support for the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), which he claims has played a vital role in training the Timorese national police. The Security Council argues that UNMIT must lead efforts to reform the Timorese legal and security sectors to combat impunity and protect people displaced by conflict. (ReliefWeb)

Australian Troops Rush to East Timor (February 12, 2008)

Australian troops have reinforced the UN mission of support to East Timor (UNMISET) following assassination attempts on President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao. The attacks prompted fears of new waves of violence, which has plagued the country, since its independence in 2002. The Security Council urged the government of Timor-Leste to bring those responsible for the "heinous act" to justice. (International Herald Tribune)



Ending Visit to Timor-Leste, Security Council Team Pledges Ongoing UN Support (November 30, 2007)

A Security Council team, after a visit to Timor Leste, said that although the country has improved, it still needs international assistantance in development, to prevent it from falling back into chaos. The Council's team also met with local authorities, political representatives, UN officials, police officers, civil society members and local representatives in order to collect public opinion over the UN peacekeepers in the country, UNMIT. (UN News)

UN Condemns E. Timor Violence (August 8, 2007)

No party earned enough parliament seats to win the June 2007 Timorese elections. So, in accordance with East Timor's constitution, President Jose Ramos-Horta named Xanana Gusmao, of the CNRT party, as the new Prime Minister. Soon after, supporters of the dominant Fretilin party rioted in Dili, Baucau and Viqueque. Senior UN official Atul Khare called for Fretilin's leaders to denounce their supporters violence and to encourage them to accept Ramos-Horta's decision. (Agence France Presse)

Security Council Commends East Timor for Peaceful Elections, but Expresses Concern over Insecurity (May 23, 2007)

Following elections in April and May, Jose Ramos-Horta has been sworn in as president. The Security Council called on the East Timorese government to confront political and social challenges including poverty in the country following violence after the election. The Council handed over peacekeeping and administration of the territory to the Timorese in 2002. The country will hold its parliamentary elections at the end of June and the UN Mission in East Timor is to aid in the electoral process. (The Associated Press).

Timor Leste Security Situation Remains "Volatile" Warns Secretary General (February 5, 2007)

Amidst continued low-level violence in Timor Leste, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon hopes to extend the UN Integrated Mission in Timor Leste (UNMIT) for 12 months to show the Security Council's continued commitment to the region. Further, Ban stresses that Timorese authorities need an increased role in maintaining security and he also calls for more humanitarian assistance from international donors. (UN News)


UN Commission of Inquiry Issues Report on Violent Crisis that Shook Timor-Leste (October 17, 2006)

The UN Independent Special Commission of Inquiry for Timor Leste, in a report released in October 2006, condemns the former Timorese prime minister and other former officials for failing to denounce the transfer of security sector weapons to civilians, despite being informed of these illegal activities. In its recommendations, the Commission calls for further investigations to determine the criminal responsibilities of Timor-Leste officials with respect to weapons offences. The creation of the Commission followed the violence that occurred in April and May 2006 in the Southeast Asian country. (UN News)

A Job from Hell: Timor-Leste's Prime Minister (August 3, 2006)

This openDemocracy article describes the difficult balancing act East Timorese Prime Minister José Ramos Horta must perform. The same forces that led to the resignation of former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri remain organized and well armed, undermining efforts at returning East Timor to stability. Alkatiri himself still possesses huge influence through his leadership of the Fretilin party. The author argues that in the aftermath of the turmoil that gripped East Timor in May 2006, how Ramos Horta deals with the sensitive party political issues will prove crucial to the future of stability of East Timor.

Profile: Jose Ramos-Horta (July 8, 2006)

East Timor President Xanana Gusmao has named Nobel Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta as the country’s new Prime Minister. Ramos-Horta had been mentioned as a potential successor of Kofi Annan as UN Secretary General but has decided to use his widespread popularity to be a potential unifying figure to end weeks of unrest and violence in East Timor. This BBC profile outlines his campaign for justice and self determination for East Timor during the years of Indonesian rule.

Australia Builds its Empire (June 26, 2006)

John Pilger sees Australia’s hand in the dispute that split the East Timorese army and that threw the country back into turmoil. As Australia continues to exploit East Timor's oil and gas reserves, he highlights the significance of a leaked Australian Defence Force document that states that Australia's "first objective" in East Timor is to "seek access" for the Australian military so that it can exercise "influence over East Timor's decision-making". (New Statesman)

Australia - Peacekeeper or Petroleum Predator? (June 22, 2006)

This Inter Press Service article questions Australian humanitarian motivations in its intervention in East Timor, pointing to the huge oil and gas deposits off the coast of East Timor. The author compares the history of East Timorese independence and Australia’s “bully[ing] its poor neighbor into submitting to Canberra's ambitions to control exploration and exploitation of these natural resources.� The Australian strategy of taking from East Timorese oil fields and giving back much less in aid has left the new country economically dependent on its much larger neighbor.

East Timor President Vows to Stay On and Serve (June 23, 2006)

East Timor President Xanana Gusmao withdrew his threat to resign as thousands of supporters joined him in opposing the country's Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, who Gusmao blamed for the turmoil engulfing East Timor. The UN had earlier appealed to Gusmao not to resign, arguing it would lead to further division along ethnic lines. The conflict that erupted following clashes between police and military has precipitated a power struggle between Gusmao, a hero of the guerilla war against Indonesia, and Alkatiri, now under heavy pressure following accusations that he established a personal militia to assassinate his political opponents. (Reuters)

UN Troops to Make East Timor Return (June 14, 2006)

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has told the Security Council that the UN plans to send peacekeepers back to East Timor in the wake of the resurgence of violence there. Joining those who have claimed that the UN left East Timor too early, Annan accused the "international community" of inadequately sustaining Timor-Leste's (East Timor's) nation-building process. He said it was obvious that the UN would need to return, but warned that it could take up to six months to deploy troops. (Aljazeera)

The East Timor Test (June 2, 2006)

This opinion piece argues that the UN response to the crisis in East Timor will test its peace building mettle.For the second time in seven years the United Nations bears a large degree of responsibility for political turmoil and violence in East Timor, argues TomPaine, but the UN still offers the best hope for restoring a stable society there. The author stresses the importance of the third UN intervention in seven years learning from the mistakes of the past two missions, arguing that the UN must use East Timor's indigenous resources for peacekeeping and stay the course.

Refugees Tell of East Timor's Torment (May 28, 2006)

This BBC report describes the conditions in Dili as the violent clashes between the army and groups of former soldiers have sparked widespread turmoil throughout the city. Tens of thousands have fled their homes and moved to makeshift emergency camps to escape the bitter ethnic and community rivalries that have exploded into bloodshed in the past 3 days. While peacekeepers arrive to restore relative calm, East Timor faces a huge challenge in resolving the regional grievances that threaten its very future.

UN Urges End to East Timor Violence (May 25, 2006)

The Security Council has welcomed international offers of security assistance to East Timor after receiving from the East Timorese government an urgent request for help in quelling the growing violence in the country. Following clashes between government forces and rebel troops, the government's appeal for assistance stated that its own army was unable to cope with the situation. The Security Council promised to continue to monitor the situation as Australia and Portugal prepare to send troops. (Australian Broadcasting Service)


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