Mr. McLay (New Zealand): In September 1999, Asia-Pacific leaders gathered in Auckland, New Zealand, for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit. Less than two weeks earlier, the people of Timor-Leste had overwhelmingly chosen independence in a United Nations-supervised popular referendum, following which the territory was plunged into violent chaos. As the death toll mounted, APEC leaders discussed options for ending the violence, and, on 13 September, they agreed urgently to deploy an international peacekeeping force to stabilize the situation. So began a process that, three years later, saw Timor-Leste’s emergence as an independent country. With this nation’s birth playing out so dramatically on my own country’s soil, so also began New Zealand’s partnership with the Timorese people. New Zealand participated in the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET), which was dispatched to Timor-Leste following that APEC Summit. We have played a significant role in every international force in the country since then, including, most recently, the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste.
Since 1999, more than 6,000 New Zealand military personnel have served there. Indeed, at INTERFET’s peak in 2001, approximately half of New Zealand’s land forces were involved in some way in servicing that deployment. That was in addition to the hundreds of police and civilian personnel from our diplomatic, overseas development, customs, corrections and other agencies who, over the past decade or so, have also contributed towards building this young country. In short, New Zealand was proud to be one of the first countries to commit to supporting the post referendum transition to independence. Since then, we have been privileged to walk with the Timorese people on their journey out of conflict and fragility. We have gained a lot from that engagement ourselves. It has taught us about the nature and demands of complex peace operations and of post-conflict peacebuilding, not least in our own region. Opportunities to live, work and serve in Timor-Leste have enriched the lives of many of our people.
Firm bonds have been forged between our peoples. I will give just one example, which is all the more touching as it is an example of triumph transcending tragedy. The parents of a New Zealand soldier killed in Timor-Leste in 2000 established, in his honour, a charity to educate Timorese children — a charity that has changed more than 40 lives in just one village. Timor-Leste and its partners have encountered setbacks in this journey. But today we have the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate its many achievements. Great strides have been made since 1999 in healing the wounds of the independence struggle. Former combatants have been demobilized and reintegrated. Displaced populations have returned, and communities reconciled. Core Government institutions and conventions of democratic governance have been steadily built and consolidated. We also commend all of Timor-Leste’s neighbours, most particularly Indonesia, for the readiness with which they have welcomed it into their regional community.
In 10 short years, we have seen Timor-Leste move from being conflict-ravaged to itself being a contributor to United Nations peace operations. We have watched as it has provided inspiration and voice for fragile States seeking more focused and accountable international assistance.
The orderly conduct of this year’s elections was a tribute to Timor-Leste’s political maturity. It stands as a testament to what post-conflict countries can achieve through vision, leadership and determination. New Zealand is one of many countries that supported those efforts, most recently by sending election observers. Over the past four years, Timor-Leste has also enjoyed impressive levels of economic growth, which, together with careful stewardship of oil and gas revenues, has enabled progress in tackling poverty and laying foundations for a for a more prosperous future. Remarkable progress has been made in confronting other challenges, such as domestic violence and women’s political empowerment.
Overall, today Timor-Leste is more stable, more peaceful and more prosperous and its future appears brighter than at any other time in its history. Timor- Leste can take pride in those achievements. Its friends can also take pride and, indeed, the Council should take pride, in what has been achieved under its mandate. As of 1 November, leadership and responsibility for Timor-Leste’s security is now in the hands of Timorese national police, supported by the nation’s defence force. Given that both the United Nations police and the International Stabilisation Force have ceased their residual security roles, and that the reconstitution of the Polícia Nacional de Timor-Leste has now been fully certified, with UNMIT scheduled to withdraw by the end of the year, Timor-Leste will enter a new phase, including in terms of its relationship with the international community.
As the Secretary-General noted in his report (S/2012/765), the process will entail many daunting challenges. Access to health and education services must be enhanced. Greater inroads are needed to counter malnutrition, and the benefits of development must be felt beyond Dili. Above all, jobs are urgently needed for Timor-Leste’s young and rapidly growing population, which will require support for an emerging vibrant sector in the non-oil economy. Recent gains in the areas of security and democratic governance must also be consolidated and extended. And further progress is needed so that all of the gains are anchored in strong and wise leadership, as well as in effective, resilient and sustainable institutions. Particular priority is needed to strengthen core institutions of the security and justice sectors, and among those responsible for Government oversight and accountability.
The challenges are common to many countries and we believe that Timor-Leste has the vision and the determination to meet them successfully. In all of those endeavours, it will have the support of its many loyal friends, and New Zealand is just one of the friends. We will remain a reliable partner to Timor-Leste as it writes the next chapter in its history, through our $22 million bilateral development assistance programme. Over the next three years we will contribute to the construction of a stable, democratic and prosperous country by fostering private sector investment, strengthening the security and justice sectors, including through our recently launched bilateral community policing programme, and by supporting education and training.
Support from the United Nations system will also be vital. The new Timorese Government has articulated what it regards as the most appropriate form, scope and focus for its post-UNMIT relationship with the United Nations. We support efforts by both sides to develop the modalities for that more fully nuanced relationship. Finally, in what we expect to be the last meeting of the Council on the situation in Timor-Leste, I pay tribute to the United Nations personnel, from the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General on down, and to the men and women from many nations who have worked over the past 13 years to provide Timor-Leste with a more peaceful and prosperous future.
Above all, I pay tribute to the courage and determination of the people of Timor-Leste itself, which has carried that young country such an extraordinary distance since the dark and dramatic days of 1999. We truly wish the Minister’s country well. We wish it well as it begins the next phase of its remarkable journey. I assure the people of Timor-Leste that we will walk with them on that journey.