I thank the President of the Council for convening today’s debate; the Secretary-General for his report; and Special Representative Haq for today’s briefing, and for her tireless work towards a cause very dear to the hearts of New Zealanders.
I also extend a warm welcome to the Timorese delegation led by President Ramos-Horta, a good friend to my country and a dedicated servant to his people over many decades in their quest for independence, peace and prosperity.
The Secretary-General’s latest report paints a positive picture of developments. The security situation remains generally calm. Further progress has been made in strengthening core national institutions and in consolidating a political culture based on dialogue and respect for constitutional norms. And the people of Timor-Leste are starting to reap the benefits of stability in terms of sustained growth, laying the foundations for a more prosperous future.
Past experience suggests a need for caution; and this year’s national elections provide a critical test of the extent to which recent achievements are robust and sustainable. But all signs suggest that Timor-Leste is ready to meet these challenges, and to step decisively forward from a decade of conflict and fragility into one of peace, development, and growing self-reliance.
Three key issues demand our particular attention in the year ahead.
First, facilitating stable, fair and credible elections must be our top priority; and in this regard we seem on track. New Zealand is committed to supporting these efforts. We were pleased to host Timorese electoral officials to observe the results of our own electoral process in November; and we are now consulting international partners on the appropriate framework for providing observers to the upcoming elections in Timor-Leste.
Secondly, we must make good use of the time remaining to the Mission to consolidate gains made across its mandate, and to prepare the ground for the transfer of residual tasks and responsibilities to national and international partners.
Progress has been made since 2006 in strengthening and professionalising security institutions, justice and corrections capacities and core governance and accountability mechanisms. But more work is required in key areas, including to further strengthen the operational capacities of the Timorese police (the PNTL). Support for the Government is likely to be required in these sectors long after UNMIT’s departure. In this regard, New Zealand looks forward to working closely with Timor-Leste to strengthen community policing, so that police and communities can work together to create safe and secure communities.
Similarly, consolidating a moderate and inclusive political culture and achieving open and transparent democratic governance takes many years; while tackling poverty, generating employment and achieving sustainable and inclusive growth are inter-generational challenges.
Moreover, the Government and people of Timor-Leste are still grappling with how best to resolve outstanding issues and allegations arising from the crises of 1999 and 2006. New Zealand understands the complexities involved in this, and supports ongoing efforts by the Timorese to work through the issues involved.
We hope further progress will be possible in all these areas during the time remaining to the Mission; but we are conscious that upcoming elections, and the demands of the transition process, may constrain what is possible in this regard. Careful planning to transfer key aspects of this “unfinished business” to national and international partners is therefore all the more important.
As a long-term bilateral partner, New Zealand is committed to playing its part. We hope soon to finalise, in partnership with the Timorese Government and in line with the national priorities set out in its National Strategic Development Plan, a Strategic Framework for Development to guide our bilateral aid programme over the next four years and to establish a shared vision for achieving long-term development outcomes. This contemplates assistance in three priority areas: strengthening the security and justice sectors; facilitating private sector investment; and providing education and training.
Thirdly, we must ensure careful coordination during the transition process amongst all relevant stakeholders. The drawdown of a large, multifaceted Mission like UNMIT is a complex business; and we have been impressed with the meticulous planning, the tireless effort, and the spirit of partnership with which the Mission and the Timorese Government have approached this task, drawing on the comprehensive blueprint mutually agreed in the Joint Transition Plan. We expect there are positive lessons that can be drawn from this experience of relevance to transition challenges in other missions.
In the next phase of its implementation, engagement with other international partners will be crucial; and we urge close coordination between the UN, the Government of Timor-Leste, and bilateral and multilateral donors. This morning’s Member States Consultation was an important step in this regard; and we look forward to intensifying this dialogue in the months ahead in order to reconcile assistance needs arising from the transition with existing bilateral programmes and priorities agreed with the Timorese Government.
If events over the coming months proceed as we hope and expect, this should be the last time we meet to renew UNMIT’s mandate. We appear on track for the Mission’s smooth drawdown and withdrawal by the end of 2012. At the same time, the Mission must retain sufficient flexibility to respond to unexpected challenges or developments.
New Zealand therefore supports the Secretary-General’s recommendation to extend UNMIT’s mandate for a further nine months, and for the drawdown of its civilian and uniformed personnel. It is essential that this drawdown is carefully managed and phased, and proceeds in line with security conditions on the ground.
Attention is also naturally turning to what will replace UNMIT if, as expected, it completes its withdrawal by years’ end. It is important that decisions on the model for a post-UNMIT UN presence are determined in line with identified needs on the ground and with national priorities for assistance; and it is ultimately for the Government that emerges from Timor-Leste’s elections later this year to articulate these.
In the meantime, there is more work to be done to assess likely needs and to clarify the nature and relative merits of the various options available, in order to facilitate a timely and informed decision by the Timorese Government post-elections. The findings of the recent UN needs assessment mission should provide a useful basis in this regard. We must also draw on lessons learned from other transitions.
Indentifying a suitable framework for facilitating continued international engagement and effective coordination will be crucial, whether it be through continued Security Council oversight, the leadership of a UN Political Mission, or a UNDP Resident Coordinator. New Zealand’s sense at this stage is that the latter option risks Timor-Leste’s needs and interests being subsumed in an extremely crowded international agenda.
In terms of effectiveness on the ground, it is essential the model chosen be a genuinely “One UN” presence this is configured to effectively deliver “as one”. This requires a mix of skills and capacities appropriate to Timor-Leste’s specific political, security and developmental priorities and needs.
2012 is shaping up as an historic year for this proud young country. Successful elections and the smooth withdrawal of UNMIT would a suitable way for it to mark its 10th year of independence, and to cap what has been a decade of remarkable progress since its birth.
New Zealand pays tribute to the tireless effort and commitment of UN personnel over the past decade; to the steadfast support of Timor-Leste’s many friends and partners in the international community; and, above all, to the vision, courage, and determination of the Government and people of Timor-Leste; all of which together has made this possible.
New Zealand is proud to have played its own part in these efforts; and remains a committed partner and loyal friend to Timor-Leste as it steps forward with confidence and hope towards a brighter future.