Self-determination in East Timor: The United Nations, the Ballot, and International Intervention
This unique inside account traces events in East Timor from the negotiations that led to the May 1999 agreements among Indonesia, Portugal, and the United Nations to the mandating of international intervention to check the violence that wracked the country following the elections. Ian Martin, the UN Secretary-General's special representative in East Timor at the time, describes how political change in Indonesia, coupled with the UN's good offices and pressures from Australia and elsewhere, led President Habibie to offer the East Timorese a choice between autonomy within Indonesia and full independence. His discussion of what followed - the activities of the UN mission (UNAMET) established to implement the election, in the face of violent efforts to coerce the East Timorese to reject independence; the election itself, with a historic 98.6% turnout and a 78.5% vote for independence; and the ensuing killing, destruction, and forced displacement - includes an analysis of the intense negotiations that led to the Indonesian government's reluctant acceptance of intervention. With the benefit of his first-hand experience, Martin considers whether the UN was wise to proceed as it did despit
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Book review by Mauricio Forero:
Good governance is indeed democracy and this is expected from the process of elections like the one described herein. This book is a testimony of the efforts of the United Nations in East Timor. The author focused to describe the work of the UN assistance mission for East Timor UNAMET, its central goal of carrying out a popular consultation with the international intervention that was necessary to control the continued and vicious climate of violence.
The self-determination of East Timor did great credit to the United Nations as an institution, affirmed Ian Martin. However, this author made critical observations to the work of the organization in deploying personnel to the field. In this regard, he recommends the application of the Brahimi report that demands coordination among the different departments in the Secretariat. In the case of East Timor, tensions between DPA and DPKO did not encourage a joint planning process in the latter phases of the administration. Furthermore, the support to UNAMET in the aftermath of the ballot came too late. Martin who was head of UNAMET did not hesitate to denounce in his book the lack of coherence and the lack of planning of the organization in considering eventual outcomes.
Although, UNAMET made a relevant contribution in evacuating its local staff, sheltering some internal displaced persons for a short period of time and retained a small presence in Dili until INTERFET troops arrived. The risk of a greater massive slaughter was enormous; therefore, Martin urged that the Security Council should be prepared to authorize a rapid intervention to protect civilians and UN personnel.
The author also compares the rapid deployment of INTERFET with the delayed deployment in the case of Kosovo. This situation may have compelled the Security Council to act more expeditiously in East Timor. In the diplomatic aspect, the coordinated support of the essential member states was crucial to the success of the UN operation. The core group integrated by Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States acted both individually and jointly to support the work of the organization and to press Indonesia on its responsibility to guarantee security.
In sum, this is a good book to understand the work of a UN mission on the field. And I as a practitioner with firsthand experience in missions in Central America, Colombia and Haiti would endorse the author’s views. Ian Martin is a senior official involved with the work of the organization for many years. Although he relinquished to offer a perspective about the future of East Timor as an independent country, the United Nations and the international community continued its presence in East Timor after UNAMET with INTERFET and the component of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).