Yeo first visited Timor Leste as a congressional staffer in the early 2000s, when violence gripped the country. He recalls meeting a UNHCR worker Carlos Caceres who was subsequently murdered on the job. Since then, Timor Leste has come a very long way. It is now a country that no longer needs UN peacekeepers to ensure security. The peacekeeping mission formally ends on December 31st, marking a huge turning point in the once violence-plagued country.
The UN peacekeeping mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT)—the remaining UN peacekeeping mission in East Asia—will leave behind a fully self-sufficient Timorese national police force. UNMIT has strengthened Timorese police by helping to recruit, vet and train police officers; support relationships between the police and judiciary; and promote human rights and address gender-based violence.
And Timor-Leste and Indonesia have built a new relationship, as Indonesia has waged its own efforts to end government corruption and elect accountable leaders.
To be sure, the Timorese journey has not been without its road-bumps and lessons learned. From the onset, members of the Security Council underestimated the potential for violence surrounding the referendum and failed to dispatch Peacekeepers to protect civilians. Additionally, a 2005 effort to phase-down the UN presence was premature, and when paired with an under-developed security sector, violence between the police and military ensued. Instability continued, including a later assassination attempt on Timor-Leste’s President.
However, with a subsequently steady investment from UN peacekeeping troops, the UN-Timor-Leste partnership has made a meaningful, long-lasting impact on the country and the region. In fact, Timor-Leste is now giving back to the international community that has enabled its peace by contributing its own troops to UN peacekeeping missions in Lebanon and South Sudan. Its presence is small, but it is a beginning.
As we look back on 2012’s deadly global turmoil in places like Syria, and towards growing conflicts like Mali, Timor-Leste is this year’s sleeper success story. The nation’s path to recovery – including a steady investment from the UN – has been no question a long one. Yet it reveals a model that has saved lives, enabled an operational democracy, and created huge potential for economic growth. I hope and believe that Carlos Caceres would have been proud.
Read the rest in The Hill. It is a good story, though somewhat overlooked here in the west.