Sunday 22 Jul 2018 | 07:20 | SYDNEY
Sunday 22 Jul 2018 | 07:20 | SYDNEY

Peacebuilding and Timor-Leste

30 January 2009 09:02

Jim Della-Giacoma is an Associate Director at the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum at the Social Science Research Council in New York City. This post builds on an earlier one about the UN's exit strategy from Timor-Leste.

The UN's Peacebuilding Commission (PBC)  has often been referred to as one foundation stone of the 'peacebuilding architecture'. The PBC was one concrete outcome of the 2004 Report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which included Australia’s Gareth Evans, and was also known as 'A more secure world: Our shared responsibility'. The PBC is backstopped by the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO), which acts as something like a secretariat for the USD$318 million Peacebuilding Fund (PBF), the third member of the trinity. In peace consolidation theory, peacebuilding is designed to follow in sequence behind peacemaking and peacekeeping.

The PBC describes itself as an intergovernmental advisory body of the United Nations that supports peace efforts in countries emerging from conflict by (1) bringing together relevant actors, including international donors, international financial institutions, national governments and troop contributing countries; (2) marshalling resources; and (3) advising on and proposing integrated strategies for post-conflict peacebuilding and recovery and, where appropriate, highlighting any gaps that threaten to undermine peace.

Some UN member states, such as Japan, the fifth largest contributor to the PBF, have been looking to find a role for the PBC outside Africa, and Timor-Leste has often been cited as country for Asian engagement. Last October, a senior representative of the PBSO undertook a mission at the request of the Timor-Leste Foreign Minister to explore this possibility.

But a quick analysis shows the weakness of the case for engaging the PBC in Timor-Leste, which is self-evident to all in Dili. First, there is already more than enough coordination for a small country. The Government convenes an annual Development Partners Meeting, has a Status of Forces Agreement with Australia and a Trilateral Coordination Forum arrangement among itself, the ADF, and UNMIT. Furthermore, it has a National Development Strategy and the IV Constitutional Government Program.

Second, with its USD $680m budget  and Petroleum Fund of more than US$3.73 billion, the PBF’s small grants are like offering baby carrots to a carnivore. Finally, many feel that a ponderous New York-based advisory process is the last thing Timor-Leste, increasingly confident and often frustrated with its donors, needs or wants.

If the PBC is not an option, then what kind of initiative comes next for the UN in Timor-Leste in between the 'emergency' and a return to 'normal'? After all, Timor-Leste itself has asked for a 'robust' peacekeeping operation at least until the next election in 2012. At that point, the UN country team should be in the lead, with its signed Development Assistance Framework (2009-2013).

The UN Secretary-General will report on his vision for the ongoing peace operation in Timor-Leste in coming weeks as the Security Council considers an extension of UNMIT’s mandate, which expires on 26 February. At an annual cost of about US$18o million, UNMIT is getting small enough to have its mandate extended without rancorous debate (back in 2002, the cost of UNTAET was one reason given for ending the transition quickly).

But by side-stepping the PBC, Timor-Leste might be unwittingly raising questions about the relevance of the peacebuilding architecture and the role of UN bodies such as the PBC. Is peacebuilding only about access to money, just another word for development, or about filling a much needed gap in the international toolbox that cannot be filled by either DPKO or UNDP?