“Our Leader Xanana Gusmao showed audacity and strategic brilliance in challenging our giant neighbour’s claims. It was a David vs Goliath battle of wills. Xanana did not blink, he was fully persuaded in his heart and mind that he owed it to the nation to resolve this unjust situation.”
“I bow to Xanana. I also bow to Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a refined banker turned successful Prime Minister, and the formidable Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and to the Australian people. As an undisputed regional power Australia could have simply ignored our legal challenge. But Australian leaders succumbed not to pressure but to their own conscience, to do the right thing, to be fair to the poorer and weaker in the relationship.”
I thank Minister Dionisio Babo for inviting me to share with Your Excellencies some words on the topic of Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution. Warmest congratulations are extended to the Minister and his very able staff in particular Amb Jorge Camões for hosting this timely seminar. I thank the co-hosts Amb Sahat Sitorus of Indonesia, Amb Vicky Pool of New Zealand, and Amb Kathleen Fitzpatrick of USA.
Speaking here soon after the elections in Indonesia, I wish to warmly congratulate Pak Joko Widodo, Jokowi, for his resounding reelection as President of Indonesia. Holding elections in the sprawling archipelago of thousands of islands spread over several time zones without incidents or irregularities was an impressive feat. Congratulations are due to the electoral officials, political leaders and the people in general for what we can describe as a very well organised, transparent and peaceful election.
No less impressive were the elections in India where 900 million voters cast their vote over several weeks and so far without significant anomalies. Congratulations are due to the leaders and people of this great ancient civilisation.
We should celebrate how the two largest Asian democracies have affirmed the vitality and legitimacy of democracy at a time when elsewhere in the world it is questioned and under assault.
In this vast region of the world containing half of humanity, economic dynamo of the world, democracy is alive and well though imperfect.
In TL we had scheduled general elections in 2017 and early elections in 2018, both held with utmost transparency and tranquility. Victors and losers bowed to the election result. I will elaborate more on TL further down.
Not all are good news in our region. The multiple terrorist attacks against Christian Churches and hotels in Sri Lanka are not isolated incidents of violent extremism in Asia. Threats and attacks against ethnic and religious minorities are too frequent across Asia, Southeast Asia included. These are often fuelled via Social Media by irresponsible religious and political actors or fringe groups, inflaming passions, anger and violence.
A news report in the NYT reads:
Sri Lanka blocked several social media networks in the wake of terrorist attacks on Sunday, including Facebook and the messaging service WhatsApp. The extraordinary step reflects growing global concern, particularly among governments, about the capacity of American-owned networks to spin up violence.
Before the era of digital social media, irresponsible political, community and religious leaders made use of the most basic but effective tool available – the old Radio – to spread disinformation and outright falsehoods stoking fears and violence. The 1994 Rwanda genocide and similarly the Bosnia genocide are examples of tragedies caused in part by the deliberate misuse of communication tools.
A radio station can easily be shut down at government orders or failing this there are simple extreme measures to silence radios that broadcast messages of hatred and violence. However, it proves far more difficult for governments to adopt laws regulating social media and make overseas owners who profit from them and local users responsible for their actions.
In the age of social media, a conflict can be instantly ignited with the posting of false and incendiary rumours by followers of a particular ethnic or religious group based anywhere, be it in the US or Canada, UK, Germany, France, or in Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, aiming at instigating tensions and conflict in their own country or in another country.
Facebook and similar communication vehicles are critical enablers of the increased wave of racism and xenophobia as they provide unhindered platforms to demagogues and extremists to recruit, instigate and carry out terrorists attacks.
As much as Alfred Nobel, Einstein and Oppenheimer realised the potential extreme harm their scientific discoveries may cause humanity, one of XXI Century innovation has become a modern society Frankenstein monster.
The existing international and regional mechanisms on conflict prevention and conflict resolution, where they exist, revolve around the traditional causes of conflict, namely, social disparities, unemployment, extreme poverty, perception and resentment over real or perceived discrimination and exclusion, ethnic or tribal based conflicts, conflicts over boundaries and resources, conflicts resulting from regional rivalries, fears and perceptions, etc.
The UN and multilateral institutions like the EU, OSCE, AU, OAS, League of Arab States and ASEAN have ample experience and at times have deployed substantive resources in addressing inter State conflicts. But the range of intra State conflicts and their sensitive nature render attempts at prevention and mediation by regional and extra regional more difficult. Examples of this abound in our own region.
Needless to say the most serious threat facing much of the international community comes from ISIS and its numerous incorporated groups; though the so-called “Caliphate” was destroyed in Iraq and Syria claims that it has been defeated are at best premature.
What global or regional conflict prevention tools are in place to address these security challenges that overwhelm States and the UN?
News reports about the surrender of tens of thousands of ISIS fighters might cause some people to celebrate but I hope that wiser and experienced allied intelligence services, political and military leaders realise that much if not most of these so-called “surrenders” of fighters and their “wives” are definitely orchestrated; facing superior air and ground fire power and complete annihilation, ISIS decided to shift the battle field to refugee camps, alleys, towns, cities in government hands.
The women of ISIS likewise form part of this planned surrender en masse. ISIS may have lost hundreds of battles and a defined territory which it called the “caliphate” but it hasn’t lost the war; it is shifting to a war of attrition, urban warfare and continuing the propaganda war of ideas, of which extremist groups have been very effective, continuing to enlist members across the world.
Needless to say, the international community is facing unprecedented security challenges for which there are no adequate regional or global mechanisms for prevention.
I do not wish to appear to lecture those States with decades of experience in managing complex security challenges.
In my view, bearing in mind the nature of much of today’s security challenges, those on the front line of prevention strategies are the intelligence services of our respective countries and it is increasingly vital the strengthening of regional and global cooperation of intelligence services.
Needless to say intelligence services must be strictly non-partisan and non-politicised at national, regional and global levels; there must not be room for vanity and rivalries that we know have had terrible consequences.
Surely we know that beyond and side by side with this regional and global phenomena of violence that finds expression in transnational terrorism, there are still the old Intra State and Inter State conflicts with different origins and causes. Inequality, extreme poverty, discrimination and exclusion, corruption and abuse of power are some of the common root causes of local and regional conflicts.
In addressing intra State security challenges, the best conflict prevention strategies begin at national leaderships, with a national vision, legislation and policies that are inclusive of all in the society; in multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies special care must be taken not to leave any particular group behind, no particular ethnic, religious or social group should feel excluded. These are the best means of prevention of conflicts.
From the very first mediations, shuttle diplomacy, cease-fires and observer missions of the 60’s to our times, traditional UN Peacekeeping evolved into peace enforcement and robust protection of civilian in armed conflicts; from unarmed the UN and/or regional organisations, authorised by the SC, at times are mandated to use robust force to challenge armed groups, as in Congo and Mali.
The UN Peace and Security Architecture is under severe stress with more than 100,000 armed personnel deployed in 14 Peace-Keeping Missions most of which in Africa. The US$8 billion UN Peace-Keeping budget accounts to less than 0.5% of the world military expenditures and is minute compared against the hundreds of billions of dollars in weapons transactions from Western democracies to authoritarian regimes waging the reckless, merciless Yemen war. The UN is left to to pick up the pieces with shovels; a brave UN Envoy tries in vain to secure a tiny safe area in a bombed out port to ensure that humanitarian supplies reach the tiny port enclave.
Weapons manufacturers continue to profit from the business of death that devastates entire countries, maims and kills millions of innocents, creates deep scars and anger in the young who survive the catastrophe, who will grow angry and thirsty to avenge beloved ones.
2015 was a year of promises, hopes and transformations. We started the year with the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, the Addis Ababa Conference on Financing for Development and closed it with the ground breaking 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement.
While these did not cover peace and security directly, it was clear that a narrative on the emerging global risks and the need to adapt to address them in an integrated manner was emerging across all UN pillars.
In 2014 I was invited by Secretary-General Ban Kie-moon to chair the High Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations (HIPPO), comprising some of the best and brightest in the field…(Well I am referring to my colleagues in the panel, me excluded). We were tasked to review and propose reforms and new thinking in UN Peace Operations fit for XXI Century challenges.
In June 2015, after months of intense listening to stake-holders, Member States, UN Dept and Agencies, UN Envoys, UN Force Commanders serving in the field, regional organisations, academics, civil society advocates, community leaders, and after reading through more than 80 written submissions, we delivered to the Secretary-General our Report entitled: UNITING OUR STRENGTHS FOR PEACE: POLITICS, PARTNERSHIP AND PEOPLE.
The Advisory Group of Experts on the 2015 Review of the United Nations Peacebuilding Architecture also issued its report, calling for shift for the UN’s peacebuilding engagement, towards a new vision of sustaining peace, which echoed many of the HIPPO’s findings. The twin resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council endorsed the concept and paved the way for a renewed engagement on prevention of conflict.
In the course of 40 years, starting as a romantic believer in the promises and possibilities of the United Nations, I was witness to failures and betrayals when realpolitik and narrowly defined national interests paralysed the Organization because the powers that be did not summon the courage to set aside their narrow national interests and pride.
I engaged with UN personnel, junior and senior, in my own country and in remote outposts where dedicated field staff did their very best to serve the people they were deployed to help. But the UN, an organisation of human beings with virtues and flaws, even when individually equipped with exceptional qualifications and wisdom, was not always capable to anticipate, prevent, mediate and end conflicts.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon deployed two of the world’s best diplomats to mediate the Syria war. The late Kofi Annan SG was the first to be entrusted with the Syria “Mission Impossible” but he gave up after only three months into his mandate. He was followed by an extraordinary man, Lakhdar Brahimi from Algeria who had served previously in Afghanistan and Iraq. In spite of his advanced age Brahimi tirelessly attempted to bring about the more than 100 parties and the dozens of regional and extra-regional rival powers to the negotiation table. But on 14th May 2014 in a moving speech Lakhdar the humble and brilliant Statesman apologised to the Syrian people for “his” failure to bring an end to the war.
After the humble Algerian came the Italian Staffan De Mistura who with Latin flavour announced “breakthroughs” almost every month. Of course there were no “breakthroughs” except in De Mistura’s many TV appearances. The Italian folded and left. This is only to illustrate the brutal realities the UN faces any given day.
I had a glimpse of the horrors of the Syria war when as guest of the Jordanian Royal Palace I visited a UNHCR managed refugee camp at the Jordanian-Syria border in October 2016 sheltering close to 100,000 refugees. There I witnessed again part of what the UN does. It looks after the displaced millions, refugees, the wounded, widows and orphans from the wars fuelled by the merchants of death, by those who handsomely profit from every war that ravages humanity.
Over the years past SG’s and the current one launched ground breaking initiatives at reform, improve and perfect doctrines and operational capabilities but too often the UN is undercut by realpolitik, super powers and regional powers relationships.
In the HIPPO report, we stressed:
“Peace processes do not end with a ceasefire, a peace agreement or an election. Such events constitute merely a phase, rather than the conclusion, of a peace process. In fact, they may be times of great vulnerability, when belligerents face the uncertainty of making the transition to peaceful politics and when spoilers mobilize. Yet it is at that time that international stakeholders often turn their attention elsewhere.”
With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and its recognition that there is no sustainable development without peace nor peace without sustainable development, HIPPO and the Sustaining Peace agenda were important pieces of the puzzle to enable the UN to be fit for purpose in contexts where missions transition and different UN footprints may be required.
In early 2016 the Secretary-General noted in his report to the World Humanitarian Summit that the commitment to end and prevent conflict was at the center of his Agenda for Humanity under core responsibility 1.
“Saving Humanity from the scourge of war” – prevention, is among the most fundamental charter obligations. It resides in the raison d’etre of the organization.
Peacekeeping has fundamentally evolved since its first deployment in 1948, from peacekeeping and peace observers to peacebuilding and in some instances, peace enforcement, as well as the experience with transitional administrations in Kosovo and Timor-Leste.
With increasingly complex and multidimensional mandates created by the Security Council, UN peace operations saw themselves with ever more ambitious mandates, including protection of civilians. But they are often spread too thin and lack the capacity to deliver robust mandates when force enforcement is needed.
The Panel that I shared outlined an ambitious agenda for change in peace operations and proposed four essential shifts:
- Primacy of politics – to ensure that peace operations are deployed in support of active diplomatic efforts.
- Spectrum of peace operations – the shift from “template missions” to “right fit” missions, adapted to context. This also resonates with the modularity approach being advanced in the context of the UN Development System reform.
- Global and regional partnership for peace and security – a new era of “partnership peacekeeping” recognizing the role of new actors and new coalitions to deliver peace dividends collectively.
- More field-focused United Nations Secretariat and more people-centred United Nations peace operations.
– Delegations of authority and systems that are designed to improve field effectiveness.
As we move towards implementation of the UN’s peace and security as well as management reforms today, it is clear that the Secretary-General is approaching the three streams of reform, peace and security/ management and development in an integrated manner.
An example of how HIPPO impacted the reforms is the recent creation of the new departments of Peace Operations and the new Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, supported by a new joint structure with a single Assistant Secretary-General responsible for country analysis regardless if it has a special political mission or a peacekeeping operation. This is already helping ensure greater connectivity of analysis and strategy.
With the new Department of Operational Support, support operations have a one stop shop, simplifying the supply chain and increasing effectiveness. The Department of Operational Support has the clear goal of enabling all operational requirements for, whether they be peace operations or Secretariat departments and offices in New York or elsewhere.
Under-Secretary-General Atul Khare recently told a meeting of the C34 delegates in New York covering Peace Operations:
“the reforms are about delivering on three fundamental principles: (1) simplification of policy frameworks, (2) decentralization of decision-making authority to the point of delivery, and — most importantly — (3) enhanced effectiveness, accountability, efficiency and transparency.”
Antonio Guterres is one of the most qualified and field tested Secretary-Generals ever elected to the job. With his habitual eloquence he shares with us his vision of a world at peace based on active international partnership and solidarity.
Antonio Guterres and Donald Trump came into office in the same month, same year, two men with different visions of the world. One presides over a multilateral institution of equals, small and large, poor and rich, of principles and promises but materially impoverished.
The other presides over the mightiest economic and military power in the world, a country with almost inexhaustible human and material resources to do good to the world, every time and whenever it chooses to reach out to build partnerships for the common good of humanity. Examples of this that deeply impressed me were how fast the US deployed massive sea and airborne humanitarian assistance to distance regions of the world devastated by earthquakes, like in Aceh and Pakistan.
The challenge for the materially poorer party in this relationship is how to turn weakness into persuasive strength and win over the other side in this unequal equation.
The European Union, a reliable and steady anchor of multilateralism, is facing unprecedented challenges in multiple fronts. Racism, anti-semitism and fascism are on the rise across Europe. Angela Merkel, Germany’s and Europe’s best leader in decades, is on the way out, a victim of the refugee crisis; the UK is deeply divided and distracted by a colossal mess of its own making; the UK and Europe will come together maybe in a different relationship as common interests far outweigh their differences. President Macron of France is confronted with serious challenges that confirm how social, political and economic reforms indispensable to reinvigorate an economy has always been extremely difficult. But the domestic challenges have not distracted France from its responsibility and commitment to a strong, united Europe and a strong UN.
The UN continues to enjoy steady support and active engagement from all regional major and mid size powers both financially and as Troop and Police contributing countries to UN Peace Operations.
The UN is often sidelined, either on purpose or by unforeseen circumstances, but it remains indispensable. It may not have been able to prevent and resolve man-made catastrophes – Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, Congo, Somalia – but it has saved hundreds of thousands of lives; and it still saving lives in these war torn countries. It is the only refuge and hope for many.
I will end with Timor-Leste. And for clarification purposes, let me say, I am not speaking for the government and do not take credit for the many Peace Dividends our people are enjoying today. However I humbly offer myself as the sacrificial lamb to atone for the sins and failures you may identify, failures committed by ignorance, omission or commission by former and current leaders of the country.
Reconciliation and Peace Dividend
Some present in this room, I refer to our overseas guests, might have had similar experiences to that of almost all Timorese in being on the receiving end of violence, of losing family members or friends and neighbours.
When the sounds of the cannons die out and the bells of peace echo across the town, the next phase begins, requiring courageous, strong, generous, visionary leadership in healing the wounds of the heart and of the soul, the only path to sustaining peace.
Can we imagine the possibility of reconciliation in Syria or South Sudan? Wars are often easily fought and won or lost. And the end of the war is celebrated by the winning side but peace might not be long lasting, if the winning side does not have the courage and wisdom of the truly great who inspire and lead all in healing, forgiveness and reconciliation, an never seeking to humiliate the other side.
Xanana Gusmao, freedom fighter and prisoner of conscience, like Nicolau Lobato before him, taught us about respecting our adversaries in war and in peace.
And Xanana learned about our Indonesian brothers and sisters while fighting them in the mountains, valleys and caves of Timor-Leste; he further learned and love them as their prisoner from 1992 to 1999. The Nation heeded his inspirational call for reconciliation and forgiveness among the Timorese and with our Indonesian brothers and sisters.
Indonesian leaders of all political persuasions responded in kind, showed statesmanship, and walked half-way meeting our extended hand of friendship.
We rejected Special Ad-hoc Tribunals as we believed that the greatest justice of all was our freedom, freedom made possible in 1999 when the new Indonesia led by interim President B J Habibi agreed to a UN-supervised Popular Consultation.
As leaders we were accused by some among us and in the international community of undermining justice, encouraging impunity and betraying the victims. We do not argue against the academic validity of these criticisms; we respectfully listened these fair criticisms.
But as leaders with responsibility to lead we remained firm in our conviction that the path of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation was the right one.
We honoured our fallen heroes, we continue to care for the widows and orphans, and try to build a better life, a peaceful and just society for all.
If you are attentive to references to TL, you would have noticed that in the last few weeks, three independent reports rate TL very favourably: 1. We are rated the best democracy in Southeast Asia; 2. We are rated as having the freest media in Southeast Asia; 3. And on GDP per capita we are well positioned in comparison to some ASEAN members, TL GDP per capita more than double that of one ASEAN country and also significantly better than another member. And I would add a 4th point. Based on the UN Human Development Index TL has performed much better than all LDC countries south of Sahara with the exception of Cape Verde.
Infrastructures, the economy, social gains
We have had so far 15 years of peace and tranquility, sine quo non conditions that enabled the government to begin in 2011 the implementation of the National Strategic Development Plan, the result of an extraordinary consultation process through the country led by Mr. Xanana Gusmao. This includes major infrastructure projects like roads and electrification of the entire country, indispensable drivers of the economy and sustainable development.
Those who witnessed the 1999 utter destruction of our country and bore witness to our extremely precarious social and economic conditions in 2002 should appreciate the extraordinary changes that have occurred in the last 10 years.
Beginning in 2011 the Govt launched a multi-year financing of major infrastructures projects, namely national and rural roads, a new power generator that now assures 24 hr electricity to 80 per cent of the country, two regional airports, one with international standards.
Work on a new modern port budgeted at $400 million through an innovative PPP arrangement has begun.
In 2002 we had 19 Timorese medical doctors; now with Cuba’s generous solidarity the country counts on 1,000 doctors. By 2021 TL will count on 1,100 plus doctors.
The Human Capital Development initiative launched by Mr. Xanana Gusmao in 2009 budgeted at $30 million/year resulted in hundreds of Timorese being awarded scholarships to study and graduated in selected Universities and technical institutes across Southeast Asia, Australia and Portugal. Hundreds more benefited from scholarships from development partners
10 years ago hundreds of expatriates were seen assisting throughout the administration. Today there are hundreds of Timorese with University degrees and advanced diplomas occupying these positions.
Our distinguished guests are certainly experiencing frustratingly slow connectivity. We apologise. But very soon in your next visit you will enjoy XXIst Century connectivity and 5G technology. Fiber optic has been installed and soon a submarine cable will connect TL to the world.
As a member of the Small Islands Developing States and LDCs we launched the Fragile States G7+ Initiative binding ourselves with 600 million people in Asia and Africa with similar experiences of societies in times conflict and post conflict and in constructive dialogue with development partners we have been able to influence the debate and the agenda taking into consideration the specific needs of countries in conflict and in transition from conflict to development.
On Climate Change, our experts had and continue to have leading roles in international fora such as COP21 in Paris where the TL delegation was a key player within the LDCs and Small Islands Developing States.
With our partners in the Coral Triangle Initiative compromising six countries of the region, we remain committed to protect our extremely rich and vulnerable marine life.
Our electoral experts and volunteers carried out successful missions in Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe and Central African Republic.
Timorese police officers and military personnel have served in UN missions in Kosovo, Guinea-Bissau and South Sudan. After a six month intense preparation in Portugal, an engineer unit from our Defence Force was integrated in a Portuguese army engineer company and served in Lebanon. In the meantime we are engaged with UNHQNY to scale up our contribution to UN Peace Operations.
Our development partners
With Australia we resolved our differences on the competing maritime boundary claims. Mediated by the best minds in the Law of the Sea operating within UNCLOS, Timor-Leste and Australia showed the world that seemingly intractable disputes may be resolved via existing UN mediation mechanisms.
Our Leader Xanana Gusmao showed audacity and strategic brilliance in challenging our giant neighbour’s claims. It was a David vs Goliath battle of wills. We all knew there was an unjust situation but few believed we could resolve it in the short and medium term. Xanana did not blink, he was fully persuaded in his heart and mind that he owed it to the nation to resolve this unjust situation.
I bow to Xanana. I also bow to Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a refined banker turned successful Prime Minister, and the formidable Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and to the Australian people. As an undisputed regional power Australia could have simply ignored our legal challenge. But Australian leaders succumbed not to pressure but to their own conscience, to do the right thing, to be fair to the poorer and weaker in the relationship.
Our development partners – Australia, the EU, Portugal, Germany, the US, New Zealand, Brazil, Japan, Korea, China, Cuba, Singapore and Indonesia have been steady friends from day one when we were barely on our feet. Likewise, the UN and its agencies, funds and programmes, the Breton Woods institutions and ADB, are still present among us and all have contributed to the achievements that we proudly celebrate.
We have had more than 15 years of fruitful security and defence cooperation with Australia and Portugal as well with the US, Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, The Philippines, Republic of Korea, Japan and China.
Our impressive success would not have been possible without our friends and neighbours. We owe much to them.
And last but not least, I thank our ASEAN neighbours and friends and ASEAN dialogue partners for supporting our desire to join this very prestigious regional Organization.
Since 2002 600 Timorese have benefitted from studies and training in Singapore and we thank Singapore for its very concrete way of assisting TL in our ASEAN membership preparations. Many thousands of Timorese have studied or are still studying in Indonesia and across the region.
In the critical years in 1999 to 2003 and again in 2006-2012, some ASEAN members, namely, Singapore, Malaysia, The Philippines and Thailand made large and effective contributions to peace and stability in Timor-Leste through UN Peace Operations.
More than 70% of our external trade and most of our financial transactions are with Indonesia and other countries in the region.
We might not be able to catch up fast enough with the older and richer ASEAN countries. But we believe that if the words community and solidarity have any meaning, and if the expression “ASEAN way” has any meaning at all, then ASEAN should fully embrace and integrate the young and poorer neighbour now . We are in this region called Southeast Asia, we share land, sea and air borders with Indonesia, we are 4 hours flight from Malaysia and Singapore.
We share ASEAN’s vision and goals of a peaceful and prosperous region for the 600 million people of this region and we shall strive with you to realise this vision.
May God the Almighty Bless us all.