Academic journal article Global Governance

"Walking Together" toward Independence? A Civil Society Perspective on the United Nations Administration in East Timor, 1999-2002

Academic journal article Global Governance

"Walking Together" toward Independence? A Civil Society Perspective on the United Nations Administration in East Timor, 1999-2002

Article excerpt

Issues surrounding legitimacy and the role of civil society are at the forefront of contemporary global governance debates. Examining the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) and focusing on the specific issue areas of justice and gender, this article evaluates the effectiveness and accountability of the administration from the perspective of East Timorese civil society, whose voice is largely absent from previous analyses. Drawing on the archive of the prominent civil society group La'o Hamutuk. this study adds precision and nuance to an area of research characterized by broad-stroke assessments of the legitimacy of multinational interventions. It finds variations in the levels of overall legitimacy exhibited by particular issue areas and differences in terms of the configuration of accountability and effectiveness enjoyed by UNTAET. Although sounding a cautionary note about the degree of civil society influence in global governance, the study concludes that La'o Hamutuk nevertheless provided a more diffuse sense of discursive voice and accountability than would otherwise have been accorded the East Timorese during this crucial period in their history. KEYWORDS: global governance, legitimacy, civil society. East Timor. United Nations.

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On 25 October 1999, the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) was established as an integrated, multidimensional peacekeeping operation with full responsibility for the administration of East Timor during its transition to independence from Indonesia. (1) The Democratic Republic of East Timor (renamed Timor-Leste in 2002) was formally recognized as an independent sovereign state on 20 May 2002. (2) While the circumstances surrounding UNTAET's administration in East Timor were in many ways unique, a wider relevance emanates from the manner in which this mission, like other ad hoc multinational responses, was embedded within and constitutes an aspect of the wider set of institutionalised arrangements referred to collectively as global governance. (3) Although concerns about the legitimacy of this intervention pepper the literature, these concerns remain analytically underdeveloped and are partial to the extent that the voice of East Timorese civil society is frequently absent from the debate.

Recent scholarly contributions have outlined the positive contribution that civil society may bring to issues of global governance. According to Mary Kaldor, the great potential of civil society is that it offers "an alternative vehicle for deliberation, for introducing normative concerns, for raising the interests of the individual and not just the state" at global levels. (4) The possible benefits of civil society include: providing a global conscience; promoting the development of and respect for global legal rules; contributing to improved governance performance; and enhancing the democratic credentials of global governance. (5) Robust criticisms have been developed in response to these broadly optimistic orientations, emphasizing in particular the problems associated with transporting the concept of civil society into contexts beyond the formal boundaries of the territorial state. (6) Even proponents of civil society stress that "civil society enhancement of democratic accountability in global governance does not occur automatically," (7) that it "is not a substitute for formal democratic processes," (8) and that our evaluations must be based, in part, "on concrete evidence relating to specific contexts." (9)

Taking J. A. Scholte's cue, we provide the specific context of East Timorese civil society during UNTAET's administration as an opportunity to interrogate claims about both the legitimacy of UNTAET's governance and the promise of and limits to civil society as a bridging mechanism between global governance and the people subject to its rule. Our analysis reveals a mixed picture. By distinguishing between specific issue areas, we were able to discern variations between the configurations of input and output legitimacy or accountability and effectiveness exhibited across different domains of UNTAET's governance. …

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