Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

THE EAST TIMOR CRISIS: A Test Case for Humanitarian Intervention

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

THE EAST TIMOR CRISIS: A Test Case for Humanitarian Intervention

Article excerpt

Leonard C. Sebastian and Anthony L. Smith

On 11 June 1999, the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) was established through the Security Council Resolution 1246 to implement the 5 May Agreement between Indonesia and Portugal which granted East Timor a referendum or "consultation" on its future. The term "consultation" was used for two reasons. First, to placate a Habibie administration concerned that an outright referendum would open up deep divisions within East Timor and lead to civil war. Second, apprehension that letting East Timor go would open the Pandora's box by encouraging separatist tendencies elsewhere in Indonesia's vast archipelago. The 5 May Agreement concluded that if the East Timorese voted to reject autonomy, then Indonesia would have to undertake the legal procedures necessary to restore East Timor's status prior to 17 July 1976 in order to begin the transition to independence. The U.N. Consultation, originally scheduled for 8 August 1999, was initially delayed until 30 August due to the deteriorating security circumstances created by Jakarta-backed militia violence.

What made this particular U.N. operation unique was the character of the U.N. intervention. Under the terms of the organization's charter, this was not a "Chapter 7" intervention. The Indonesian police (Polri) remained responsible for security in East Timor for the duration of the U.N. Consultation. In this regard, the U.N. presence was by invitation, and the authority it could exercise was limited by its mandate. Significantly, U.N. police personnel would be confined to their role as advisers. Under such circumstances, the United Nations was operating under the provisions of "Chapter 6", that is, through acceptance by all the parties concerned.

The U.N. Consultation set in motion a painful process of self-determination for the Timorese people which reached its conclusion through a People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) decree on 28 October 1999 to officially recognize East Timor's historic vote for independence and declare null and void a 1978 decree annexing the territory. …

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