Preventing A Conflict Relapse In Timor-Leste

Preventing A Conflict Relapse In Timor-Leste

Year(s): 1999 – 2012.

Location: Timor-Leste

UN Regional Group: Asia-Pacific.

Type of Conflict: Risk of a Conflict Relapse.

Type of Initiative: A peacekeeping mission and a transitional international administration.

Main Implementing Organisation(s): The UN.

Impact: Lasting.

Summary: A transitional international administration and a peacekeeping mission helped to prevent a conflict relapse in Timor-Leste and laid the foundations for an accountable state governed by a constitution and an elected government to be built.

Description of Case 

While the International Force East Timor was ending the armed conflict in Timor-Leste, the UN Security Council was preparing a follow-up mission. This took the form of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), which was formally established on 25 October 1999.[1] The Administration was vested with full executive, legislative, and judicial authority and was tasked with rebuilding a country devastated by war.[2] To pursue this ambitious task, UNTAET was composed of over 9,000 military personnel, 1,640 police, as well as an extensive civilian component.[3] The Administration worked alongside a National Consultative Council and an elected Constituent Assembly, which served to inform policy and provide legitimacy. This allowed UNTAET to take the unprecedented step of negotiating a bilateral treaty on behalf of Timor-Leste. Once concluded, the agreement ensured Timorese access to oil and gas fields previously split between Australia and Indonesia, doubling gross national product, and providing a key source of revenue for the nascent state and its population.[4]

UNTAET successfully repatriated 167,000 refugees from Indonesia within six months of its creation and, by the end of 2000, the East Timor Police Service, the East Timor Defence Force, and the foundations of a judiciary had been established. The Constituent Assembly was elected in August 2001 and approved East Timor’s first constitution on 22 March 2002.[5] The following month, presidential elections were held, leading to the selection of Xanana Gusmao as President.[6] With the building blocks of a state established and a legitimate national government in power, the Constituent Assembly was transformed into the country’s sovereign parliament on 20 May 2002 and UNTAET was withdrawn.[7] A peacekeeping presence remained in the country in the form of the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor until 2005, which in turn was replaced with a political mission, the United Nations Office in Timor-Leste.[8] Timor-Leste’s post conflict transition was marred by an attempted coup in 2006, which led to the rapid deployment of the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), and another attempt to seize power by the military in 2008.[9] In both cases, international efforts helped to maintain stability and prevent the spread of armed conflict. UNMIT withdrew in 2012.[10]


[1] United Nations Security Council. Resolution 1272. (UN, 1999) Available at: (Accessed 11/11/2020)

[2] Peter Galbraith. “The United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET).” Proceedings of the Annual Meeting (American Society of International Law), Vol. 97. (2003) p.211

[3] United Nations Security Council. Resolution 1272.

[4] Galbraith. “The United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET).” p.211

[5] UN Peacekeeping. East Timor – UNTAET: Background. (UN, 2002) Available at: (Accessed 11/11/2020)

[6] Dwight Y. King. “East Timor’s Founding Elections and Emerging Party System.” Asian Survey, Vol. 43, No. 5. (2003)

[7] UN Peacekeeping. East Timor – UNTAET: Background.

[8] UN Peacekeeping. UNMIT: Background. (UN, 2020) Available at: (Accessed 11/11/2020)

[9] Ibid.

[10] BBC. “East Timor: UN ends peacekeeping mission.” BBC News. (2012) Available at: (Accessed 11/11/2020)