Report: Timor Leste Conflict Assessment (2004)

September 25, 2004

Timor Leste Conflict Assessment 2004

Executive Summary

Columbia University’s Center for International Conflict Resolution (CICR) conducted a conflict assessment in Timor Leste during the months of March and April 2004. The objective of this study was to gain a better understanding of the underlying causes and dynamics of conflict in Timor Leste and to learn about current and possible future approaches that international and local NGOs and community groups, as well as state institutions, are taking to manage and respond to conflict factors. The research findings have been used to generate recommendations and strategies for CICR to improve its ability to support NGOs and community groups across Timor Leste to reduce tensions in their communities and contribute to the prevention of future violent or destructive conflict through the Strengthening the NGO Sector (SNS) project.

Over a two-week period the research team conducted 22 interviews and 7 focus groups in four districts of Timor Leste (Baucau, Bobonaro, Dili, and Oe-cusse). Individuals consulted during this phase included national and district-level government representatives, staff from international and national organizations and community groups, as well as other civil society leaders. Time and transportation constraints unfortunately limited the ability of the team to travel more extensively during this stage of the research. Representatives and community members from several of the districts (including Aileu, Ainaro, Cova Lima, Ermera, Manatuto, Lautem, Liquica and Viqueque) that were not visited by the research team were consulted during meetings in Dili.

Conflict Dynamics: Factors and Actors

The research led to the identification of several critical factors that are currently contributing to conflict in Timor Leste. These include high levels of unemployment, especially among youth and veterans from the resistance period; inadequate access to reliable information; corruption and nepotism within local and national government; poor communication between the government and communities; poor infrastructure; limited transportation possibilities; mistrust, lack of shared experiences, and weak social cohesion between and among communities; perception of physical insecurity; lack of food security; resource scarcity; and a legacy of violent conflict which has imparted to communities a tendency to use violence in resolving conflicts.

These conflict factors are exacerbated by the limited institutional capacity of the state. Particular concern was raised about the capability and professionalism of the national security forces; the fragility of the judicial system; the lack of an effective land and property dispute resolution mechanism; insufficient community representation and voice in parliament; confusion over and insufficient information about government policies; centralization of government; openly adversarial relationships between national leaders; as well as inadequate educational and health care services.

External actors also exert a significant influence on the conflict dynamic in Timor Leste in various ways that are important to acknowledge and understand. Continued fear of aggression by the Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) and, even more so, by militias perceived to be supported by the TNI is perpetuating a sense of physical insecurity that is particularly acute in border areas. A dispute with the Australian government over the maritime border, and off-shore oil and gas resources, is souring diplomatic relations between the two countries and causing tension within the population. International development agencies have in some instances intensified conflict factors by increasing social jealousy within communities (especially where there is a lack of transparency), by contributing to a sense of raised expectations that are often left unfulfilled, by inducing wage and price inflation and increasing the urban/rural divide; and by failing to coordinate and communicate sufficiently with other development partners, local and central government actors and communities.


NGOs and community groups as a capacity for peace

The actions of some civil society groups have to a certain degree contributed to conflict factors in Timor Leste in the past few years (e.g. by increasing social jealousy within and between communities, raising expectations, exacerbating suspicion of corruption and nepotism etc.). Recognizing the need to mitigate these negative effects, the findings of the assessment indicate that there is a large role for NGOs and community groups to play in maintaining peace and stability during the country’s challenging transition and post-conflict development process. In addition to providing some needed public services in areas where the state is unable to meet communities needs (such as education, healthcare, distribution of food and agricultural supplies, and small infrastructure rehabilitation), these groups strengthen social cohesion by connecting communities, working with youth and veterans, as well as positively channeling the energies of women’s and teacher’s groups among others. By engaging communities in activities that directly focus on the concerns of the people and by facilitating information sharing and collaboration with the government, these organizations demonstrate an ability to address conflict factors and to promote peaceful and positive development.

Increasing the capacity of civil society groups to contribute to conflict prevention

During the research several concrete recommendations emerged for ways in which NGOs and community groups can increase the positive impact of their work on conflict dynamics in Timor Leste. Suggestions for international organizations include improving mechanisms for sharing information with communities; increasing cooperation and coordination with other development actors; conducting impact assessments for projects and programs in collaboration with communities; improving communication with relevant government representatives; expanding programming to isolated areas; and supporting programs that empower youth (especially those engaged in martial arts groups), women, and veterans.

Local NGOs and community based organizations (CBOs) are also able to increase their effectiveness in reducing tensions by improving information exchange and dissemination, increasing coordination and participation on programming within their communities; conducting conflict assessments with communities prior to developing and implementing programs; engaging youth, women, and veterans in activities; and establishing cooperative arrangements with government agencies and other civil society organizations.

The assessment team has generated a series of specific recommendations for CICR and other partners in the newly-formed organization, Belun, as they move forward with their work on civil society capacity- building and conflict prevention in TL.