In late 1999, the United Nations despatched a peacebuilding force to a country whose birth had been racked by violence. It was a first for the United Nations: it was not only taking on a peacekeeping role but also a state-building role, assuming the mantle of a sovereign government where there was none.
Drawing on her firsthand experience as a member of the UN team for nearly six years, Ms Viji Menon, Senior Visiting Fellow, RSIS, has produced a book on the UN’s unprecedented state-building mission in Timor-Leste, which involved putting together institutions of state and government from scratch.
Taking a holistic approach, the book, Rising from the Ashes: UN Peacebuilding in Timor-Leste (World Scientific, 2019), looks also at the work of the United Nations in the country after it had transitioned to the lesser role of adviser to the newly established government. In addition, through extensive discussions conducted in Timor-Leste during a study trip in January 2018 under RSIS auspices, Miss Menon provides an insightful analysis of how the country has performed since the United Nations ended its stewardship in 2012, especially its performance on the security and foreign policy fronts.
Launching the book at an RSIS seminar on 18 November 2019, Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman of RSIS, congratulated Ms Menon for writing a concise account of how a country that is a part of Southeast Asia is progressing on its way to becoming a viable nation-state. Commenting on the book, Associate Professor Leonard Sebastian, Coordinator of the Indonesia Programme at RSIS, observed that the state-building process in Timor-Leste by external actors had both positive and negative consequences.
One of the key points that Ms Menon makes in her book is that in any peacebuilding mission the international community must ponder its exit strategy carefully. Noting that Timor-Leste had very nearly fallen apart just four years into independence, she stresses that the international community must stay the course if peace is to take root in a post-conflict country.
Outlining the challenges that lie ahead, Ms Menon notes that building on the foundations laid by the United Nations is now the task of the people and leaders of Timor-Leste. Nevertheless, she stresses that it is in the interests of countries in the region to do more to assist Timor-Leste and ends her book with policy recommendations.