Insights and Analysis

As Aid Landscape Shifts, Security and Justice Programs Remain Critical in Timor-Leste

February 11, 2015

By Todd Wassel

In October, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Jose Ramos-Horta, former president of Timor-Leste, Nobel Peace laureate, and former head of the UN political mission in Guinea Bissau, to lead a high-level independent panel on peace operations. Having been host to five United Nations Peacekeeping missions in Timor-Leste and two separate multinational military forces over a 13-year period, Ramos-Horta is in a powerful position to influence the status quo. The UN and multilateral interventions were remarkably effective at humanitarian interventions and stopping violence in both 1999 and then again in 2006. However, they proved less effective in establishing long-term stability and developing responsive institutions that prioritized space in the new nation for locally owned processes that were resistant to local self-interests and political capture.

Community policing Timor Leste

Despite a decade of community police training and development by successive UN missions, community policing as a formal mechanism for state-sponsored conflict prevention and resolution has only taken hold in Timor-Leste recently. Photo/Conor Ashleigh

Despite these challenges, security sector reform and access to justice have become standard Security Council mandates of UN missions as well as those of a broad range of donor countries over the past 15 years. This is especially true as the aid attention has shifted to fragile and conflict-affected states, such as Timor-Leste, where recent policy research has highlighted the importance of security and justice programs in particular.

Much of the donor focused work on security and justice has concentrated on technocratic solutions coupled with infrastructure investments. However, these reform programs are often devoid of politically minded, locally based initiatives that draw on the history of the state, elite politics, customary justice practices, and social linkages. Ironically, the main conflict resolution and peace enforcement programs that first helped to establish stability often created not only nuanced political and interest based assessments, but viable community-based conflict resolution mechanisms such as during the IDP return process in Timor-Leste that focused on truth and reconciliation over punitive justice.

It is notable that, despite a decade of community police training and development by successive UN missions, community policing as a formal mechanism for state-sponsored conflict prevention and resolution has only taken hold in Timor-Leste recently. From February 12-13, the Australian National University and The Asia Foundation will co-host the 2015 Australasian Aid Conference, bringing together over 200 researchers and experts to examine aid effectiveness. Two important topics that will be highlighted at this week’s conference will be how to advance the institutionalization of community oriented policing in Timor-Leste by moving to flexible, iterative modes of programing; and acknowledging the role of customary justice partners in security sector reform.

While there has been much rhetorical support for working politically in the aid effectiveness world recently, little has been accomplished in moving outdated bureaucratic project management systems in line with new modes of adaptive and creative thinking. Likewise, while there are a multitude of projects working with communities and customary leaders, few are tied into the larger security and justice sector reform processes.

Moving beyond technical inputs and linear pathways to change

There is a growing discussion in the aid world that there needs to be more flexibility in programing and ensuring that logical frameworks remain adaptive and useful as planning tools. This is particularly true in conflict and fragile states where project implementation typically occurs up to a year after the initial design and the environment has changed substantially. However, the logic that is set at the beginning is usually tied to the overall objectives and thus is difficult to change due to administrative and donor constraints allowing for little ability to integrate iterative and adaptive approaches.

There are a number of models being used effectively including the development entrepreneur approach, the use of theories of change, and political economy approaches that allow for flexible, quick changes to program design. However, projects often become trapped in a process of appeasing the technical requirements of logframes rather than remaining open to criticism or learning by trial and error.

One way to help ensure a nuanced and nimble approach is to work with politically informed and socially embedded organizations that are able to adapt to changing circumstances and needs. Locally based professional development organization, rather than a military or police installations, are ideally place to lead the design and drive programs after the humanitarian dust has settled. Integrating police and military programs directly into professional development organizations’ programs are new ways that can bring technical and political skills together. Specifically for large scale justice and security programs (such as UN missions), the perspectives of local and political knowledge should not be contained to a specific political section but used as an approach to problem solving across all programming.

Recognition that justice occurs outside of formal institutions

Despite the positive lessons learned from IDP reintegration schemes in 1999 and again in 2006, almost all of the large-scale international funding for justice and security reforms in Timor-Leste was allocated to the state police and formal justice institutions. In Timor-Leste the relative absence of the formal state in much of rural Timor is accompanied by a strong reliance on customary structures that fulfill dispute resolutions functions. These can be hierarchical, which may perpetuate local power dynamics and can be oriented toward wider village and family cohesion, and not necessarily performed in the interest of individual justice. However, the customary forms are still the most accessible forms of governance and still the first place most people seek help when faced with a dispute or crime.

There is growing acknowledgement that community policing is a preferred model of donor assistance to police reform, and that policing thus involves more than just the uniformed police officer. However, the competing argument of long-term donor assistance along technical lines, devoid of political nuance lays in stark contrast to the desire for more community oriented policing. The history of police development in Timor-Leste shows that there is an integral link between working politically, and helping to bring uniformed police officers together with customary leaders. Greater emphasis is needed on integrating police with communities early on, and providing equal support to both formal and the “informal” systems that handle the bulk of justice work during periods of state weakness. The benefits of such a focus are that programs are forced to work with the political relationships across a wide variety of levels, and help transition newly formed police services through trust building and integration with communities early on.

*Editor’s note: This version has been edited slightly from the original. 

Follow #AAC2015 on Twitter for updates from the 2015 Australasian Aid Conference, or watch the livestream here.

Todd Wassel is The Asia Foundation’s deputy country representative in Timor-Leste. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not necessarily those of The Asia Foundation.

1 Comment

  1. Remain Critical in Timor-Leste:

    I have been working from 1999-2013 with the government. Timor-Leste has to evaluate and compare the situation among periods from 1999 – 2015.

    There are several periods that Timor-Leste need to use as literature review or reference such as period: 1999-2001, 2002-2006, 2007-2012, and 2013-2015. The situation among these periods are not the same that Timor-Leste should used it as reference to change the stability in Timor-Leste politically, socially, and economically.

    Moving beyond technical inputs and linear pathways to change:

    The flexibility program is a good words to present. However, this term cannot apply only from the outside but also from the local authorities have to be flexible as well by meaning they have to encourage to the donors in order to be more adaptive with the real condition in Timor-Leste. Moreover, the authorities have to avoid the individual or partial interest or want to benefit from it, and that it would be another case that we have to investigate.

    The real condition is that the local authorities have to show the way of adaptive systems by meaning involve many entities into decision making. This real condition has been shown to outside that local authorities itself do not implement this system properly; thus people from outside would like to show the proper way to be such as more flexible and adaptive with the condition because i believe that some donors have been implement this fairly way of consideration.

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