Helen Clark: Speech on Recent UN Transitions in Policy and Practice New Zealand – Timor-Leste Workshop on Peacekeeping Transitions

Oct 10, 2013

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Speech on Recent UN Transitions in Policy and Practice
New Zealand – Timor-Leste Workshop on Peacekeeping Transitions:
Lessons Learned From the UNMIT Transition Process
Nigeria House, New York

I would like to begin by thanking the Permanent Missions of New Zealand and Timor-Leste for organizing this interesting and timely event. I also thank our host, the Permanent Mission of Nigeria.

Today’s workshop is of particular interest to me in my present and past capacities. As Chair of the UN Development Group and UNDP Administrator, I have followed closely post-mission arrangements in Timor-Leste and elsewhere.

As Prime Minister of New Zealand, I also followed Timor-Leste’s journey closely, as New Zealand was an early contributor to peacekeeping during the transition to independence. New Zealand then returned at the request of the Timor-Leste Government in response to the 2006 crisis, to form part of the International Stabilization Force led by Australia.

New Zealand was also active in Timor-Leste’s transition in advising on policing, corrections, the functioning of the Cabinet system, and in other areas through a modest aid programme.

Following the referendum on independence in 1999, five United Nations peacekeeping and political missions, and UN agencies, funds, and programmes across the UN Development Group have supported Timor-Leste’s emergence from conflict onto the pathway to peace and sustainable human development.  The drawdown and withdrawal of UNMIT, which was completed by the end of 2012, was a transition process which fully involved the UN mission and Country Team, the government, and a range of other regional and bilateral partners.  
Since the UN Mission in Timor-Leste closed, the UN’s presence has continued in a normal Country Team operation. That this has been possible is testimony to Timor-Leste’s progress towards sustainable peace and development.  Today’s event can be seen as a celebration of Timor-Leste’s achievements.

Recent transition practice and policy developments
In my remarks today, I will focus on the UN’s recent experience with the transitions which occur as missions draw down and close or change their nature. Much has been learned in Timor-Leste and elsewhere about how to manage and implement transitions.   

At the headline level, transition for a mission may be seen as simply moving towards closure. In today’s world, however, where conflicts are more protracted, complex, and cyclical in nature, we need to have a broader understanding of what transitions might involve.

From establishment to exit, a UN mission presence will often undergo substantial re-configurations through gradual transitions.  This is illustrated by the experiences not only in Timor-Leste, but also in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, and Liberia where each of the missions has had to adapt its presence to changing and emerging needs.
It is important to manage all these transition processes well, and not only the process directly leading to a withdrawal. Each adjustment helps to map out and pave the way for a drawdown and then, eventually, for withdrawal.

For example, at the request of the Security Council, the UN Mission in the DRC [MONUSCO] is currently developing a roadmap for transition. It is based on analysis of the comparative advantages of the Mission and of the UNCT in supporting MONUSCO’s mandate.  Similar analyses have been requested for the Missions and the UNCTs in Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia.  

The mission in Liberia [UNMIL] has established a team together with the UN Country Team of agencies, funds and programmes to begin planning for transition well before drawdown occurs, recognizing the need to begin the process early. Engagement with the Government has been a critical part of this effort.

The Liberia example shows that regular analyses and forward planning make a significant contribution to the process of transition.  They trigger the early thinking and the internal adjustments which ensure that national partners get the support they need at the time they need it.  That helps them make the sustained progress towards peace and stability which will lead to mission drawdown and withdrawal.  

When Mission staff and a UNCT work on the analysis and planning together, a better understanding of the strengths of each can be reached, which leads to better use of resources. In DRC, the roadmap which has been developed specifies the tasks which the UNCT can undertake in support of the MONUSCO mandate.  Among the UNCT’s identified comparative advantages are its presence and ability to deliver in areas where there is currently no active conflict, and where the mission need not continue a significant presence.  The UNCT’s presence there frees the Mission to focus in areas of the country where problems have continued. UNCT agencies also operate in such areas, but obviously under many constraints.
Recently, the UN has been developing policy guidelines on mission transition which are based on its experience and lessons learned. In February this year, the Secretary-General agreed to a new policy: UN Transitions in the Context of Mission Drawdown and Withdrawal. This is the first updated policy guidance on the matter since the 2001 Secretary-General’s report, “No exit without strategy”.

The new policy identifies key principles for transition, clarifies roles and responsibilities, and provides a common framework for all UN actors involved in these complex change processes.   Good practices and lessons learned in countries like Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Timor-Leste have been taken on board.

Three key elements of a successful transition
Experience of recent transitions suggests that there are three key elements in successful transitions: leadership, integration of planning and work, and having well-resourced mission partners, not least the UN’s regular agencies, funds, and programmes.

Transition processes are challenging to manage. They require strong leadership both from the UN and from national governments. The UN leadership needs to facilitate a common understanding of what the benchmarks for exit are, so that that can guide a transition. The country’s leadership and the UN leaders then need to work closely together to achieve the specific goals which will define when a mission ends.

This requires clarity in purpose and assignment of responsibilities, clear communication about the process, and management of the expectations of what the UN can and cannot do both during and after the transition.  The SRSG has overall responsibility in the UN for a transition, but there is also a vital role for the multi-hatted Deputy SRSG, who is the main person linking the Mission and the UN Country Team. Managing this link is crucial for a successful transition.

In transitions, the UN should set parameters for its own engagement and be able to implement its part of the transition. It is national governments, however, which must set the direction and make the key decisions. The success of the transition in Timor-Leste can to a very high degree be attributed to the strong national ownership and leadership of the process.

The relationship between the UN and the Government of Timor-Leste was one which developed mutual trust and confidence.  That included growing confidence in the national institutions, leadership, and processes, and in the irreversibility of the progress made. Regular meetings of the national leaders and the UN leadership in a High Level Committee helped build trust in the population in the quality of the management of the transition, and in the country’s ability to maintain its own peace post-UNMIT.

Integration, including integrated planning
The second critical element of a successful transition is sound integration between the mission and the UN Country Team.  This requires bringing members of the UN Country Team into the planning cycle as early as possible, as their organisations will be in the country long after a mission leaves.  Such planning offers a unique opportunity to identify where potential gaps may arise, and where major investments made by the mission may need support.

Roles and responsibilities between the mission and government and development actors need to be agreed on early in the planning cycle, so that each can prepare to take on the roles required – to achieve the goals necessary for sustainable peace and development, while also being realistic about their own capacity and resourcing constraints. This way it becomes simpler to manage the scaling down of one component, the mission, and, the scaling up of others.

Integrated planning needs to flow from a common vision and common objectives for the UN presence. In Sierra Leone, the exit strategy for the Mission, UNAMSIL, flowed from the core reasons for the mission’s initial deployment: the cessation of conflict, the extension of State authority throughout the country, and national control over revenue sources such as diamond and gold mining. The plan was developed early, and the drawdown has been executed over several years. This allowed all stakeholders to monitor the progress. The plan was developed collaboratively with the UN Country Team and the Government of Sierra Leone.

Collaboration in implementation of the transition plan followed.  UNDP’s contribution to it has included programming in three key areas: recovery and peacebuilding, governance and democratic development, and poverty reduction and human development.

Well-resourced partners
The third core element of a successful mission transition is the presence of well-resourced partners to the mission, including the follow-on presence.  As peace consolidation is a long-term endeavor, peacebuilding activities will need to continue throughout a mission transition, and well after a mission has closed. For those activities which will be implemented by national partners, it is critical that capacity has been built – and continues to be enhanced – with the support of adequately resourced partners – like UNDP and other members of the UNCT.

Continuity is critical to any capacity-building strategy and the success of capacity building initiated by a Mission will depend on how well the mission and the UN Country Team have worked together. UNDP and other partners will not be able to build on mission activities unless there has been collaborative work well before a mission closure.   

In this respect, the notion that mission tasks can just be handed over to the UNCT must be rejected. When the mission goes, its funding goes with it. UNCTs are left with small budgets and big expectations. So, the approach should not be one of a simple one-to-one handover of activities. We must instead be guided by a concept of transition which aims at enabling national partners and the UN Country Team to succeed.

To achieve that, in the justice sector in Timor-Leste, UNMIT’s Administration of Justice Support Unit developed a roadmap identifying challenges in the national justice system, and suggesting ways of addressing them. The roadmap has been a very valuable tool in helping UNDP and national partners to determine priorities and develop programmes for the post-UNMIT phase.

As transition processes continue now in Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, Haiti, Liberia, and elsewhere, it will be important to be informed by experiences of the successful transitions in Timor-Leste and other countries where missions have closed.
Let me conclude by once again acknowledging Timor-Leste’s achievements in breaking the cycle of conflict which had marred its journey as an independent nation. Timor-Leste today has 8.5 per cent GDP growth and political stability.  At UNDP, and across the UN Country Team of agencies, we are very pleased to maintain our partnership with Timor-Leste as it continues its quest for the eradication of poverty and truly sustainable development, backed by strong institutions.

I wish you all a successful workshop, and hope that the insights which emerge here will help the UN to continue to improve its mission transition process.

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