Status of Forces Agreements: Timor-Leste
For the Australian Defence Force (ADF) “a SOFA is an internationally recognised means of providing for the presence of one country’s visiting forces in the territory of another country. A SOFA establishes conditions for the presence of visiting personnel and assets in the host country. It addresses issues such as jurisdiction, claims, immigration requirements and customs duties. Australia usually seeks to conclude a SOFA to cover any overseas operational deployment of ADF personnel or assets.”
An initial Status of Forces Agreement between Australia and Timor-Leste, which was signed in May 2006 when ADF personnel deployed under Operation Astute.The SOFA places all ISF forces under Australian command – however the SOFA no longer applies to members of the Australian Federal Police who now operate as part of the current UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT).
On 26 January 2007, the Foreign Minister of Timor-Leste, the Ambassador of Australia and the head of UNMIT signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the provision of assistance to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste which lays how the three parties will coordinate police and military operations. This arrangement continued with the establishment of UNMIT, although Australia coordinates with East-Timorese and United Nations command through a tri-lateral coordinating body.
Under the SOFA members of the International Stabilisation Force receive diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention of 1961. The SOFA states that any differences are to be resolved amicably between countries, without a third party (including the UN). Timor-Leste is responsible for any claims arising out of ISF acts or omissions. The SOFA provides non-binding ‘in-spirit’ recognition of East Timorese law by visiting personnel.
In October 2006, the parliament of Timor-Leste passed a resolution that the Joint Task Force forces should be placed under the UN command. Since this time there have been several legal issues raised regarding the SOFA (as it was passed by the government, not the parliament). On 8 November 2007, the parliament of Timor-Leste announced it will review the current ISF SOFAs.
The Timorese non-government organisation La’o Hamutuk has monitored the changing legal mandate and Status of Forces Agreements for Timor Leste, and their work is gratefully acknowledged here.
Status for Forces agreements
Protocol of agreement between the government of the Portuguese Republic and the Government of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste on the deployment and period of stay of a contingent of the National Republican Guard in Timor?Leste, 2006
This agreement was extended in October 2006 by agreement between RDTL and UNMIT, which replaced UNMISET.
Commentary and analysis
Status of Forces Agreements, May 2006-January 2007, La’o Hamutuk
“On 24 May 2006, the Timor-Leste government requested international military assistance in restoring security and order in Dili, and troops were provided by Australia, and New Zealand, and police by Malaysia and Portugal. The government also informed the United Nations about this request. Each of the four governments made an agreement with Timor-Leste about the roles, responsibilities, and legal status of their forces. Although these agreements have not been officially made public, La’o Hamutuk believes that they are important for people to know about, both in Timor-Leste and in the countries which have sent the soldiers. Transparency and rule of law are essential to democratic processes.
“On 26 January 2007, the Foreign Minister of Timor-Leste, the Ambassador of Australia and the head of UNMIT signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the provision of assistance to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste which lays how the three parties will coordinate police and military operations. This January 2007 agreement replaces the agreements on this page.”