Vol. 7, No. 1
Magno on Next Phase
ETAN Fall 2000 Speaking Tour
Ajiza Magno Discusses the Next Phase of Struggle
by Agatha Schmaedick
From late October to early December, Ajiza (pronounced aZEEza) Magno, an East Timorese women's rights and labor activist, covered twenty states in six weeks. In East Timor, Ajiza works with the Sa'he Institute for Liberation (SIL), an all-volunteer organization committed to popular education for critical consciousness and democracy. SIL has translated texts into Indonesian for mass distribution, including a critique of the World Bank, and coordinates youth projects focusing on community education and organizing.
Ajiza focused on what she sees as four necessities for her homeland: justice through an international tribunal as an essential part of reconciliation, U.S. pressure on the Indonesian military to help return refugees and prevent further attacks along the border with West Timor, gender equality without further delay, and an immediate increase of East Timorese involvement in decision-making within the United Nations Transitional Administration for East Timor (UNTAET).
In addition to ETAN activists, Ajiza's talks reached labor organizers, feminists, and environmentalists. In Boise, Eugene, Missoula and Atlanta, she spoke to audiences of nearly 100 people.
Shortly before Ajiza's departure from the U.S., the UN Security Council Mission to East Timor published a report on its October visit to the country. Ajiza was pleased to see that much of the Mission's criticism of UNTAET echoed complaints of her and her colleagues, but she fears it might already be too late to reverse some of the many mistakes that the UN has made in East Timor. She notes that "if the Security Council Mission's recommendations are not followed immediately, especially building the capacity of native East Timorese to run their own government before the elections this spring, the elections will be a failure. The East Timorese will not understand or feel any ownership towards the new governmental structure that is put into place."
The following comments by Ajiza were taken from various appearances throughout her tour:
"Everyone has suffered in some way in East Timor, and everyone lives with some amount of trauma, but the women in particular faced the brunt of the suffering. Women were systematically targeted by the Indonesian military. They were seen as easy targets and were often more readily available then men. Some women took up arms and lived in the jungles with Falintil, but many stayed behind in the villages to look after the land and raise the children. The women in the villages were often raped or forced to marry and bear children of Indonesian soldiers. Sometimes women were forced to have children with several different men as they were passed from one soldier to another. The women went along with these marriages because they knew that if they didn't, their husband, father, or other relatives would be targeted for torture or death. The Communication Forum for East Timorese Women (FOKUPERS) has already documented over 180 cases of rape from the weeks prior to and following the August 30, 1999 referendum. This data only includes a few districts around Dili; imagine how many cases there must be throughout the country. Now many of these rape victims and their children face domestic violence as their spouses and families struggle to deal with the shame of rape. Domestic violence is also thought to be on the increase because of the wide availability of cheap Australian beer in East Timor.
"Of the already miniscule amount of East Timorese that work for UNTAET, only 6% are women and these women are only included as consultants in areas such as health care and education. Women have been excluded, for the most part, from discussions concerning politics, economics, national security, and other such typically 'male' arenas. There is a 'Gender' branch of UNTAET but it has not been allotted a budget. This means that there are no UN investigations occurring specifically into the crimes committed against women, nor are there any UNTAET programs being set up to counsel women or help them deal with the trauma they've faced. The cases of fifteen and sixteen year old girls who were kidnapped near the border and brought to West Timor as prostitutes were presented to Mary Robinson (UN Commissioner of Human Rights) when she visited Dili last summer, but no action has been taken thus far by the UN to return these girls.
"East Timor does not have total independence. It is currently under the transitional administration of the United Nations that holds all legislative, executive and judicial power in the territory. Fundamental decisions such as the writing of the constitution, the structure of the first East Timor elections, and the land and property laws are in the hands of foreigners.
"UNTAET seems to be prioritizing the needs of their foreign staff over those of the local population. The UN was quick to build flashy supermarkets that sell imported food to their foreign staff (because they are the only ones who can afford to shop there), yet the local market where people usually sell their produce and wares still remains in ruins from 'Operation Clean Sweep.' Hundreds of cars have been imported for the foreigners to use as they carry out projects in East Timor, yet public transportation is almost non-existent and what is available is very expensive. Unemployment is soaring at 75% but the UN has been reluctant to set labor standards that would require foreign business investors to use local labor; as a result many employers (including the UN) have brought in their own construction crews, carpenters, porters, and chamber maids. The end result: the majority of East Timorese people are very confused and frustrated by the UN. People find themselves once again living as observers and marginalized citizens in their own country."
For information on the U.S. book drive to help build SIL's People's Library of East Timor, contact Ben at email@example.com or 510-985-0385.
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