Subject: GLW: Discrimination in East Timor

Discrimination in East Timor 
Green Left Weekly, Sydney, Jan 19, 200

Sam King, Dili -- The stated aim of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) is to effectively administer the country during the period of transition to a popularly elected government. However, effective, let alone democratic, administration is impossible while so little decision-making power is being given to East Timorese community and political organisations. Even the highest East Timorese body, the seven-member Transitional Council, has only a consultative role with UNTAET.

While UNTAET's accountability only to the UN secretary-general and the Security Council does not automatically preclude it from implementing policies desired by the East Timorese people, evidence is accumulating which indicates that the UN has not been doing that.

A leaked November 22 internal bulletin titled District Profile Ermera UNTAET, Civil Affairs, expressed concerns about the level of grassroots organising by East Timorese in the region. It states, "CNRT [National Council of Timorese Resistance] has also been organizing security brigades with the task of preventing possible actions from part of the militias" and directs that "with the arrival of INTERFET and CivPol [civilian police], the CNRT involvement in security aspects should be progressively reduced, so that all security and police functions should be completely handed over".

The report also notes that "CNRT involvement in distribution of humanitarian assistance is being extremely important due to the fact that the NGOs have been incapable of organizing food distribution" but recommends that CNRT involvement be reduced because "their direct involvement creates pressure from the population". It concludes, "It would be desirable that UN agencies and NGOs start to follow more directly (or through the creation of local NGOs) the distribution of humanitarian assistance "

A similar report from the Liquica region notes that "CNRT have the strong support and trust of the majority of the population, and are highly coordinated and efficient in their management of programs", but recommends that UNTAET take over that role: "It is essential that civil affairs quickly develops a stronger presence in the district so that UNTAET is seen to be the administrative authority".

Reports from East Timorese in other districts suggest that the approach taken in Ermera and Liquica is a national pattern.


The devastating vandalism organised by the Indonesian military before it left East Timor means that there is much competition for the few remaining buildings. All of the biggest, best quality and best located buildings have been taken over by UNTAET, foreign NGOs and rich international aid organisations which have arrived in East Timor in large numbers over the last few months.

The Interfet military apparatus has taken over many large blocks of buildings and prime land and the Interfet residential complex is located in Faroel, the wealthiest district in East Timor. This area of former mansions belonging to the Portuguese and Indonesian generals and government and business elite could house thousands of the homeless East Timorese.

Across the road (and razor wire fence) from Interfet's Faroel complex are some large unburned empty houses guarded by UN staff who are instructed to tell local people who inquire about moving in that the houses and their contents are for UNTAET personnel when they arrive in East Timor.

The UN High Commission for Refugees occupies, but does not fill, a large unburned ex-government building and its grounds. The mainly foreign staff there work on the latest computers in airconditioned rooms.

Across the road, around 100 East Timorese live on a similar sized block on which there are just four houses still standing. Many of these people reside in structures made of old wood and mangled iron collected from the wreckage of other houses. Jobs

A major problem in East Timor at present is the chronic unemployment and underemployment. Almost all production ground to halt after the referendum, such that East Timor is now totally dependent on aid agencies for most food, medicine and other necessities.

A little agricultural activity has resumed and a small section of the population work as stall holders or street sellers to sell the agricultural produce, as well as goods carried from Indonesia by the tens of thousands of returning refugees.

East Timor was basically destroyed by the departing Indonesian forces. However, the UN's dismantling of the leadership role of existing East Timorese community structures and organisations, and its establishment of new structures under UN control has significantly slowed the process of reconstruction.

For example, the CNRT, with its elaborate popular structure is in a good position to quickly identify and organise people's skills for the reconstruction effort, yet UNTAET is setting up completely new structures led by foreigners who have to start from scratch.

At a local level, UNTAET does try to involve East Timorese in working groups, such as the Food Working Group, the reconstruction committee and others, to obtain East Timorese expertise on local conditions. But these committees have been established to assist UNTAET's efforts to organise communities outside of the framework of the CNRT and other grassroots East Timorese-controlled political organisations.

UNTAET uses UN organisations or overseas-based "implementing partners" to organise emergency relief, the return of refugees, reconstruction and so on. These implementing partners control large amounts of money, as well as which materials enter the country, who receives assistance and the methods used in rescue and reconstruction operations.

Made up mostly of large, wealthy international aid agencies and NGOs sponsored by organisations such as World Vision, Oxfam, Care International and the International Committee for Red Cross, the implementing partners are answerable only to UNTAET, not the people they are supposed to be assisting.

The top positions are monopolised by non-East Timorese personnel and while many young East Timorese have begun to work for aid agencies, NGOs, the UN and Interfet, they are few compared to the tens of thousands of unemployed locals.

This work is the best paid and most sought after in East Timor. The usual minimum wage for East Timorese staff within the overseas organisations is 25,000 rupiahs (A$5) per day, enough to buy about five kilograms of rice in Dili. Some local workers receive as little as $3 a day. These rates do not even equal the hourly wage rate of many non-East Timorese workers in these organisations.

A report by UNTAET and eight humanitarian agencies recommended a wage range for East Timorese staff of between 25,000 of 70,000+ per day, even if the East Timorese employee is the CEO of the organisation.

"There is an explicit understanding between employing agencies that they will adhere to these salary ranges in order to minimize the poaching of employees", adding that "Salaries can be paid in a mixture of cash and commodities".

UNTAET has also implemented numerous work for food schemes in which East Timorese do menial tasks like cleaning up wrecked buildings for bags of rice. The rate varies from place to place, but the storm-water gutter sweepers in West Lahane (between Dili and Dare), for example, received 36 kilos of rice per fortnight.


There is also a striking gap between the technical resources available to the East Timorese people and their political and community organisations and those used by the UN and large overseas aid organisations.

East Timorese walk around while foreigners drive around in brand new, white four-wheel drive vehicles. While most East Timorese don't have access to even a telephone, the UNTAET compound storeroom is stacked to the ceiling with new computers and other equipment, sent to replace the last lot that was looted by Indonesian soldiers and their militia when the UN abandoned East Timor on September 12.

A number of private businesses have set up in Dili to service the rich overseas organisations and workers.

Workers at Manuel Carascalao's car and motor bike sales business report that of the hundreds of sales they've made since the UN arrived, "around a dozen" have been to East Timorese. Thrifty Rent a Car meets the transport needs of non-East Timorese at a hire rate of A$200 a day!

Since there is not yet a taxation system in place, business is getting a free ride. However the UN's wages report recommends that employers set aside 10% of the wages they pay in anticipation of a future income tax.

The blatant exploitation of East Timor's crisis by business, combined with the open discrimination against locals by the UN and aid agencies, has led many East Timorese to question the direction that UNTAET is leading East Timor.

However, while the administration is not popular, it is generally tolerated because the UN's intervention to end the terror and the subsequent withdrawal of Indonesia's armed forces was a qualitative gain for the East Timorese people.

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