Subject: XG: Challenges for Peace and Stability


Address by


On the occasion of the Chancellor’s Human Rights Lecture

University of Melbourne, Australia

7 April 2003

“Challenges for Peace and Stability”

Madam Chancellor,

Mr Vice-Chancellor,

Distinguished faculty and students,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour and a pleasure to be here tonight at one of Australia’s oldest and foremost institutions of higher education, a University that has and continues to recognize its major responsibility towards supporting human rights and providing intellectual leadership in this field both in the national and international contexts.

I have been asked tonight to speak on the Challenges for Peace and Stability, focussing on the national reconciliation process in Timor-Leste and its importance in developing positive regional relations.

For many years Timor-Leste suffered tremendous human rights violations and led an isolated existence at the periphery of the world. These two facts are interlinked. In the thoughts I would like to share with you this evening, I will focus on what the people and institutions of our newly independent Timor-Leste are doing to build a future based on respect for human rights as a responsible and equal citizen of the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I know that your university has a strong commitment to contributing to the work of promoting peace, reconciliation and conflict resolution. Events in the world today remind us every moment of the importance of this work. Perhaps the experiences of our small nation might offer some insights into this work.

I would like to begin by focusing on a word much used, in many cultural and political contexts, though not always with the depth of understanding it deserves: Reconciliation!

Reconciliation is at once a simple and a complex concept. Say it quickly, as many people do, and we think we know what it means long-time enemies coming together, making peace. Simple but intricate in the complexity of all the personal, psychological, cultural, political and social dimensions that this can mean even for any two individuals. Reconciliation is a simultaneous reaching into ourselves to find the strength and courage to make peace, and a reaching out to the other with whom we have been in conflict. We can see that this is never easy, it cannot be completed in one simple action but is a long, ongoing process.

Since 2000, the Timorese began to explore the possibility of establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was eventually established on 21 January 2002. This Commission is known by its Portuguese acronym, CAVR. The Chairperson is Timor-Leste’s pre-eminent human rights lawyer, Mr. Aniceto Guterres Lopes.

The CAVR has over 200 staff and commissioners, and has teams working in every district of Timor-Leste. It is a strong community focus, and is working in villages all over Timor-Leste. It has a mandate: - To seek the truth about human rights violations that occurred in Timor-Leste between 25 April 1974 and 25 October 1999, meaning the violations occurred even before the Indonesian invasion.

- To assist the reintegration into their communities of people who have harmed them by committing less serious crimes.

Tetum speakers have a word for reconciliation: “Nahe Biti” literally meaning “stretching the mat” this stretching of the traditional grass mat and opening it out makes space for others to sit on the mat and so tell their sides of the story too.

A special feature of the CAVR is its grassroots focus on reconciliation, in what it calls community reconciliation procedures. This is rooted in the culture of the “nahe biti”. These are hearings held at the village level, where perpetrators of less serious crimes come forward voluntarily to admit what they have done and seek to reconcile with victims and the whole community.

These hearings link the formal justice system with the customs of each local area. They are legitimate both in the eyes of jurists and rural communities who respect both the modern law and the ancient traditions of our land. The CAVR aims to hold hearings for over 1000 perpetrators, and already has processed approximately 250.

In the other part of the Commission’s mandate, seeking the truth about all human rights violations, including the most serious violations, the CAVR is taking statements from victims all over the country. So far, over 2500 people have recorded their statements. The Commission also holds public hearings, where it focuses on recognizing the pain of victims, making peace and trying to deal with our past and healing the divisions and ruptures in our society - and through their individual stories showing us the national story.

Reconciliation means peace of mind within ourselves; freedom from feelings of bitterness, division, suspicion, misunderstanding. To heal also the divides and ruptures that sometimes happened even within a family, within villages, between former friends.

What then should we do to achieve this healing process, in the building of our country, in the building of a new society?

We advocate a reconciliation process whereby there is justice but which eschews revenge, resentment or hatred. Reconciliation in Timor-Leste is a complex process requiring the careful balancing of interests. On the one hand, the interests of justice and the suffering of the victim, on the other hand the need to heal a land.

The CAVR is the first reconciliation Commission established in the Asian region. We know that human rights activists and governments in the region are watching this innovative process with interest. In this way, the small nation of Timor-Leste is leading in the promotion of human rights, and making a real contribution to the issue of how to build peace after years of conflict.

Reconciliation is a pre-requisite for national stability, and national stability is a pre-requisite for development.

Reconciliation unveils itself to people as a political and moral exercise demanded only to perpetrators and victims of violence.

It is very important for the future peace and stability in the country, to address other, no less relevant, aspects.

I understand the international community was concerned with the November events in Baucau, with the 4th December events in Dili, with events in Atsabe on 4th January and with the destabilizing actions in the western region, close to the border. Last Friday, 4th April, the Security Council decided to postpone the PKF withdrawal timeframe, because of threats and security issues in the territory.

There are two causes for the current instability in Timor-Leste.

One is the degree of frustration demonstrated via protests or violent actions by the youth together with former Falintil combatants. The second one is more like a need to put political pressure on the reconciliation process itself. Despite the effort undertaken by the Serious Crimes Unit in issuing the indictments of East Timorese who committed crimes in September 1999 which we deem important the Special Court established to this effect has only held a couple of trials of former militia coming from West Timor.

During the three years of reconciliation experience, from the Bali and Baucau meetings in 2000 to the sequence of border meetings between former militias and their own communities in East Timor, we were steadfast in holding to the principle that there would be no reconciliation without justice and, raising the idea of a national amnesty policy that would cover those who had undergone trial.

However, we still face strong opposition from former militia who have influence over the more than thirty thousand refugees remaining in West Timor and who call for a plain amnesty. The Special Court will still have to wait to initiate a continuous and comprehensive justice process covering the East Timorese who were involved in the 1999 violence.

Ladies end Gentlemen,

I must say that the causes of instability, the first aforementioned cause, are a product of the policy of tolerance and National Unity, within the spirit of reconciliation, adopted by CNRT at the beginning of the transition process, together with UNTAET. This policy stopped us from recruiting resistance cadres and youth just for the sake of having committed themselves to the struggle more than others.

Those same people, today, watch others who were never very sympathetic to the resistance, take over jobs or finding a livelihood, on behalf of democracy and tolerance and, the outcome is frustration taking over the mind and spirits.

It is important for the future peace and stability to address the needs of all those who committed their lives to the struggle. Just a few days before leaving East Timor, two former Falintil commanders who fought for 24 years in the jungle, came to see me in the office in Dili. With tears in their eyes, they told me that more than 20 former Falintil combatants, who have joined other groups to destabilise the government, are now in the jungle and enter the villages to extort the population.

For many former Falintil guerrilla soldiers there is a certain lack of meaning to freedom and independence after 24 years of struggle they are saying “had I known that it would come to this”. This is the frustration of people who fought so long for freedom and independence and now do not experience a significant change in their lives. The struggle is over, they are left without purpose, without meaning, without jobs, without a pension, and without skills (other than guerrilla warfare) to start a new life.

They need some recognition so as to be proud of their past deeds. Besides many widows and orphans, some of them have been left disabled, unable to provide for the education of their children.

For these reasons the Presidency has established two Commissions to deal with the question of Former Combatants and Veterans of Falintil, including the families of those who died. These two Commissions have already initiated their work with the objective of collecting data and establishing a database in order to, in the near future, begin thinking of ways to pay homage and give recognition to them for their role in the struggle, and how to assist them to have a normal life within their communities.

There is also an organisation, which I set up straight after the dissolution of the CNRT in June 2001, to assist the cadres of the clandestine resistance, called AVR (Association of Resistance Veterans).

We face the need for social reconciliation and a reconciliation of minds. We are aware that only an adequate economic development plan can override the instability risks of the future. I personally do not believe that we would ensure stability just by putting every former militia in jail. The dozens or hundreds of people we will sentence will be an added burden on the government, not only because of infrastructure needs but also because of the funding necessary to pay for staff and food. The government was compelled to increase taxes by 20% because there is no alternative income source. People tend to forget that we are dependent on the assistance provided by the international community and that the one hundred and fifty million dollars pledged for Timor-Leste are not enough to cover the country’s development needs.

I meet twice a month with dozens of people who raise their daily problems: lack of jobs, lack of food, lack of money to pay school fees or to see their children through University or, to pay for the diploma itself.

On the other hand, our prisons are full of people who charged with petty crimes awaiting trial because our courts are unable to cope with the demand.

Nevertheless, when I identified economic development as the number one priority for Timor-Leste, East Timorese human rights organisations still considered justice a priority that must override development.

I believe there are only two alternatives regarding the second cause of instability: armed incursions. One is to increase dramatically the number and the quality of our armed forces’ weaponry, but we do not wish to take this path. The second one is to postpone indefinitely the PKF withdrawal until the former militia decide to return voluntarily and face justice or give up their attempts to destabilise the country.

Many people do not consider the practical issues of our current situation and those in medium term, that do not enable us to resolve our problems. However, they still demand that we meet their expectations.

Ladies and gentlemen, We cannot build meaningful reconciliation without a solid human rights foundation.

South Africa is a good example to us of a country, which, coming from a history of human rights violations, has received international credibility due to its embrace of a human rights culture and leading the field in many respects in this regard.

But, De Klerk and P. W. Botha were never imprisoned when apartheid was considered a crime against humanity. In Portugal, for example, after forty eight years of fascism, there was sufficient political courage for a general amnesty, after the Carnation Revolution in April 1974. At the time it created much internal controversy, but today the people and the average Portuguese citizen remember the past, not with trauma, but as an experience in their history that they would not wish to see repeated.

At times, it is difficult to understand that we want to put pain behind us. Since January 2001, I have been stating that the International Tribunal is not a priority for Timor-Leste. Recently, many human rights organizations wrote to me expressing their disagreement with my “statement” on the notorious indictments.

When speaking of victims, I must say that I witnessed the bombings, by air, sea and land and I saw pieces of human flesh nailed to the trees, thrown against the rocks and spread out on the ground. I watched, impotently, dozens of people buried in the caves that crumbled as a result of the bombings; I saw rotten and abandoned bodies because nobody had the time to bury them.

I must remind you that I also know of several cases of massacres and I followed the cases of imprisonment of various companions who, one by one, were taken at night and disappeared.

I saw the best guerrilla commanders and combatants fall, and I cried countless times.

However, I must emphasise that, despite all this, the people were prepared to accept further sacrifices. And the sacrifices were understood because of ideals independence, liberation.

I know that all I have said does not clear anyone of having committed a crime.

But, for me and many Timorese, the greatest, the best Justice that was done, was the ending of the people’s suffering, through the opportunity of exercising the right to decide one’s own destiny.

It is normal that, in post-conflict situations, trauma (supposedly collective, as in the whole society) is emphasised as the worst thing to be confronted, as though it is a ‘sine qua non’ condition for the resurrection of the people for the new process.

And when we speak about reconciliation, it is almost a crime not to speak of justice and many argue that it clashes with ethics and morals (in relation to justice for the sake of justice). And trauma is upheld today as the sword of human rights.

When we claim justice on behalf of the victims, we are being led by a feeling of revenge, in that the criminals have to pay for what they did.

Within Timor-Leste, we lose the memory of the sacrifices accepted during the struggle and the notion of nation building in the complexity of its problems, and limit the process to a factor, that is trauma, which is not ever lasting nor incurable.

Our people learned of human rights through the violations of human rights. They understood the meaning of freedom through the repression in which they lived, they understood the lack of freedom through the regime that persecuted, arrested, tortured and killed them.

We have already overcome this period. Today, there is a fundamental need that our people acquire the knowledge of the positive side of human rights the right to housing, the right to freedom of speech, of association and assembly, the right to employment, the right to participate and decide, etc...

In Timor-Leste, the educated society awards an excessive attention to cases of human rights violations, such as arrest without evidence. There were cases where the release of individuals arrested for taking part in an armed assault or in activities which threatened the security of the population, was immediately demanded, because their capture/arrest was an abuse of human rights. And when the question was raised of the human rights of those people killed and of the population which lived in fear and could not even work in their fields, resulting in a loss of production to provide for their families, the response was in those cases, it is not considered a violation of human rights but simply a ‘crime’.

I think that there is really a specific type of trauma in the more educated Timorese society, when dealing with human rights issues. I see the other face of traumatized reality inside and outside of Timor-Leste many people do not want to recognize that trauma exists, that there are violations of human rights, in their own spirits, when the victims themselves are concerned with how to survive in the difficult times of independence.

Human rights must be the solid foundation upon which social justice is built. With Social justice, these rights will acquire a socio-economic and cultural dimension. It is not feasible for Timor-Leste to provide adequate shelter, education, employment and health care to all citizens immediately. Nevertheless, we should work towards achieving these rights progressively by creating the conditions by which people can realise their own rights through their skills and initiative. A rights-based society is one in which discrimination is eliminated and equal opportunity is given for individuals to flourish.

Our society experienced the absence of human rights and suffered violations. Now, we need to experience the other side of human rights. The people in the villages and mountains need to learn what human rights are so as to be able to experience them and, thus, effect change in society.

The Presidency of Timor-Leste decided to undertake (and has already initiated) a broad campaign for a debate at national level on local governance and the mechanisms for the electoral process. Such mechanisms will be put to the consideration of the Government, in order to begin drafting the necessary legal framework.

The kind of participation we expect from citizens, individually, and from the people, within the communities, must be a conscientious one and not just appear to be.

It will only be conscientious when people have an exact notion of their rights, as an individual and as part of a wider society. Only when people know of the magnitude of their rights and the dimension of their duties, can they be capable of assessing their own development projects and government programs.

Only thus, will the elections, held every five years, have an impact on programs presented by politicians or by political parties. Only thus, will elections be conscious acts of choice by the citizen. Otherwise, elections will not be but a mechanism to choose who has greater financial capacity to mobilize the people for rallies, giving a false impression of greatness and misleading the population to vote for people without clear programs, without ideas and without vision.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our new democracy not only aspires to uphold principles of international law and act in accordance with international law, but aims to enhance the role of international law as part of the law of Timor-Leste and so doing, to serve as a safeguard against the repetition of the atrocities of the past.

Last year - on 10 December - on International Human Rights Day I signed a document committing Timor-Leste to a package of international human rights treaties that have sprung from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights; the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

With its new Constitution, Timor-Leste stands on the threshold of a new era in the history of democratic state formation. However, there is no historical law that directs that the principles, values and institutions enshrined in the new Constitution will inevitably lead to a happy future, but, at least for the first time in the country’s history, the basis and orientation is different and sound. The ratification of international treaties and conventions is, however, no more than a starting point.

Timor-Leste is a new state. Tremendous challenges and institution building awaits our country on many fronts. To secure the democracy and the fundamental human rights we have so long fought for, we need to build a fair and effective system of law and order, justice and good governance.

The UN Transitional Administration proceeded to create four District Courts, appointed East Timorese judges, prosecutors and public defenders and put in place a transitional legal system. Consequently, many of the key court actors entered into an emergency court system with minimal training, little experience, and the effective absence of an operational court administration.

Although there is a strong commitment to human rights, in practice the justice system is steering dangerously close to falling below minimum international standards. The new judiciary must be able to uphold such standards if they are to earn the public confidence necessary for a society based on the rule of law.

To uphold democracy and human rights we need a strong and independent judiciary. If the justice system fails to meet international human rights standards, it will not be able to fulfil its important role in establishing the rule of law and overcoming a legacy of impunity and selective justice.

A functioning court administration is part of the institutional basis of the fundamental right to a fair trial before a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal. Particular elements of this right are currently affected by the lack of an effective administration. The right to a public hearing is undermined by access problems, including access to information about the court proceedings.

These concerns have broader implications for the building of a sustainable justice system that enjoys the public trust and confidence that is necessary for a society based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.

Ladies and Gentlemen

An important safeguard of a fair trial is the right to appeal to ensure judicial scrutiny of a court’s decision at a higher level. To secure the right to appeal our Constitution provides for the establishment of a Court of Appeal as an interim measure pending the creation of a Supreme Court and Supreme Council of the Judiciary.

We are now working on the establishment of the Court of Appeal. Due to the lack of human resources, in terms of experienced judges, we will not have a High Court yet. Nevertheless, although not being the High Court, the Court of Appeal, will temporarily assume the competencies of the High Court, in its constitutional duties and will have the task of judicial scrutiny of the judicial system.

I have already appointed the President of the Court of Appeal, and am now waiting for the ratification by the Parliament, whose endorsement will give the necessary authority and strengthen the body to act properly.

Timor-Leste is a small country, with a low crime rate, which could be served by a relatively, small, effective judiciary supported by an efficient court administration.

There needs to be substantial reforms of the court administration, including significantly improved resource mobilisation and co-ordinated training and mentoring of East Timorese staff.

We have been faced with a rare opportunity to make the most of the “clean slate” situation in 1999 by trying to establish best practices in the justice system. We need to seize what remains of this opportunity before problems become entrenched and then all the more difficult to change.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All that has been said above, merely constitutes our commitment to peace and stability. But Timor-Leste must not isolate itself from the world. However, in order to reach out to the world, Timor-Leste, has Australia, close by to its south and shares a land border with Indonesia, besides having an enclave within Indonesian West Timor.

Timor-Leste has a long, and of course complex history with Indonesia. Since the trauma of the war, much has been done by both sides to put this relationship on a new and positive footing.

At a people to people level, amongst civil society, Timorese and Indonesians have never stopped talking. Indonesia’s human rights community has deep links with Timor’s human rights community. We also maintain economic relations with Indonesia, where the scale weighs favourably towards Indonesian products, because they are cheaper and because we lack industries. And I must mention, that we have thousands of youths studying at Indonesian universities.

At the state-to-state level, both countries have been focused on reconciliation which is forward looking.

In November 1999 we went to Jakarta and met with the Indonesian Government. We told them: “we came here to tell you, the past is the past. These two decades of conflict between us was a tragic historical mistake”.

In 2000, Indonesia’s President Wahid acknowledged the results of the Popular Consultation and through him the Indonesian Parliament this signalled a new and historic step in relations between Indonesia and Timor-Leste. President Wahid’s visit to Timor-Leste in 2000, was a much appreciated symbol of a new relationship.

On our Independence Day last year on 20 May, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri displayed political courage and real statesmanship and honoured us in attending our independence celebration. The courage of President Megawati - and the symbolism of her presence to celebrate with East Timorese leaders and people showed tremendous spirit on her part. On entering the stage, thousands of East Timorese spontaneously erupted with applause and clapping. President Megawati stole the show on Independence Day, arriving with the largest delegation from Jakarta. The incredibly warm welcome that President Megawati received showed that the East Timorese people spontaneously understood the significance of her presence as the symbol of a new relationship, and that they are extremely open to new peaceful relations with Indonesia and, appreciated and acknowledged this act of courage.

In July last year, within two months after our Independence, I paid a State Visit to Indonesia where I was warmly received by Her Excellency President Megawati Sukarnoputri, her cabinet, the Parliament, and the people of Indonesia.

I can tell you that a very special and mutually respectful relationship has developed between East Timor and Indonesia.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Timor-Leste has shared a long history with Australia. The relationship between Australia and Timor-Leste is not only about the emergency of September 1999 or about the solidarity network in the years before.

This relationship is the history of neighbouring countries and friends who support each other. It is also about the magnanimous contribution of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

Our close relationship started in the Second World War when Timor-Leste was the frontline in the defence of Australia.

In recent times, Australia has clearly aligned itself with its Asian neighbours. Part of this recognition is that Indonesia is the single largest key neighbour for Australia and so for many years Australia has sought to build a strong relationship with Indonesia. At various times over the years, Australia has seen Timor-Leste differently.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard made a bold and courageous decision in leading the international force that secured peace in East Timor in September 1999. This had implications for Australia’s own important relationship with Indonesia.

Prime Minister John Howard’s visit to Jakarta in April last year, clearly indicates that a good relationship with Timor-Leste does not preclude good relations with Indonesia.

We are committed to strengthening ties with Australia.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For the future of Timor-Leste, it is important that we begin to think now of our role in the region.

We see that the West Pacific Forum, that has as partners, essentially Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste, can become an instrument for great opportunities.

There is the idea of a formation of a peripheral sub-regional co-operation which would involve the Northern Territory (Australia), PNG, Sabah (Malaysia), South Mindanao (Philippines), Timor-Leste and the eastern part of Indonesia.

I should say that, in this context, we will ensure a special relationship with NTT province of Indonesia and, in particular, with West Timor.

Within this sub-regional frame, and above all, with the eastern part of Indonesia, we will have greater perspective on economic co-operation, in terms of infrastructure development, communication, fisheries and tourism, as well as in regards to improving security mechanisms to prevent drug trafficking, illegal smuggling of people and arms, and finally, a better cultural exchange.

Timor-Leste lies at a crossroads between South-East Asia and the Pacific.

Growing interdependence among countries and regions in this era of globalisation and changing geopolitical situation makes it vitally necessary for us to strengthen further interregional co-operation. This co-operation will be developed at a State level.

In the next few years, as we are busy consolidating our democratic institutions and building the foundations of peace and stability, we wish to obtain observer status in the various regional institutions such as the Pacific Islands Forum, in order to get acquainted with the realities, challenges and opportunities offered.

We are seeking observer status in that very important regional body, ASEAN, whose members have given us unqualified support. In the long term, we hope to be accepted as a member. There will be an ASEAN summit in 2004 hosted by Indonesia. It is our desire that Timor-Leste will be accepted as an observer supported by the Indonesian Government.

In conclusion, I must state that for this general co-operation to produce effects and impacts beyond the much needed, yet limited, economic co-operation, security, infrastructure, and information sharing, we also need to develop a deeper human co-operation. Person-to-person and community-to-community exchanges are a sound and effective means towards mutual understanding, to acquire greater mutual knowledge and, consequently, to ensure peace and stability, not only in Timor-Leste but between Timor-Leste and its regional neighbours.

This will be the small contribution Timor-Leste can make to peace and stability in the world.

Thank you.

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