|Subject: XG: at book launch of Women, War,
Speech by His Excellency KAY RALA XANANA GUSMÃO President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste On the occasion of the Launch of the book “Women, War, Peace The Independent Experts’ Assessment”
Dili, 6th August, 2003
Mrs. Noelene Hyezer, Executive Director of UNIFEM to Timor-Leste Ambassadors, Dear friends,
First of all I wish to once again welcome you, Mrs. Noelene Heyzer, Executive Director of UNIFEM, to this beautiful country and commend you for your leadership in the production of this most important book Women, War, Peace The Independent Experts Assessment. I had the pleasure of meeting with you two years ago during your first visit to Timor-Leste and am most pleased to welcome you again, this time in a more formal capacity to an independent Timor-Leste and co-launch this book.
This book is a timely reminder of our common responsibility to prevent war and in places where war is taking or has taken place, to ensure the protection of women and children so that the cycle of violence does not continue. I was concerned to read that women’s experience in time of war, in particular violations against women echo from one country to another in similar fashion. We also have in our memories what the Timorese women have experienced. Women are targeted for their association with one or the other of the warring parties but oftentimes are targeted indiscriminately as the spoils of war. And when the war ends women continue to be vulnerable, their bodies abused in safe camps or trafficked as part of a pervasive industry that has developed all over the world and within our own region.
Adding to this suffering, all too often in post-conflict situations, when peace has been achieved, women are kept away from the decision-making centres and disregarded in the overall political, economic and development process. We are trying to push what our Constitution already established local governance. If we can elections in the districts and sub-districts, I believe Timorese women can participate better in all areas of the country.
I wish to take this opportunity to pay homage to the women of Timor-Leste whom I regret to say were not exempt from the condemnable and most unimaginable forms of sadistic violence. The book makes reference to specific examples of what women have had to endure in Timor-Leste. Nonetheless I am happy to say that the book also captures the enduring spirit and resilience of Timorese women who organised to support themselves and their communities in the most difficult times and continue to do so today by demanding their rights.
Sometimes people talk to me as a hero of this struggle. I must tell you a story about our courageous women. In 1980, when I came to Matebian to re-organise the struggle, we were not familiar with the place. The company I commanded to look after the place did not know the area very well, and so we had to depend on the willingness of the two local guides to take us to the nearest villages. We had to change our tactics from classical to guerrilla warfare, where we needed the participation of the local population. We were in their hands. We moved from village to village and finally entered the village of Fatumaka, where we decided to sleep. While we slept, three local women kept watch, providing us the security we needed to sleep. After a while they woke us and told us that we had to leave for our safety. We were only a simple part of the big process of the struggle. Women too, played a crucial role in the struggle and therefore must be afforded appropriate their place in society.
After too many years of war, Timor-Leste post independence is a country of hope. The healing will take time and our problems are many and varied but it is our responsibility to construct long lasting peace for our people and break the cycle of violence in particular for our women. This means that there is a need for an awareness raising process, whereby women as the majority part of the population, are in involved as active and working participants in the development of their country. This is why I want to repeat that we are pushing the process for local governance, to enable greater participation from women.
To UNIFEM and Mrs. Noelene Heyzer in particular, my congratulations on the launch of Women War Peace in Timor-Leste, and I hope that UNIFEM and all its branches can provide additional funding to be able to translate this book into Tetun and Portuguese so that it becomes accessible to all. To my fellow Timorese women, my profound respect.
Thank you very much.