Catholic Institute for International Relations
JULY 5-7 2000

CIIR is grateful to the committee for the opportunity to address its members on the question of Timor Loro Sa'e, we hope for the very last time.

A long road has been travelled since this committee discussed East Timor a year ago. The East Timorese people have demonstrated, overwhelmingly, their wish for self-determination, and the United Nations is now overseeing the transition to full statehood. CIIR congratulates the East Timorese people for the courage and tenacity they have shown over the past 24 years in their struggle to achieve this outcome. We also congratulate the parties to the dispute for their willingness to negotiate an end to the protracted impasse. Although the violent and destructive reaction of some within the Indonesian military establishment and their sympathisers has set East Timor's transition backwards, it is heartening that the international community is at present strongly accompanying the East Timorese. But this is still just the beginning of what will almost certainly be a difficult journey.

East Timorese and International NGOs like ourselves which are operational in East Timor, recently lobbied at the review of the East Timor consolidated appeal in Lisbon. The need was argued for a more coherent development strategy which will ensure a smooth transition from relief to development, incorporating the priorities of the East Timorese themselves. We reiterate once again, the importance of full and extensive East Timorese participation at all levels in this strategy, and the need for effective communications channels so that the East Timorese people are well informed and as a result understand UNTAET strategies.

We would like to take this opportunity to highlight the aspirations and desires of half of East Timor's population which has found it doubly hard to be heard. Not only have East Timorese women been until recently silenced by colonisation, oppression and fear from outside their own communities, but they have also been hampered within them by gender discrimination which has promoted mostly male voices and male views.

Women have contributed convincingly to efforts to repair the torn fabric of East Timorese society since the destructive events of last September. It was women who took the lead in community organising when the violence after the ballot was at its highest, and they were among the first to begin systematically recording and documenting violations of human rights.

The first East Timorese Women's Congress took place from 14-17th June this year. It brought together up to 500 women from all over East Timor. It included the major women's organisations and networks, and individuals not in organisations. During the course of these three days of intensive discussions and planning, women, came up with a comprehensive platform of action to promote greater gender equality in an independent East Timor. East Timorese women have been inspired by the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action for Gender equality and a delegation recently attended the Special session of the UN General Assembly in New York called to review progress on its implementation.

The East Timorese Women's Congress final statement affirms the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and called upon a free East Timor to sign all of these conventions. It urges the United Nations Transition Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) as well as CNRT to honour commitments made by both to the advancement of gender equality.

Specifically, East Timorese women are asking for adequate resources to be made available by UNTAET and the post transition government to make the advancement and empowerment of women a reality. This means that the budget lines recently under discussion for the new UNTAET structure, contain real provision for serious affirmative action programmes.

As has already been affirmed by East Timorese NGOs, there is a strong call on the part of East Timorese women for an international tribunal for those who committed war crimes in East Timor. Women's organisations feel strongly that adequate safeguards for witness protection should be built into new legislation for women giving evidence to rape and other sexual crimes. In addition women are keen to have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up.

East Timorese women are worried about the culture of violence which exists in their country, and this relates also to the lack of protection of women within families, where there is also violence against women. Issues around law and order should be addressed. In order to begin counter-acting this culture of violence, women must be accorded their full rights. Female illiteracy must be tackled, capacity building in all fields addressed, and the full empowerment of women made a top priority. Women's empowerment and capacity building are vital to their full participation in and contribution to reconstruction, development, peace-making and nation building. Their economic and legal rights must be addressed urgently.

Vulnerable groups such as widows, orphans, the disabled, survivors of violence, the elderly and sex workers must be supported and assisted by both government and community.

We end this presentation with a direct quotation from the East Timorese women's platform of action:

"We the women of Timor Loro Sae envision a democratic society; independent, critical; egalitarian; where we have representative institutions/parliament where women's voices are represented; with a constitution which protects women's rights; where we endeavour in the process of strengthening positive norms in our culture and work towards changing norms which are negative towards women; where men are also involved in the building of a just society.

"We appeal to the UNTAET, and also to the National Council of Timorese Resistance and other East Timorese political bodies during the transition of the next few months, to mainstream gender, listen to East Timorese women, assist their access to financial and other resources, and to respond flexibly to their needs."

Mr Chairman, CIIR thanks you for your attention.

Charles Scheiner National Coordinator
East Timor Action Network/US
P.O. Box 1182
White Plains, New York 10602 USA
For information on East Timor write

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