ISSN #1088-8136

Vol. 8, No. 1
Spring 2002

East Timor Achieves Hard-won Nationhood

Changes and Challenges in Washington

The Women of East Timor Demand Justice

A Dangerous Oil Slick

Documents Detailing Role of Kissinger and Ford in 1975 Invasion Released

Ten Years for Justice and Self-Determination

ETAN Continues Refugee and Justice Campaigns

About East Timor and the East Timor Action Network

Spring 2002

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ETAN Home Page


The Women of East Timor Demand Justice

by Diane Farsetta

Even as the United Nations conveniently forgets its own recommendations for an international tribunal, the East Timorese leadership comes under increasing political pressure to support “reconciliation,” and the international community attempts to portray the sham Indonesian ad hoc Human Rights Court as an acceptable process (see article page 8), the demands for real justice voiced by East Timorese are growing louder. At an international meeting on East Timor last June, the East Timorese Women’s Network (REDE) stated, “an international tribunal is the most pressing demand in the interests of justice.” A conference on justice and accountability held in Dili last October ended with a unanimous call from all major East Timorese human rights organizations to establish an international tribunal for serious crimes going back to the 1975 Indonesian invasion. In February and March, East Timorese activist Filomena Barros dos Reis brought this important message to 28 cities in 16 states across the U.S. during ETAN’s spring speaking tour on “Finding Justice for East Timor.”


Filomena speaks with Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! Photo by Diane Farsetta.

In her presentations, Filomena shared her personal experiences and political analyses, emphasizing the integral, continuing role of East Timorese women in the movement for justice. Filomena became a human rights activist in response to the widespread suffering of Timorese women. “Everywhere women were wearing the black clothes of mourning,” she said. “I wanted to see women smiling, not crying like they always were during Indonesian times.”

Filomena was one of the first members of the women’s human rights organization FOKUPERS. She explained how a small group of committed activists founded the group: “A friend, an Indonesian human rights defender, came to East Timor in 1997 to do research and found that human rights abuses – especially violence against women – were very serious. We then organized a seminar on women’s health and decided we needed to form an organization to give attention specifically to women. We told the Indonesian military our new organization looked only at health issues, but behind this we secretly did human rights work.”

As a member of FOKUPERS, Filomena gave human rights training sessions throughout the country and counseled women victims of military violence. She took part in FOKUPERS’ first investigation, into an August 1983 massacre: “We realized that to end the occupation, we needed to get information out to our friends overseas. So we went to Creras — now called ‘the Village of Widows’ — where the Indonesian military had killed all of the boys and men over the age of ten. After the massacre, the military closed off the village, not even allowing the women to visit nearby relatives. We had to pretend we were nuns giving religious instruction to be allowed in Creras. At first, the women were too afraid to talk to us, or they said, ‘We are dirty. Don’t get close to us.’ But after a while they began to tell us horrible stories, saying, ‘Suffering for us is like one piece of bread every day.’ This means every day the women were subjected to harassment, torture and rape at the hands of the Indonesian military.”

Filomena clearly stated why she felt it was important for U.S. audiences to know and act on this information: “The U.S. has a lot of power in the world. I have come here to build solidarity with you all, to ask you to work together with us for an international tribunal. The victims of East Timor — especially the women — continue to demand justice. If you pressure your government, justice will be done. In East Timor, people asked me to tell whoever I met in the U.S. that we want peace, but we cannot build a lasting peace without justice.”

Inspired by Filomena dos Reis and the many other East Timorese women fighting for justice, ETAN organized a women’s statement calling for the establishment of an international tribunal for East Timor, with a mandate covering the entire Indonesian military occupation.  The response was tremendous – over 125 concerned feminist organizations and activists signed on in support, including such well-known women by such well-known women as activist Gloria Steinem, actor Susan Sarandon and playwright Eve Ensler, Judith Shapiro, President of Barnard College, authors Naomi Klein and Susan Brownmiller, and Indian organizer Vandana Shiva and human rights defender Sister Dianna Ortiz. Three members of Congress, Reps. Tammy Baldwin (WI), Barabara Lee (CA) and Cynthia McKinney (GA) also signed.

The resolution and list of signatories is on ETAN’s website at

see Women and East Timor page

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