East Timorese National
Convention in the Diaspora
For the first time in 23 years of resistance, exiled Timorese individuals and organisations came together in April for the East Timorese National Convention in the Diaspora. Although a meeting had been in the planning for some time, the economic and political turmoil in Indonesia persuaded East Timorese of all political tendencies and none to gather on 23-27 April in Peniche, Portugal.
The Convention established the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), which encompasses the entire resistance movement, including both major Timorese political parties, Fretilin and the UDT.(1) The Convention adopted a 'Magna Carta on Freedoms, Rights and Duties, and Guarantees for the People of East Timor'. It also elected officers for the CNRT's political, executive and judiciary commissions.
The Magna Carta provides a comprehensive basis for the future constitution and political direction of an independent East Timor, pledges adherence to the rule of law and guarantees civil and political rights for East Timor's citizens.
To jubilation among the participants, resistance leader Xanana Gusmão was elected president of the CNRT's political and executive councils.
The Convention was organised by members of political institutions and church representatives. It evaluated and restructured the resistance movement, its external representation in particular, so as to increase its capacity to confront the challenges presented by the fall of Suharto and the consequences for East Timor of the upheavals and attempted reforms in Indonesia.
After the meeting, the CNRT re-asserted the right of the East Timorese to self-determination, to be expressed in a referendum. The Council also called for direct participation, of Timorese in talks between Indonesia and Portugal led by Xanana Gusmão.
The CNRT is arguably still a part of, and influenced by, the older generation within the resistance movement. However, it is trying to introduce new ideas and new people. It has established a think-tank, the Cabinet for Strategic Studies, composed entirely of the new generation. Answerable directly to the presidency, the Cabinet should provide an antithesis to the CNRT's more traditional structures. If it is to bring about genuine change within the resistance movement, however, the Council must address issues such as the equal participation of women.
Carmel Budiardjo, co-founder of TAPOL, the UK-based Indonesian Human Rights Campaign, was present at the Convention. This is her memory of the conclusion: