Subject: CapTim: ET women await legal protections

Capital Times (Madison, WI)

November 28, 2001 Wednesday, ALL Editions



BYLINE: Kate Halliday and Diane Farsetta

BODY: "An international tribunal is the most pressing demand in the interests of justice. Of all the victims of Indonesian military violence, the greatest suffering was borne by women, who up to this time have not met with the justice they hoped for."

-- from a statement by REDE, the East Timorese Women's Network, June 2001

During the 24 years of the illegal Indonesian military occupation of East Timor, women were specifically targeted in many ways. Rape, sexual assault, kidnapping of children and forced sterilization were used to terrorize the population and to punish and control families active in the resistance.

Following the referendum for independence in 1999, Indonesian security forces carried out a devastating scorched-earth campaign. Women were not excluded from this violence -- the East Timorese women's organization, FOKUPERS (Communication Forum for East Timorese Women), documented hundreds of rapes of women and girls, just in the capital area and only in the few months surrounding the referendum. Moreover, this number is undoubtedly an understatement of the extent of the violence; the conservative Catholic culture in East Timor often leads to rape victims being blamed for the crime committed against them.

In January 2000, the U.N. International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor called for an international tribunal to be established to hear cases of crimes against humanity, including violence against women. The Indonesian government successfully pressured the world community not to act on this recommendation, promising it would try the cases itself. However, nearly two years later, not a single member of the Indonesian security forces has been indicted -- let alone tried -- despite overwhelming evidence.

At the moment in East Timor, the legal situation in relation to violence against women is complex due to the fact that Indonesian law continues to be the basis for the country's legal code. The Indonesian criminal code does not provide adequate protection for women from violence. Under this law, for example, it is not prohibited for a man to rape his wife. Threats of violence and attempted assault are also not prohibited.

In Indonesia, the many inadequacies of the criminal code mean that any special tribunal established to address crimes against humanity committed in East Timor would exclude the many systematic and widespread cases of violence against women. In East Timor itself, the code complicates efforts to deal with domestic violence.

Tragically, the decades of pervasive brutality continue to haunt East Timorese women, even though the Indonesian security forces have left the country. The number of domestic violence cases has risen sharply over the past two years, with the majority of offenders being husbands and brothers.

* The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women states that women are entitled to equality before the law. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women recognizes that violence against women is an impediment to equality and the full enjoyment of human rights. International solidarity is needed to push for an international tribunal for East Timor and to work with the many incredible East Timorese women's organizations to combat domestic violence.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign. This is the second year that Dane County is participating in the observance. For more information, call 257-7230 or visit


Kate Halliday is an Australian-based lawyer who recently volunteered with FOKUPERS; Diane Farsetta is the Madison-based field organizer for the East Timor Action Network/U.S.

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