Subject: UCAN: Church reiterates human rights as fundamental to peace and order

December 18, 2007 Church reiterates human rights as fundamental to peace and order

DILI (UCAN) : During a special prayer service marking International Human Rights Day, Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili urged his people to respect human rights, especially the fundamental right to life.

Bishop da Silva asked the 700 Mass participants gathered in Immaculate Conception Cathedral on Dec. 10 to reflect on the value of human rights and to link human rights to the current reality of East Timor (Timor Leste).

"What have we done to show we respect each other's rights?" he asked. "Given the situation we faced this past year, when the country fell into crisis, there have been lots of human rights violations in this country."

Communal violence erupted in Timor Leste in April 2006 following the government's dismissal of more than one third of the country's army.

The dismissed solders, from the western part of the country, alleged discrimination. Many claim people from East Timor's eastern side were the backbone of resistance against Indonesian rule during the 1980s and 1990s.

Tensions sparked by the soldiers' complaints and dismissal degenerated into clashes between groups claiming to represent one side of the other. At least 20 people died and more than 100,000 were displaced, taking refuge in camps. Many of the camps were set up in Catholic churches and centers.

The Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor and Solidarity says 64,367 people still live in 44 refugee camps within the Dili area, where the violence was concentrated. People still sheltered in such makeshift camps remain fearful that violence awaits them if they return home, and some say they can never return because their homes were burned in the rioting.

Bishop da Silva told people at the Mass that people must understand the right to survival is a most fundamental human right and the Church is concerned about it. "The leader of the country must build a better system to guarantee that human rights are respected by the people," he added, "but you must always be close to God. Otherwise, your mind will be filled with devils that will trigger you to commit crimes."

In an expression of love following the Mass, a group of young people called "Youth With No Violence" distributed flowers to Mass participants and displaced people who live around the cathedral. The youths then demonstrated conflict resolution by presenting a drama showing a violent incident with machete-wielding youth on Dili's streets. Their play showed how the problem could have been solved without loss of life and property.

Father Cyrus V. Banque, a Filipino who coordinates "Youth With No Violence" and directs Dili diocese's Peace and Justice Commission, told UCA News on Dec. 10, "It is very important for people to know how to solve their own problems without committing violence."

The Church sees the value of human rights in the world, he added, but rights generally have been ever less respected as people increasingly value money and possessions, and this blinds young people to the promotion of human rights.

Mario Soares, 25, a "Youth With No Violence" member, told UCA News he wants all people to respect people's rights. "We have been doing this kind of activity in the community," he said. "I believe the people of Timor Leste one day will consciously respect human rights."

Timor Leste gained independence from Indonesia in 2002. More than 90 percent of its 1 million people are Catholics. Though the former Portuguese colony has sizable offshore oil and gas reserves, it faces major security, humanitarian and economic challenges, including an unemployment rate of about 50 percent.

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