Subject: Diane Farsetta: East Timor deserves not only peace, but justice

The Capital Times

Diane Farsetta: East Timor deserves not only peace, but justice

By Diane Farsetta

Is the Southeast Asian island nation of East Timor a success story or a basket case?

The former view has been promoted by the United Nations, which headed a transitional government there from 1999 to 2002, and by donor governments and international financial institutions, which spent millions on foreign consultants to Timorese officials. The latter view is suggested by recent media accounts, which have decontextualized, and at times exaggerated, the current unrest in East Timor's capital city, Dili.

While it will take careful investigations and judicial processes to fully understand and address the situation, two things are clear: What is happening in East Timor is truly tragic, and truly complex.

To summarize briefly, what began as a strike and protest by members of the Timorese military in February and March escalated into clashes in Dili that started in April and are still continuing. Twenty-five to 30 people have been killed, including children. Gunfire, house burnings and other attacks led tens of thousands of terrified people to take refuge in churchyards and in the hills surrounding Dili, as was common during the 24-year Indonesian occupation.

The 4-year-old Timorese government requested, and received, military and police contingents from neighboring countries, in an attempt to end the violence.

If there is one place in the world that deserves peace, it's East Timor. The Timorese have endured a series of often-brutal foreign occupations by the Portuguese, Japanese and Indonesians. Indonesia illegally claimed East Timor as its own province from 1975 to 1999.

Mindful of Indonesia's economic and geopolitical importance, the United States, Britain and Australia provided military and political assistance for the occupation, which claimed the lives of some 200,000 East Timorese.

As a U.N.-accredited observer of East Timor's 1999 referendum on independence, I saw the bravery of Timorese who organized peacefully for an end to the Indonesian occupation - and paid a price.

In the southern town of Suai, Father Hilario Madeira held peace forums in the weeks before the referendum. Two days after the resounding win for independence was announced, he was killed, shot by Indonesian military officers as he sought to protect the people taking refuge in his churchyard.

As a participant in delegations to Madison's sister city of Ainaro in 2002 and 2005, I've been inspired by Timorese friends who, despite scarce resources and challenging conditions, are working to realize a better future.

Elvis Ferreira leads workshops that help people rebuild their own houses. Leonia de Araujo is part of a weaving cooperative that provides a modest income to women who often have no other way to pay for their children's school or health care. Angelino da Silva works with a small band of committed volunteers to keep Ainaro's community radio station on the air.

But these grass-roots projects can only do so much. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. cautioned, "True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice."

Unfortunately, the international community has not supported justice for East Timor. This stance not only disrespects the Timorese people's tremendous past sacrifices and current struggles, it also helped create the conditions under which the recent unrest spiraled out of control.

If the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Bank would make economic justice a priority, there wouldn't be gangs in Dili of unemployed youths, who quickly joined the violence and looting.

If the United States would support an international tribunal for East Timor, instead of allowing war crimes and crimes against humanity to go unpunished, even rogue elements of Timorese society would have greater respect for the rule of law.

If the U.S., Britain and Australia would pay war reparations - as called for by East Timor's Commission for Truth, Reception and Reconciliation - there would be more funds for reconstruction.

The same would be true if Australia would stop stealing the oil reserves off East Timor's south coast, which belong to East Timor under international law.

Hopefully, peace will soon return to Dili's streets. Then the broader campaign for justice must resume, with international solidarity groups actively supporting Timorese demands.

Diane Farsetta is the coordinator of the Madison-Ainaro Sister City Alliance ( Published: June 6, 2006 

Back to June menu
May menu      
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu