etmnlong.gif (2291 bytes) spacer CNRT NATIONAL CONGRESS, DILI 21-29 AUGUST 2000

Human rights and the duties of citizens
Pat Walsh

In his remarks to the recent human rights workshop, the South African parliamentarian Johny de Lange reminded his East Timorese audience that the processes currently underway in East Timor will only come once in our lifetime and once in the life of East Timor. This, he said, makes this generation of East Timorese the ‘chosen generation’.

The biblical reference to the chosen people is particularly apt. The experience of the East Timorese people has much in common with the chosen people of the Old Testament who experienced a cruel deprivation of their human rights in Eygpt but then broke free to enter the promised land. The reference is also apt in another way. As part of their liberation, the chosen people entered a covenant with God to meet certain commitments.

In 1998, CNRT made a covenant or social contract with the East Timorese people in the form of the 'Magna Carta Concerning Freedoms, Rights, Duties, and Guarantees For the People of East Timor'.

The CNRT Magna Carta is a powerful document, crafted with great feeling and commitment. It was written before the collapse of Suharto and Indonesia’s subsequent policy change on East Timor and with an eye to the international community which was still wavering on East Timor at the time. But it stands on its intrinsic merits and should not be devalued because of the political situation at the time of its creation.

Like the Covenant of old, the CNRT Magna Carta is what its title says it is, namely a great undertaking, a solemn and sacred commitment. It owes its origins primarily to the vision of CNRT leaders who were convinced that justice and reason would prevail, that East Timor would achieve its freedom and that the struggles and sacrifices behind it had to be harnessed and projected as ideals and principles for the future.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the great achievements of the twentieth century, is the product of a similar dynamic. Completed in 1948 following the Second World War, the Universal Declaration is the work of good people who were profoundly outraged by the evils of that war, both in Europe and in Asia.

Their response was not just to decry these excesses, but to take long term action to prevent their recurrence. They did two things. They replaced the sick and outdated dogmas of racism and colonialism with principles crystallised from the wisdom of the centuries and created a global code of ethics for all people everywhere.

Having clarified and agreed on universal principles, they then set about the long, laborious and ambitious process of establishing machinery to ensure these principles were understood and complied with in practice. As East Timorese know better than most, this process is still going on and the principles are often betrayed in the pursuit of more primitive objectives even by nations who regard themselves as sophisticated and developed. But the objective remains the same: to create a world in which every human being can live in peace and security under the rule of human rights law not the law of the jungle where man eats man (and woman) and only the fittest survive.

Like the UDHR, to which it subscribes, the Magna Carta is more than a noble statement of principles. It is a solemn pledge to all the East Timorese of this generation whose human rights have been victimised that the future will be different. To all the victims of the last 26 years whoever they are - the disappeared, the tortured, the physically and mentally maimed, the orphans, the political prisoners, the traumatised, the displaced and dispossessed, the exiled, the defenders of human rights, whether NGOs or Falintil, the widowed, the women defiled by rape - the Magna Carta says never, ever again. Your suffering has not been in vain.

Like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Magna Carta is several pages long and refers to the many different rights we have - civil, political, economic, social and cultural. These are the fundamental requirements we have for a fully human life. The basic message, however, can be reduced to one simple truth. This is that there is fundamentally only one right - the right to be human, and one duty - the obligation to respect and uphold the humanity of others. Or, to put it in Judaeo-Christian terms, each human being is made in the image of God; to violate this image is a sacrilege and offence to God. All human beings, without exception and regardless of their gender, beliefs, political opinions, or race have entitlements as a consequence of their inherent dignity, worth and beauty. Equally, all human beings and human institutions have the duty to respect and uphold these rights. Centres of power - whether political, economic or military - have a special duty in this regard, including towards those sections of society who are disadvantaged, vulnerable or minorities.

Reference was made earlier to the practical steps which had to be taken to ensure the implementation in practice of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The protection of human rights has to be institutionalised. We know from bad experiences in many parts of the world that statements of principle, even constitutions which enshrine human rights, no matter how noble and well-intentioned, are not enough. The road to the hell of human rights abuse is paved with good conventions.

This is where we are at now in East Timor. Having drafted the Magna Carta as a statement of principles and intentions, the challenge now facing the 'chosen generation' is to translate these ideas into practical programs that will deliver concrete, long term benefits to all the citizens of East Timor, especially the victims and the disadvantaged. The Magna Carta is like an architect's blueprint that now has to be converted into more detailed drawings and ultimately functional bricks and mortar.


The following steps are proposed for your consideration.

1. First, that this Congress re-affirms the CNRT Magna Carta. The Magna Carta was formulated outside East Timor with necessarily limited participation by East Timorese due to the Indonesian military occupation at the time. The re-affirmation of the Magna Carta on Timorese soil by this more representative Congress will demonstrate CNRT's commitment to human rights in the new East Timor and provide a consensus and national platform on which to build needed human rights initiatives and projects.

2. Second, that human rights be enshrined as a centrepiece in the formulation of East Timor's new constitution. This will mean that community consultations to be held on the content of the constitution should allow plenty of time for education, dialogue and discussion about human rights in the East Timor context. This in turn will require the services of East Timorese NGOs and others trained in human rights and familiar with East Timorese traditions and culture. As a distinctively East Timorese creation, the constitution should reflect the positive elements in East Timor's culture including its communal aspects. I agree with the point made by Madame Danielle Mitterand yesterday that, in framing the constitution, the emphasis on the rights of the individual in the UDHR should be complemented with a recognition that we are social beings who have to live in and contribute to society, locally and globally. Building a civil society and social capital does not only depend on respect for freedoms of expression, assembly and association. It also depends on a culture of altruism, volunteerism and community service.

3. Third, that CNRT considers the practical recommendations made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, in her speech 'Building the Future of East Timor on a Culture of Human Rights' given in Dili on 7 August. These recommendations included:

ratification of international human rights standards;

development of domestic legislation in keeping with these standards which will protect all human rights - economic, social, cultural, civil and political;

the development of institutions, including an independent judiciary, an impartial and professional police force, and a well trained civil service which will make sure that laws are applied equally and without discrimination and will act against corruption, whether economic or political;

human rights training for key groups such as political parties, government officials, judges, police, teachers, media and NGOs;

human rights education and awareness programs in the community and through the formal education system;

the development of a comprehensive and coordinated national action plan on human rights for East Timor.

4. Fourth, that this CNRT Congress endorses the recommendations on human rights from the workshop on 'Human rights and the future of East Timor' organised by the East Timor Jurists Association (ANMEFTIL) and the UNTAET Human Rights Unit and held in Dili, 7-8 August. Copies of the recommendations have been distributed during the Congress and discussed in several Commissions. They contain many positive suggestions from the representative group of East Timorese and friends who participated in the workshop. These include, in particular, practical measures which will assist in the removal of discrimination against women, victims, children and minorities, not least in the area of economic and social rights.

5. Fifth, that CNRT endorse the establishment of a truth, justice and reconciliation commission in East Timor. The right to information and truth is a basic human right. Justice, through legal and other forms of accountability, is an essential component of reconciliation. It will undermine human rights and set back international efforts to remove the scourge of impunity, if reconciliation in East Timor was to facilitate or legitimate impunity.

6. Sixth, that practical ways be developed of preserving East Timor’s human rights record for future generations of East Timorese. These initiatives might include (a) a national human rights archive project, incorporating documents and other material from both inside and outside East Timor (b) preserving 'the scene of the crime' for future generations by leaving several particularly graphic or symbolic sites of destruction around East Timor in their current ruined condition; (c) memorials, plaques and other public gestures to victims, and so on.

Who is going to do this work?

First, it should be made clear that human rights are not only the responsibility of CNRT. The international community has a big contribution to make and Mary Robinson for one outlined during her visit what practical steps her office in Geneva will be taking to assist East Timor in the field of human rights. The point I wish to emphasise, however, is that the principles espoused in the Magna Carta should inspire and inform all East Timor's institutions, activities and policies and that converting the vision of the Magna Carta into reality will require the collective and coordinated effort of all East Timorese.

There is a widespread but mistaken belief that only governments have responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights puts the responsibility on all of us, without exemptions. It states: 'Every individual and every organ of society… shall strive…to promote respect for these rights and freedoms by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance'.

All of us living and working in East Timor have to ask ourselves what this responsibility means for me and my organisation. What is the role of the business community, political parties, the Church and other faith communities, NGOs, diplomats, teachers, the community, traditional leaders, parents, professional associations, the media, the civil service, Falintil, the development agencies, the international community? What do we need to play this role effectively? There is much scope here for in-house dialogue and for workshops on our respective roles.

The contribution of the Church is particularly important. Christians who believe that each person is the image of God and whose leader was tortured, detained and subjected to extra-judicial execution without a fair trial, should always serve in the frontline of human rights defence. In view of its outstanding contribution during the Indonesian occupation, and its capacity, network and influence in the East Timorese community, it is particularly important that the Catholic Church, through its pastors, schools and impressive religious orders, plays a positive animating role on human rights in the community, in addition to the excellent prophetic role of its Justice and Peace Commissions in Dili and Baucau.

The discussion so far leads logically to Mary Robinson's recommendation that a national action plan for human rights be developed in East Timor. A national action plan is an excellent way of organising and managing in a coordinated and systematic manner the next concrete steps to be taken on human rights in East Timor. I wish to recommend that this Congress endorses the recommendation and proposes it to UNTAET and the first East Timorese government.

An effective national action plan will (a) provide for broad and organised consultation on human rights across the community, including the groups mentioned above such as the business community, the Church and traditional leaders (b) ensure coordination of human rights activity within government and between government and the community thereby ensuring ownership and enhancing compliance (c) include a comprehensive audit of the broad human rights situation in East Timor and the needs of vulnerable groups in particular and (d) settle on a timetable for implementation.

The development of a national action plan should not be left to the enthusiastic few. An initiative of this importance should be endorsed at the highest level of government and should be adequately resourced. Fourteen governments have developed national action plans since the concept was first adopted at the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993. There is also increasing interest in the idea in the Asia-Pacific region following a conference on the issue in Bangkok last year. East Timor will have their experience to draw on.

I have made several suggestions already about the duties of citizens, particularly in relation to human rights. In closing, however, I would like to add some comments about civil society, by which I mean the organised community independent of government and the private sector.

Civil society, both within East Timor and internationally, made a significant, possibly decisive, contribution to the liberation of East Timor. Today, East Timor is blessed with an emerging civil society of a more conventional kind. The women's movement, the students, the NGOs and community media are obvious examples of this new phenomenon. These organisations are encouraged and supported to be 'robust and vibrant' and to play a wider role than only paying taxes, voting every few years and minding their own business. It is to be expected then that there will be some friction and misunderstandings between them and the other two sectors of business and government, not least if government/CNRT believes civil society activities conflict with national unity objectives. Civil society can also be expected to be aggressive at times because East Timorese come from a culture of survival against someone or something else and they have learned from their experience of Indonesia not to trust government or business.

What should be emphasised is that civil society is here to stay. There is a growing international consensus, based on the experience of Eastern Europe and countries like Indonesia, that civil society is not only a legitimate player but is essential to the health and efficient functioning of society. Civil society will cause governments pain by generating bad press and providing ammunition to the opposition. But the old practice of treating it like an appendix which can be ignored until it hurts then surgically removed is no longer an option. Civil society is now an irreplaceable part of the political landscape which both business and government have to accommodate and respond to.

Dialogue between CNRT and East Timor’s emerging civil society will yield positive dividends. Mechanisms to promote regular contact and exchange will contribute to improved understanding and communication. Dialogue will also assist East Timorese civil society to clarify its role as a positive force in the great nation building project now underway in East Timor. They too are part of the chosen generation and have much to contribute now and in the future.

This week is the first anniversary of the historic 30 August ballot, when the East Timorese people exercised their inalienable human right to self-determination with the assistance of the international community. This was a momentous achievement for CNRT, for the East Timorese people, and for human rights. It was also a striking victory for non-violence in the face of extreme provocation and violence. The world watched a truly civil society at work last August 30.

The ballot was an exercise in human rights – the human right to self-determination, the human right to free expression, assembly and association, the right to information, the right to have one’s own political opinion, the right to one’s distinctive cultural identity, the right to be different, the right to participate, the right to have a say and to shape your own future and institutions. It was a total rejection of the politics of violence and intimidation and the KKN tactics of bribery and corruption. The August 30 ballot was a model for the future.

These rights were won at great cost and sacrifice. The CNRT Magna Carta provides that they will be the hallmarks of the new East Timor. They were won because the East Timorese people, led by CNRT, worked together, contributed their skills and talents and made sacrifices in the service of the common good. It is the sacred duty of all of us now to continue this work together in this spirit of non-violence and selfless collaboration so that all human rights are enjoyed by all in the new East Timor.

Viva CNRT Magna Carta! Viva direitus humanos!

Pat Walsh is the Human Rights Coordinator for the Australian Council for Overseas Aid. He is currently working in East Timor with the UNTAET Human Rights Unit.

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