23 September 2008

Sue Harris Rimmer SJD thesis: Transitional Justice and the Women of East Timor


This dissertation examines the impact of international law on East Timorese women engaged with transitional justice processes.

I provide a feminist examination of the role of international law within the overall framework of transitional justice interventions designed for the violations of human rights in East Timor, focusing on the UN trials in Dili, the Jakarta trials and the truth commissions.Most feminist research has been done on the project of categorising gender-based violence as international crimes, and the prosecution of such crimes.

My analysis shows there are still gaps and silences with international law’s engagement with gender issues in Timor. The question is whether feminist analysis needs to refocus on the obligation to prosecute that is imposed by international law.

In other words, do feminists need to re-engage with some of the Realpolitik criticisms of law in post-conflict settings, particularly in light of insights gained by feminist international relations scholars?

This study takes a holistic view of all the formal mechanisms employed in Timor. It explores the fissures between the claims made for the role of international law in transitional justice processes, and what law can actually achieve.

Timorese women in the independence period face the problem of ‘changing the curtains’, in the sense that they may still be facing private violence in peacetime as they faced violence during the conflict. Trials may need to be delayed until they can be of an appropriate standard to uphold the rule of law.

I ask whether, even if perfect trials and truth commissions were held which achieved all the traditional goals of transitional justice mechanisms, there may be limitations on what law, especially international law, can achieve to benefit women.

I therefore propose that feminist international law scholars need to consider alternative, creative ways of addressing the situation of women. In particular there is a need to move beyond ideas of women as victims or even survivors, by redefining what it is to be a ‘veteran’, as veterans receive both maintenance and status in the new State.

Post sponsored by East Timor Women - Raising awareness of the plight of women in Timor-Leste.

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