23 October 2010

Scars and hope after conflict

By Rina Jimenez-David Philippine Daily InquirerFirst Posted 00:19:00 10/22/2010 -BANGKOK ­FROM 1975 to 1999, East Timor (or Timor-Leste as the people call their country) was subjected to a harsh and brutal conflict between the Indonesian occupying forces and a rebel force fighting for independence.

As with any armed conflict, it was the civilians who paid the highest price, with women paying an especially high price by way of rape, including forced servitude and sexual slavery.

When Timor Leste became an independent state in 2002, one of its first acts was to create bodies to investigate human rights abuses committed during the Indonesian occupation and the war for independence. The government created the Commission on Truth and Reconciliation (known by its Portuguese acronym CAVR), but so far the results have been disappointing.

The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) and its local partners released last February a report whose title says everything about what transpired: “Unfulfilled Expectations: Victims’ perception of justice and reparations in Timor-Leste.” The report states: “Victims generally believe that their suffering and strength during the 1975 to 1999 conflict was instrumental in Timor gaining independence, and therefore the state of Timor-Leste should recognize their contribution in a meaningful way. However, the long official silence and policy stagnation on victim issues has led to victims of the past conflict feeling forgotten and marginalized. The provision of government assistance to other groups such as victims of the 2006 crisis (when government troops launched an attempted coup­RJD) has exacerbated these feelings of marginalization.”

Even worse, after a decade of independence, scars from the conflict remain, inflicting pain on survivors and even on the next generation. Manuela Pereira, a project associate of the ICTJ, told participants in the training in which I am taking part that children born as a result of rape have to go through life undocumented. This is because for many of these “children of rape,” some of whom are now teenagers and young adults, getting a baptismal certificate (majority of the East Timorese are Catholic) is impossible because the Church requires their mothers to list down the names of the father. Note that in Timor-Leste a baptismal document often serves as an alternative to a birth certificate, since public records were lost or burned during the conflict.

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SO far, says Pereira, there has been only the conviction for the rape of a woman named Angela Lolotoe, “but even Angela herself does not know what has happened to her case, and if the perpetrators have been punished,” Pereira adds.

“Victims and their families feel that justice has not yet been done for crimes committed during the 1975-1999 conflict and that justice is a prerequisite to peace and stability,” the

ICTJ reports says. “Although people have many different ideas about what constitutes ‘justice,’ common themes include a desire to confront perpetrators, learn the truth about crimes committed, receive an apology and (a) show (of) remorse from perpetrators, be granted material assistance and official recognition, and see perpetrators punished.”

In an effort to gather evidence regarding human rights violations during the years of conflict, researchers went around Timor-Leste interviewing women, gathering statements from 8,000 of them.

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