27 September 2017
A Tribute to Sister Susan Connelly and her Work in East Timor
All the while, East Timor continues its struggle to recover and reconstruct national identity so savagely attacked during the 1975-1999 illegal invasion, occupation and genocide by Indonesia for 24 years; to build an economy and create employment for the youth, address housing, health, education and sanitation problems. As well as dealing with the legacy of the violent past. Domestic violence and violent dispute resolution are terrible social problems. Dislocation and social and cultural disintegration were forced upon the communities.
Sister Susan has been a central leader in the raising of the consciousness of the Australian community to the injustices perpetrated against our small, poor neighbour in such dire circumstances of poverty, lack of infrastructure, an economy largely dependent on foreign investment but where foreign companies exploit foreign workers leaving the East Timorese youth without jobs or hope for their and their family's future.
I have witnessed the conditions and have closely monitored East Timor since 2000 when I was assigned by the UNCHS to go to East Timor. I then became the UNTAET Property Rights Adviser and later managed the University of San Francisco Centre for Law and Global Justice's Legislative Drafting Initiative in the national Parliament and the Community Legal Education Project with community leaders, students, CSO's and the Church. In 2008, I evaluated a project for the European Union and travelled far into the remote isolated communities of East Timor and saw with my very own eyes the condition of the people and their villages.
Many of our compatriots still know nothing at all about East Timor. Many do not even know where the country is or why its roles in international and human affairs on this planet have been crucial events in history.
After the 1999 explosion of violence upon independence, the 2006 disintegration of the rule of law and the 2008 assassination attempts on Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos Horta, the western media has simply not been interested because there has been no blood on streets. But the sufferings of poverty and deprivation continue their terrible toll.
As good neighbours, we ought to be interested and we ought to give a care. And that is what Susan's exemplary conduct and integrity demonstrate for us. That all of us, as Australians, as a righteous member of the community of nations, should be doing as much as we can to assist our neighbour in distress.
Even the purchase of a pack of East Timorese coffee grind will help. You can do more significant gestures such as making representations to the Parliament and your local Member seeking a just and quick resolution of the maritime boundary with East Timor founded upon modern principles of international maritime boundary law that, in cases such as this, the boundary must be drawn on the median line and not on the archaic continental shelf theory. It was the continental shelf theory that underlay the finalisation of the Australian-Indonesian maritime boundary so one might imagine the Jakarta would be disgruntled if, after having lost East Timor through its own barbarity, Australia settled the remaining maritime boundary with East Timor on a different theory. Perhaps the Indonesians have been keeping pressure on the Australian government to adopt this hard-line discredited and outdated theory.
Susan's indefatigable efforts and concentration of her knowledge, humanity, compassion equity between our country, one of the wealthiest on Earth, and East Timor, one the poorest, prompts citizens of good conscience to engage in the continuing demands for reforms and stand in solidarity with East Timor.
Have we lost our capacity for reason? Have we forgotten the great sacrifices made by the East Timorese people who provided aid to our soldiers in WW2? Have we forgotten how we turned our backs on the East Timorese during one of the greatest crimes against humanity of the twentieth century perpetrated right under our noses. How, in fact, and as history will record to our great shame, were we the only State to recognise the illegal annexation of East Timorese national territory by Indonesia?
Susan Connelly's and the Josephites' work goes very far towards the alleviation of suffering and deprivation in East Timor, towards constantly keeping the spotlight on East Timor and our government on its toes, towards a constant struggle for justice. Her efforts warrant attention and applause. Many thanks sister for your brave and unwavering advocacy on behalf of our brothers and sisters in East Timor.
You can find out more about Sister Susan's work at TIMFO and about the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart.
Edited 10 October 2017.