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Call Justice For The Women Of East Timor

Women Worldwide Call For an International Tribunal For East Timor Officials, Scholars And Activists Say Justice For Crimes Against Timorese Women Needed Now

Women from across the world said today that an international tribunal was the only way to hold accountable those most responsible for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor.

More than 125 women from 14 countries and 22 U.S. states signed the statement, which was released by the East Timor Action Network/U.S. (ETAN) less than a week before East Timor becomes the first new nation of the millennium.

“The Indonesian [ad hoc Human Rights] court will not adequately address cases of gender violence and the systematic targeting of women and children, among other serious crimes,” asserts the statement, which is signed by such well-known women as activist Gloria Steinem; actor Susan Sarandon and playwright Eve Ensler; Judith Shapiro, President of Barnard College; authors Naomi Klein and Susan Brownmiller; Jessica Neuwirth, President of Equality Now; Eleanor Smeal of Feminist Majority; author and organizer Vandana Shiva of India; and human rights defender Sister Dianna Ortiz. Three members of Congress, Representatives Tammy Baldwin (WI), Barbara Lee (CA) and Cynthia McKinney (GA), also signed.

“This strong showing of international women’s solidarity recognizes the suffering of East Timorese women during the Indonesian military occupation, while paying tribute to the long tradition of women working for justice and peace,” said ETAN field organizer Diane Farsetta. “The wide range of signatories, including members of Congress, authors, actors and activists demonstrates the strong consensus on this important issue.”

The statement was initiated by women’s groups in East Timor and begins by quoting REDE, the East Timorese Women’s Network: “Of all the victims of Indonesian military violence the greatest suffering was borne by women, who up to this time, have not met with the justice they hoped for.”

In 1975, the Indonesian military illegally invaded and occupied East Timor; more than one-third of East Timor’s population was killed. Women were specifically targeted by the Indonesian military with rape, kidnapping and torture, as well as forced “marriage” and sterilization. In 1999, over 98 percent of eligible East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence in a UN-organized referendum. After the results were announced, the Indonesian military and its militias carried out a brutal scorched-earth campaign in retaliation, killing at least 2,000 people, raping hundreds of women and girls, displacing some 600,000 people, and destroying more than 75 percent of the country’s infrastructure. An international peacekeeping force finally restored stability a month later, and the UN has administered the territory since then. On May 20, East Timor becomes fully independent.

Investigations by the UN and the Indonesian government’s own human rights commission found the Indonesian military responsible for 1999’s atrocities. UN commissions and High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson have called for an international human rights tribunal to be established for East Timor. Seeking to avoid international action, the Indonesian government promised to hold its own trials. Its ad hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor began hearing cases last March. However, Indonesian and international human rights groups have sharply criticized the court. The International Crisis Group recently reported that the process is so problematic it may “trivialize… the concept of crimes against humanity in Indonesia.”

The women’s statement released today by ETAN recalls the advance made “last year by the decision of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia… classify[ing] rape as a crime against humanity,” and adds, “atrocities committed against the people of East Timor deserve no less attention.”

“The release of the statement soon after Mother’s Day and just one week before East Timor’s independence is very fitting,” added Farsetta. “We hope this strong stand taken by women around the world will be heeded by the Security Council and world governments. The mothers of East Timor deserve the peace only justice can give them, and the international community has an obligation to welcome the birth of the world’s newest country with a renewed commitment to justice.”

The East Timor Action Network/U.S. is a nationwide grassroots human rights organization, which has worked for self-determination, human rights and justice for East Timor for the past ten years. The full women’s statement and list of signatories can be found on ETAN’s website at



Justice for East Timor Demands an International Tribunal

A Statement from Women’s Studies Scholars, Women Leaders and Feminist Organizations

“An International Tribunal is the most pressing demand in the interests of justice. Of all the victims of Indonesian military violence the greatest suffering was borne by women, who up to this time, have not met with the justice they hoped for.” from a statement by the East Timorese Women’s Network, June 2001

We join with our East Timorese sisters in calling for an international tribunal for East Timor.

We urge the United Nations Security Council to establish an international tribunal for East Timor without delay. The East Timorese people have waited far too long for the architects and perpetrators of the atrocities committed against them to be brought to justice. Over two years have passed since the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor called for an international human rights tribunal. During that time, it has become clear that only an international tribunal can hold accountable the high-ranking Indonesian military, police and government officials most responsible for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor.

When Indonesia illegally invaded and occupied East Timor in 1975, it began a genocidal campaign that lasted nearly a quarter-century. During the first five years of the occupation, some 200,000 people one-third of the pre-invasion population were killed. The occupation specifically targeted women in several ways, including the following:

* Rape and “forced marriage” to military personnel were used to terrorize and control East Timorese women, to punish pro-independence families, and to reward Indonesian soldiers. A study of gender violence in 1999 by the Communication Forum for East Timorese Women (FOKUPERS) found many acts of rape were “planned, organized, and sustained militia and soldiers conniving together to abduct women and share them like chattel; or, in some cases, forcibly taking women across the border into [Indonesian] West Timor where the women were raped daily and made to perform household chores.” Tragically, the women among the estimated 60,000 East Timorese still in Indonesian refugee camps remain vulnerable to sexual assault by militia and military members.

* East Timorese women were forcibly sterilized by the Indonesian military under the guise of “family planning”. It is estimated that tens of thousands of women were injected with contraceptives without their consent sometimes even without their knowledge and never with adequate follow-up care.

* An unknown number of East Timorese children were kidnapped and raised in Indonesia as Indonesian citizens, a practice that continues today. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has confirmed 240 cases of East Timorese children being taken from their parents by militia in Indonesian refugee camps since 1999; according to the UN, as many as 2,000 children may be held captive currently.

In the face of such suffering, it is truly reprehensible that the world community has knowingly placed its faith in an unacceptable alternative to an international tribunal the Indonesian ad hoc Human Rights Court for East Timor. Due to its many flaws, the Indonesian court will not adequately address cases of gender violence and the systematic targeting of women and children, among other serious crimes.

International justice was significantly advanced last year by the decision of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to classify rape as a crime against humanity. But the world community cannot stop there. Atrocities committed against the people of East Timor deserve no less attention than those committed against peoples of other nations. An international tribunal for East Timor, with a mandate covering the entire Indonesian occupation, must be established now to redress the most heinous crimes committed against the women and men of East Timor. Otherwise, international justice will appear weak and conditional, rule of law will be undermined, and the people of the world’s newest nation will have good reason to lose faith in the world community.


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