Timor-Leste: Conference affirms need to continue struggles for justice

La’o Hamutuk and other Timor-Leste civil society organisations hosted an international conference in Dili from August 28–30, to mark the 20th anniversary of Timor-Leste’s independence referendum.

Under the banner of “Strengthen solidarity for self-determination and social justice”, a joint declaration was released reaffirming solidarity with the people of Timor-Leste and calling on “citizens of the world” to continue the struggle “against social injustice, human rights violations, climate injustice and development that is not prioritising people’s needs”.

Attendees called on Australia to drop its prosecution of lawyer Bernard Collaery and former intelligence officer, Witness K, whom they described as “friends of the people of Timor-Leste and heroes of freedom of expression”. Collaery and Witness K exposed Australia’s dirty tactics during maritime boundary negotiations with Timor-Leste.

The conference also declared its support for climate justice and the global Climate Strike on September 20. It noted that “100 corporations emit 70%” of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions with the help of “corrupt governments”. It called on Australia to end its use of coal for energy.

It also expressed concern about the injustices faced by the people of West Papua, including arrest, torture and imprisonment at the hands of Indonesian security forces, as they “express their wish to self determination”.

The declaration criticised Rodrigo Duterte’s government in the Philippines for its military actions against the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao. It also expressed solidarity with the people of Western Sahara and acknowledged their support for Timor-Leste during its struggle for independence, reflecting on the international solidarity campaign that helped bring about Timor-Leste’s independence, and the ongoing struggle for self-determination.

It said that, while progress has been made, more needs to happen for true national self-determination “including the principle of people’s liberation”.

The declaration listed a number of ongoing challenges, including: the rise in unemployment; the prevalence of government corruption; privatisation of health and education sectors; and the absence of justice for the victims of past human rights violations.

“Those responsible for the violations remain free while their victims continue to suffer,” the declaration noted, while “18,000 people forcibly disappeared are yet to be found, with very few have been reunited with their families.

“The women, victims of sexual violence are yet to recover from their traumas and gain the ability to continue their life.”

The lack of food sovereignty in Timor-Leste was also raised.

“There are changes in community’s culture of consumption and their way of preserving their water, land and resources.

“There is high dependence on rice as the main staple, even though rice production is very low due to lack of water conservation.”

The declaration criticised “state violence” carried out against economic and social rights in Timor-Leste, “neglecting the social and economic development of the people”.

“People are left in poverty due to lack of access to clean water, quality education and healthy food.

“Economic development that does not give importance to the development of the people will contribute to Timor-Leste not achieving [UN] Sustainable Development Goals.”

The plight of Timorese domestic workers, who are often exploited, paid less than the minimum wage and left without labour rights protection was also highlighted in the declaration, which called for legislation to fix this.

Timor-Leste households rely heavily on remittances from Timorese workers overseas. The declaration highlighted the plight of these workers, who face mistreatment by employers, no protections, low pay, a lack of health insurance, no right to join a union and inexplicable wage cuts.

The difficulties faced by women in participating in the country’s economic development were also highlighted.

“Structural violence is occurring regularly, but the public institutions continue to adhere to patriarchal culture. Women, due to domestic work obligations, have limited access to public employment.

“Infrastructures and public security services give no consideration to women’s participation” and women continue to feel insecure when working at night “and insecure on the streets at anytime”.

The declaration criticised what it described as the Timor-Leste government’s focus on “colonial and capitalist development” for revenue gain via investment in “mega projects”, while neglecting health, education and agriculture.

It raised concern about the Tasi Mane project (involving the construction of a refinery, LNG plant and supply base on land currently used for agriculture along Timor Leste’s southern coastline) and other projects, that are benefitting “only a few” and which “offer no benefits to the majority of the people”.

The declaration concluded with a criticism of Timor’s reliance on oil revenues.

The conference called on civil society groups to take action, including: to “empower communities and turn them into actors of development and actors of social accountability”;  to watch and guard the development of democracy and human rights; and to continue the fight for justice for past and present human rights abuses.

It also called on the Timor-Leste government to ratify the international convention on enforced disappearance of persons; enact laws to protect domestic workers; reconsider “bad practices” in the use of petroleum revenue funds; and invest more in public education, health and sanitation.

The conference called on the Indonesian government to stop human rights violations in West Papua, respect West Papuans’ aspirations and allow international observers and assistance into the region to address people’s suffering.

Finally, it offered support and solidarity with the national liberation movements in Western Sahara, West Papua, Palestine, Kurdistan, Bougainville, Kanaky, Hawaii, Patani and Maluku as part of the struggle “to uphold human rights and self determination”.

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