Monday, March 1, 2010

Day 5 in Dili

Human Rights

Human Rights, wow, that can be quite a different issue when you are within a context where only recently a Timorese life was not valued by the foreign government who controlled your country. Now starting from nothing, create a new government overnight or within a few years while under UN control, and you can find yourself in a situation where your life is of value in principle at least but try and explain to an entire population how different everything is going to be now. You have a whole range of new concepts. A police force and a military; there is a difference. No longer a police state where anyone with a gun gets to do whatever they want without recrimination. Now you have laws that says an officer (whether military or police) does not have the right to perpetrate acts of violence against you for no reason. Laws that say a husband cannot beat his wife or that a woman should not be forced to marry someone that has been chosen for her. That there will now be gender equality in the workplace and at home, in theory at least. Laws that state after 6 months in custody a charge must be brought against you and a lawyer must show up to represent you, as you should not be forgotten there.

These concepts are pretty radical here and while they seem logical to all the people we met today, they are not yet the prevailing attitude. Many in government are working for these ideals though many are resisting. Today we met 2 of our partners who are focused on these issues and making sure due process is followed, especially as they relate to women.
HAK is focused on these and other important issues such as seeking justice for those who have suffered horrifically from crimes against humanity, and are dedicating their energies to supporting these victims while helping them to re-adjust to a new society. This was the first time that HAK had received so many visitors at once who came to learn and listen to them. They were all quite impressed but also nervous and apprehensive as we do represent a funding source and they do not want to disappoint. It does not take long for barriers to break down and communication to flow from both sides. The women are especially new to the process of being front and center in such a meeting and seem vulnerable, though are so eager to talk about their roles once engaged.

The Rede Feto (Women’s Network) group is working as an umbrella organization bringing 24 member groups together to help in creating a stronger voice for change and stronger approach to capacity building and advocacy for all women of Timor Leste. This was another organization whose seed money came from Development & Peace and is continued to be supported by us as well as many others; helping to expand their services and programs.

It has been very rewarding to meet these people and witness the sheer dedication to the cause as the skills they are nurturing and gaining from working for a NGO make them much sought after in such a new country where qualified people to fill jobs are scarce. This is another constant issue which is a result of the very success of these organizations and then at the same time, a constant threat to their continued existence.


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