Jun 24, 2024 Last Updated 5:50 AM, Jun 24, 2024

Meet Titi Irawati

Kerry Brogan

Titi works at East Timor's best known human rights NGO, Yayasan HAK - one of few women and fewer Indonesians there.

Her activism began when as a university student in 1978 she helped organise anti-Suharto demonstrations. From 1986 to 1995 she was a journalist with the women's magazine Sarinah. This led her to the growing number of human rights and women's non-government organisations (NGOs) in Indonesia. When in 1994 the government banned three Indonesian news magazines, Titi joined a committee of female journalists to fight for press freedom. She campaigned on behalf of journalists who were imprisoned, and later took up the cause of persecuted members of the leftist party PRD. While visiting PRD members in Cipinang prison she also met several imprisoned East Timorese, among them Xanana Gusmao.

After talking with Xanana, she says, 'I became aware that democracy in Indonesia would not be realised if the occupation of East Timor continued'. Like many Indonesians, she had only learned about East Timor's human rights problems through the November 1991 Santa Cruz massacre - after a foreign journalist showed her photographs. In 1996 the senior journalist Goenawan Mohamed asked her to join Isai, the Institute for the Study of the Free Flow of Information. She helped train East Timorese journalists studying in Indonesia.

It was the highly publicised rape late in 1996 of a young woman in Ermera district by a TNI soldier that really drew Titi into the fight for human rights in Timor. She joined a campaign for an investigation.

In March 1999, she travelled to East Timor for the first time, to conduct a training advocacy workshop with Yayasan HAK and other groups. A week later, dozens were killed at the nearby Liquica church. Back home Titi worked with others at the Jakarta solidarity organisation Fortilos to put pressure on the government. In June Fortilos sent her back to East Timor to become a volunteer with Yayasan HAK. Her job was to help distribute information about human rights violations. With the UN ballot fast approaching, Yayasan HAK was under enormous pressure. She edited the organisation's new magazine Direito. Terror

As the post-ballot mayhem descended upon East Timor, most of East Timor's human rights workers were sheltering at the Yayasan HAK office in Farol, Dili. None of us can forget the tension. On 5-6 September 1999, the office was attacked by militias and the TNI. 'While we were being attacked,' Titi said, 'I realised more and more the terror the people of East Timor had experienced throughout the Indonesian occupation.'

The only attempt by the authorities to provide protection was when the police mobile brigade Brimob arrived to escort the two white-skinned volunteers to safety, but not the East Timorese. The two refused to go without their colleagues. Brimob finally agreed to take them all out to police headquarters. From there they all flew out of the country, effectively removing the last human rights workers and witnesses to the gross human rights violations being perpetrated everywhere.

'We all cried when we left', Titi said. 'We witnessed the forced deportation of the civilian population, but could do nothing. I almost could not believe what I was seeing: the TNI and the militia it created, carrying out extraordinary acts of cruelty, while the international community was watching.' As she flew over Dili and witnessed the destruction, she promised herself she would return.

She did return, in March 2000. She still works with Yayasan HAK, editing the monthly Direito, and the weekly political analysis Cidadaun. She continues her women's activism too, helping the women's organisation Fokupers edit their publication Babadok.

When asked how East Timorese see her, she replies: 'Since I came to East Timor, I have become convinced that the people do not hate Indonesians. They hate the cruelty of the Indonesian military during the 24 years of occupation.'

Titi's presence helps maintain links between East Timorese and Indonesian NGOs. She thinks strong links are vital to human rights campaigns in both countries. They can assist with the campaign for justice, not just for East Timor, but for Aceh, West Papua and other parts of Indonesia. East Timorese NGOs have complained about the restricted jurisdiction of the ad hoc tribunal on East Timor in Jakarta. They are monitoring the process along with their Indonesian counter-parts. Like many, Titi does not believe the tribunal is a serious attempt at accountability, but a way for the Indonesian authorities to avoid an international tribunal to deal with the 1999 violence.

But Timorese NGOs are not just struggling against Indonesian pragmatism. 'Some Timorese political leaders want to have "reconciliation without justice"', she says. 'They say the people "have to forget about the past". Timorese NGOs have to strengthen their solidarity with the victims, who still want to see justice, but who are rarely heard.'

Kerry Brogan (brogan@un.org) works with the Untaet human rights office in Dili. Contact Titi at titi_irawati@yayasanhak.minihub.org. Yayasan HAK's web site is www.yayasanhak.minihub.org.

Inside Indonesia 71: Jul - Sep 2002

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