Students debate human rights, remember victims of torture

Jul 5, 2012

imageSuai high school students lay wreaths at a memorial to victims of the 1999 Suai church massacre. Photo: Justice System Programme/UNDP TL

Senior high school students from Suai, in the remote southwest of Timor-Leste, raised some pressing questions for the government, school authorities and the UN, during a seminar and debating competition held 25-26 June.

Student Silvia Soares wanted to know what practical measures the government implements to follow up on instruments like the Convention against Torture (CAT). Fellow student Calisto Amaral asked what the government was doing to create stability and harmony in communities like Suai.

The events were organised by the Ministry of Justice’s Citizenship and Human Rights Directorate to commemorate International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. UNMIT’s Human Rights and Transitional Justice Section (HRTJS) funded the debating competition, while UNDP’s Justice System Programme provided technical support for both events.

More than 100 students attended the debating competition on 26 June, arguing about the welfare of children, the use of torture, Timorese history and transitional justice.

Three local schools took part in the competition, with Serankotek School No.1 taking home the winner’s trophy.

On 25 June, the students attended a seminar, with presentations by the Vice-Minister for Justice, Ivo Valente, Anjet Lanting from UNMIT’s Human Rights and Transitional Justice Section and Alfredo de Araujo, Director of Primary School Education from the Ministry of Education.

Vice-Minister Valente told the students that Timor-Leste’s ratification of the Convention Against Torture (CAT) was one means of ensuring that human rights violations of the past were not repeated.

“The Timorese people know... about torture, not through reading books or watching films or attending courses on international law, but from our own history,” he said.

“From this bitter experience, we made a commitment: we cannot allow these things to happen again.”

In her address Ms Lanting said that the “during 24 years of violent conflict in East Timor ill-treatment and torture were the third and fourth most frequent violations and occurred overwhelmingly especially while victims were in detention.

“Cova Lima [district] was the scene of widespread human rights violations both before and after the ballot in 1999,”she said.

The Director of the Citizenship and Human Rights Directorate, Celito Cardoso said Suai was chosen as the site for activities commemorating victims of torture, given the massacre of civilians which occurred in Suai’s Ave Maria church in 1999.

“Timor-Leste, as a democratic country which respects the rule of law and which has ratified the CAT, is working to ensure that the violations such as those which occurred in Suai [in 1999] will not be repeated again,” said Mr Cardoso.