Galuh Wandita – Indonesia

Linked with Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation CAVR.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Galuh Wandita (born 1966) is an activist working for human rights in conflict areas. She frames her work with a gender perspective irrespective of whether it deals with industry/corporate-triggered conflict in Kalimantan or Papua or atrocities following the referendum in East Timor prior to the birth of the new nation. With her professional contribution spanning more than a dozen years, Galuh has established herself in the forefront of the feminist movement. Her work has not only changed the lives of the people she works for, but also the way human rights are applied, promoted and protected. Galuh Wandita was in her early 20s when she decided to return from the United States, where she had lived for almost a lifetime, to her home country Indonesia. “My father passed away, and it was a wake-up call for me to come home and settle down here,” she says. The youngest of three daughters of Soedjatmoko – a distinguished diplomat and internationally-recognized intellectual who was once the Rector of the UN University – Galuh returned to her country in 1989 more as an international person who had never really resided in the country of her ancestors. After she graduated from Swarthmore College in Philadelphia, she worked in a non-government organization dealing with reproductive health and HIV/AIDS issues, then took up a post at Oxfam Great Britain as its Program Manager in Indonesia. At that time, Oxfam GB was moving from from a welfare-based approach to a rights-based approach to development … She says: … “Women living in conflict areas need help to enter the public arena, grab the microphone and influence the decision-makers, if not be the decision-makers themselves” … (1000peacewomen 1/2).


Sorry, no downloadable photo found for Galuh Wandita, Indonesia.


Her book: The Price of Denial

Galuh Wandita has a long history of working with human rights organizations in Indonesia and Timor-Leste, where she developed expertise on gender and justice. In 2002 she became deputy director of the UN-backed Timorese Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CAVR) and was instrumental in writing the Commission’s Final Report. Since early 2007 she has been the head of the ICTJ’s Jakarta office, where she manages our work in Indonesia and Timor-Leste. Wandita sat down to talk with us during a recent visit to our New York office …(full text, April 9, 2008).

She works for the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation CAVR of East-Timor / Comissao de Acolhimento, Verdade e Reconciliaçao CAVR de Timor-Leste

She is Director of the International Center for Transnational Justice ICTJ, Jakarta: Over the last decade, Galuh Wandita has worked with several local human rights organizations in East Timor and Indonesia. Before moving to East Timor in 1999, she worked for 10 years with Oxfam, focusing on support for local NGOs working in conflict areas in Eastern Indonesia (Nusa Tenggara Timur, East Timor (then part of Indonesia), Papua, and Kalimantan), with a focus on gender approach to development. In 1999, she worked with East Timorese human rights NGOs, during the crisis around the ballot, monitoring the human rights situation, providing support for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and women victims of violence. In 2000, she worked as a human rights officer for the United Nations in East Timor, and in 2002 was appointed as the Deputy Director/Program Manager of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CAVR). After 2003, she continued as Program Manager, and later joined the Editorial Team for the writing of the Commission’s Final Report. She obtained a BA in Anthropology from Swarthmore College, and completed a Masters in International Human Rights Law from Oxford University in 2007 (ICTJ/her short bio).

Find her and her publications on Google Book-search; on Google Scholar-search; on Google Group-search; on Google Blog-search (with many articles in Indonesian languages).

She says also: … I think—I mean, I think at this moment, because of the—this [inaudible] to now, I think the reformation agenda has gone backwards, and a lot of the information about the truth, what happened during his (Suharto’s) regime, is actually to become known or to be acknowledged by the public in Indonesia, the general public in Indonesia, and also by the Indonesian government, obviously. So I think that what I would like to say to the American public is that, you know, it might be very baffling to see what’s happening now with this—all this sort of apologizing and adoration for Suharto, but really the jury is still not out. The truth hasn’t come out yet, and we mustn’t forget the cost, I think, that both Allan and Brad have spoken about, the cost of the thirty years of corruption and crimes, really. We’re still living in the consequences of what happened during Suharto regime. But in Indonesia, that connection is still not made yet, and that is part of our struggle now, to look at the crimes of the past and actually to find—to speak to the public about how his actions actually led to all these crimes … (full interview text, January 28, 2008).

… The meeting concluded with recognition and analysis of a range of internal as well as external factors that can push a situation of transition towards either greater tension, impunity, and ultimately violence, or a strengthened and deepened peace and justice. There was interest in follow-up workshops to evaluate more closely each of the factors that played a role in either worsening or improving situations of ceasefire. Such a review would have the ultimate aim of identifying potential new factors that could be employed to have a positive effect, or identify those factors that currently have a negative impact so they might be neutralized or changed for the positive. (These might include the role of international donors, local religious leaders, foreign NGOs, national ministers of peace or justice, the national media, etc.) ICTJ hopes to host further expert meetings in Asia and other regions that allow a close consideration of the relationship among efforts to establish both long-term peace and justice. It greatly appreciates the expertise brought to this meeting from the five conflict situations considered, and looks forward to continuing a relationship with this group of experts. (full text).

(1000peacewomen 2/2): … Galuh went to East Nusa Tenggara, one of the poorest provinces in Indonesia, which put her in touch with individuals and groups who were working among factory workers, urban slum dwellers and poor rural communities in the faraway eastern islands. When she moved back to Jakarta in 1995, she had significantly increased the involvement of women in decision-making processes in non-governmental organizations in the area.

Galuh then joined Oxfam Australia; as Country Representative in Indonesia, she developed a program for working in conflict areas in the eastern islands, including West Papua, Kalimantan, and East and West Timor. Oxfam Australia supported local groups run by indigenous community leaders who were fighting for survival. In West Papua and Kalimantan, the local groups faced eviction, intimidation and environmental destruction from mining companies and plantations, supported by the Indonesian security forces. Picking up practical lessons from others, Galuh facilitated the establishment of a mutual support network to exchange information and lessons learned.

During her tenure at Oxfam Australia, she played a key role in the establishment of the Eastern Indonesian Women’s Health Network (JKPIT) in 1996–at a time when the government’s development program still leaned heavily towards the Western region, leaving the East lagging behind. JKPIT later became an influential organization in the region. A year later, she returned to East Nusa Tenggara and focused on building capacity among local women’s organizations in East Nusa Tenggara, Papua and East Timor, which was then still the 27th province of Indonesia.

Galuh dealt with various issues concerning the marginalization of women and violations of their rights, ranging from reproductive health rights to other rights in a conflict setting. “In Papua as in Kalimantan, it’s about injustice in distributing the local wealth – as the two provinces are rich with natural resources that corporations tend to exploit. Women often found themselves caught in this situation, making them prone to injustice and violence.” The injustice ranged from land disputes, to lack of access to health services and the violation of their rights to benefit from the natural resources. Galuh cites a simple example: “A one percent revenue put aside for a local community in Papua was often used by the men – the husbands – to serve their vanity, such as getting drunk.” Meanwhile, the women were left to tackle the household with limited resources.

She also helped establish the Mining Advocacy Network, known by the acronym JATAM, which linked indigenous peoples’ organizations in Kalimantan, West Papua, and other parts of Indonesia, affected by mining companies. This advocacy, which also involved a parallel campaign in Australia where most of the mining companies in Indonesia are from, resulted in two mining companies, Aurora Gold and Rio Tinto, negotiating compensation directly with the Dayak community organizations.

In 1999, Galuh was assigned by Oxfam Australia to set up a preliminary program of Oxfam International in East Timor –just prior to the referendum. “Our time in East Timor during the ballot was tumultuous,“ she recalls. Galuh was there with her husband, Patrick Burgess, who worked as the Humanitarian Officer for UNAMET, the UN Mission responsible for organizing the referendum. “We witnessed with our own eyes gross human rights violations which took place all over the territory. We were personally involved in two attacks by militia and Indonesian security forces. Our house was burned down. At the same time, we also witnessed and experienced the best of humankind–acts of courage and love in the midst of hate. In September 2002, we were evacuated out of East Timor, only to return one month later to rebuild all that had been lost.”

She co-founded Fokupers–a women’s aid organization which spent the first half of 2000 documenting cases of violence against women which happened at the time of the East Timor ballot. “We uncovered 255 cases of human rights violation, including 46 rapes, five attempted rapes, and 16 other cases of sexual abuse. We know of at least four pregnancies caused by rape, and two where contraceptives were forced on the victim to prevent pregnancy. Eight of the rape cases involved sexual slavery–rape on a daily basis. Some of these involved children. In others, children were forced to watch their mothers being raped. Nine of the rapes were done by TNI soldiers, nine by soldiers and militias together, and all the rest by militias themselves,” she reveals in a report.

A lot of rapes happened during the chaos, where women separated from their families were pounced on by marauding packs of men. But beyond that, Galuh told journalist Sian Powell of Australia Weekend in 2001, many of the rapes were planned, organized and sustained as a joint effort by the military and the militias. “There was obviously a collusion.” Many of the husbands of rape victims did not want to accept them again. But Galuh also knows of women who were kept in sexual slavery in the refugee camps of West Timor and who were welcomed by their husbands and families when they returned to East Timor. “They say, ‘this is the consequence of war and we accept you.’ But we also have the situation where women come back and the community accuses them of being the girlfriends of the militia,” she said.

Galuh estimates that about half of all raped women who admit to being violated return to condemnation and accusations. She describes the case of some women from Bobonaro, near the West Timor border, who were taken to West Timor and used as sexual slaves by the militia. When they finally returned to their communities with their rape babies, they were not welcome. Their neighbors were hostile. “It reflects a lack of understanding about the nature of rape,” she says. “Obviously that also relates to norms in society here, the importance of virginity, that sex has to stay within marriage.” Galuh said even the women’s choice of words is telling. Those who had been used as sex slaves often referr to themselves as isteri simpanan–kept wives–somehow sanitizing the brutality of their experience with a veil of false respectability.

Those East Timorese women who were impregnated by their rapists have little chance of concealing their trauma. The Timorese society thinks rape is very shameful, that it is the woman’s fault. “I saw the worst and the best of human beings [during the chaos],” Galuh says. “That’s probably what made me stay for another five years, to heal my own trauma by pro-actively helping the process of reconciliation,” she adds.

Joining CAVR as Program Manager, her task is to help the Executive Director carry its mandate by recording all violence and atrocities that occurred during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor (1974-1999). The 2,000-page report will be finished in July 2005. “It was committed by us–Indonesians–who occupied the area for 24 years. It’s part of our history, our face. We better deal with that,” she says, adding that she developed a lot of friends when she worked in the area despite her ethnic identity as a Javanese (Indonesian), a fact that created a gap between the East Timorese and Indonesians in the past.

Galuh, her husband and their two children now live in Liquisa, a beautiful fishing village with a protected bay on the north coast, a 30-minute drive from Dili, the capital of East Timor. During the referendum, Liquisa was a town under siege. The local militia, known as Besi Merah Putih, was fierce and acted with impunity. On April 6, 1999, the militia, with support from the Indonesian security forces, stormed the church where hundreds of villagers had sought refuge. More than 50 people were killed in the massacre, their bodies later disposed of in an unknown site. On July 4, 1999, Besi Merah Putih attacked a humanitarian convoy organized by Galuh and her husband with their East Timorese counterparts and UNHCR.

Oddly enough, being attacked in Liquisa meant that they had a special connection to the place. Galuh’s family has developed a good relationship with the community since they moved there in 1999. “I helped a group of widows from the Liquisa church massacre organize themselves into a self-help group which they named Rate Laek. The literal translation is The Ones Without Graves, indicating that they still have not found the remains of their loved ones. “In the last three years, I have seen the women grow from victims who were paraded in front of dignitaries to a group that organized their own commemoration of the massacre by holding a community meeting on justice and reconciliation with the General Prosecutor and the United Nations.“ (On 1000peacewomen).



East Timor’s children of the enemy;

The La’o Hamutuk Bulletin, Vol. 4, No. 5: November 2003;


Rumah Olin;

Timor-Leste Research;

Lasting legacy of Suharto;

UN jobs;

Expanding the Boundaries of Transitional Justice;

East-Timor Women;

The Google download books:

Comments are closed.