BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor  home  March news

"Mr. Senior [UN chief investigator of sex crimes] said the reports he had gathered suggest that some instances of mass rape coincided with massacres that occurred both before the independence vote — in April and May 1999 — and in the three weeks of destruction that followed the Aug. 30 vote. ... Ms. Alves [Timorese counselor] said it was possible that the rapes were part of the destruction of East Timor that investigators are now piecing together as an orchestrated scorched-earth policy commanded by Indonesia's military." Seth Mydans 

New York Times

1 March 2001

Sexual Violence as Tool of War: Pattern Emerging in East Timor

By SETH MYDANS

Photo: Lorenca Martins with her 5-month-old boy, Rai. They are victims of the violence that followed the East Timor vote for independence. Anastasia T. Vrachnos for The New York Times

ERMERA, East Timor, Feb. 25 — There is one happy thing — one glorious thing — in the shamed and broken life of Lorença Martins. Far from her family, hidden away from her neighbors, she lives in poverty in a tiny hillside house where the loud buzz of cicadas fills her loneliness.

Her past is too traumatic to think of and her future too uncertain. To almost every question, Miss Martins, 24, replies that her only thoughts now are of her beaming 5-month-old baby, Rai, the child of the man who raped her.

"I think I'm just like any mother," she said as she nursed her child. "The only thing that's important to me now is my baby."

As East Timor recovers from the violence and destruction that followed its vote for independence from Indonesia in 1999, more and more stories are emerging of women like Miss Martins — dozens, even hundreds of rapes, often involving torture and egregious humiliation.

Investigators say it has become clear that the crimes of the Indonesian military and the local militias it commanded — opponents of independence — include not only massacres, widespread destruction and mass deportations but also rape and sexual slavery on a wide and possibly systematic scale.

"Many of these acts were planned, organized and sustained," says a carefully researched report by East Timor's leading women's aid association. The report says militia members and soldiers connived "to abduct women or share them like chattel, or in some cases forcibly taking women across the border into West Timor where the women were raped daily and made to perform household chores."

It is only recently that rape has been recognized as a war crime and as a crime against humanity. This month, in the first such conviction, an international tribunal in The Hague sentenced three Bosnian Serbs to long prison terms for such sexual violence.

As a newly created tribunal begins its work here in East Timor, its first dozen cases will include one charge of rape. More may follow.

As of late last year, the aid group had documented 165 cases of "gender-based violations" in 1999, including 46 cases of rape. The chief investigator of sex crimes for the United Nations, David Senior, said the full total is probably "in the hundreds," with violations still continuing in camps in West Timor where approximately 100,000 people remain under the control of the militias.

"We are coming up with new cases all the time," said Mr. Senior. "I don't think we've scratched the surface on the incidents of rape. With more confidence, I think these cases will continue to be reported at a staggering rate."

But numbers alone do not tell the story, he said.

"How do you put a number on 5 women being raped by 12 guys?" he said. "How do you put a number on a woman being raped daily for six months? How do you put a number on one girl being raped by three guys for five nights? For me, numbers don't describe the impact that rape has had on the women of East Timor."

As with Miss Martins, who has been told by one local leader to leave this remote town 50 miles from the capital, Dili, the victims have often become outcasts.

Some have been shunned by their husbands and their communities as "dirty," said Olandina Alves, a Timorese social worker who has counseled victims here and in Dili. In some cases, family members have threatened to kill the babies born of rapes, Mr. Senior said. In one town, Roman Catholic church workers refused to allow baptisms for the babies or confessions for their mothers.

The shame of victimhood is so strong that some victims, hearing of investigations and possible court proceedings, fear it is they who will be brought to trial for their "relationships" with members of the militias, according to the women's aid association, Forum Komunikasi Untuk Perempuan Loro Sae, which is known by the shortened name Fokupers.

"I think these women suffer unbearable silence in their lives as to what they have been through," said Samantha Aucock, a South African aid worker in the southern city of Suai, where dozens of women were reportedly raped or transported to West Timor to serve as sexual slaves.

Mr. Senior said the reports he had gathered suggest that some instances of mass rape coincided with massacres that occurred both before the independence vote — in April and May 1999 — and in the three weeks of destruction that followed the Aug. 30 vote. The territory, once a colony of Portugual, was annexed by Indonesia in 1975 after Portugual withdrew.

Ms. Alves said it was possible that the rapes were part of the destruction of East Timor that investigators are now piecing together as an orchestrated scorched-earth policy commanded by Indonesia's military.

"They had a plan to destroy all of East Timor," she said. "Rape is one way to ruin a people too. And so, I wonder, was it a part of their plan of destruction to rape and torture the women?"

Based on survivor accounts, she said, it appeared that militia units and Indonesian soldiers had sometimes carried out the rapes in an organized fashion. "Many times, the young girls were raped by high-ranking officers," she said. "Those who were married or were not young any more were raped by lower ranking people."

But the cruelty of many of the rapes seemed to go beyond any systematic policy, she said. She told the story of a 21-year-old woman named Angelina who was raped by 11 men in the town of Gleno, where Miss Martins had also lived.

"First they asked for everything in the house, money and everything, and they said they would kill her father," Mrs. Alves said. "So the family gave them everything. Then they still threatened the father, so Angelina agreed to be raped just to save her father. But after they got the money and raped her, they killed her father anyway. When they did that, she ran around and screamed, and so they killed her too."

It was a member of the militia named Maximu who took Miss Martins to be his sexual property in December 1999, in a West Timor refugee camp near the town of Atambua. When he abducted her, he was wearing a black T-shirt bearing the name of his militia group, Red Blood.

"He never said anything to me," Miss Martins said. "He just said he would kill me if I did not have sex with him. He always acted angry. And I always had to smile at him in public. I didn't smile at him because I liked him but because I was afraid of him."

When she tried to flee, she said, he locked the door and threatened her with a pistol. Already pregnant, she made her escape back to East Timor a year ago. She never learned his last name.

The story she tells could be the story of a woman named Maria da Costa, 26, who, according to court documents in Dili, was raped in Atambua by a man named Leonardus Casa, 27.

In an interview at the Dili courthouse, Mr. Casa put forward a defense that Miss Martins's tormentor might also use: He knew his victim. She belonged to him. The sex was consensual.

Beyond that, Mr. Casa said, he knew less than just about anybody else in East Timor about the violence occurring around him. "I never saw any massacre or any destruction," he said. "I never even left my house."

If the man named Maximu ever returns from West Timor and if he is ever brought to court, Miss Martins said she would be willing to face him and testify against him.

And what would she say to him when she sees him?

Miss Martins smiled and cracked her knuckles nervously. "I wouldn't say anything," she said. "I have nothing to say to him. I just want him to suffer the way I did."



See Also:

Feb 23 ST: Rape in ETimor, Gusmao's wife criticizes Indonesia

Feb 5 JP: James Dunn interview on perpetrators of war crimes in Timor
"It has been appalling to hear Timorese women who have been raped; thousands have been raped and no one has been charged. I hope to see a change in that it would be good for military officers' careers to have to speak the truth."  James Dunn, UNTAET

Dec 22 2000 IHT: A Family in East Timor Grieves for a Daughter
"Fate has not been kind to the dos Santos family. They have now lost all three children. The first son died from illness at a young age, the second was brutally murdered in the Suai church massacre - and now their only daughter has been kidnapped, raped and is living as a "wife" of one of the leaders of a militia gang responsible for the killing of her brother." Mark Dodd

Dec 7 2000 CapT: Village Women of East Timor have great hope
"Women were specifically targeted in many ways [after the ballot] -- they were separated from husbands and sons, harassed and often raped." Jen Laakso

Nov 22 2000 KY: Danish survey highlights trauma, torture in E. Timor
"Researchers found that torture had been widespread in East Timor. Of the six forms of torture listed in the study, 40% of the respondents said they had been subjected to psychological torture, 33% beaten or mauled, 26% hit on the head. Other forms of torture included submersion in water (12), electric shock (12), and crushing of hands (10). Five percent of the respondents said they had been raped or sexually abused. ... Twenty percent of the respondents said they witnessed the murder of a family member or friend, and the same percentage said they had children who had either been injured or from whom they had been separated. A further 12% said they had children who died as a result of political violence and in some districts there were reports of youngsters having been raped by the militia." Kyodo News Service, from a study by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)

Nov 19 2000 AFP: Scars of vote violence remain real for many East Timor women
"Women's groups and rape investigators say the victims of militia rape and sex slavery continue to bear the scars of post-ballot violence in East Timor, facing ostracism on their return home. ... Fokupers has documented 46 cases of rape during last year's violence: nine of them by Indonesian soldiers, 28 by pro-Jakarta militias, and nine of them joint attacks by militias and soldiers. Eighteen were categorized as mass rapes." AFP

Nov 18 2000 Lancet: Torture & trauma in post-conflict East Timor
"To get an indirect measure of the effect of trauma on children, respondents were asked if they had children who were either injured or from whom they had been separated. 227 (22%) said yes, and a further 125 (12%) said that they had children who died as a result of political violence. In several provinces there were reports of children having been raped by the militia." Lancet, from a study by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)

Tetum:
Jun 21 2000 Y-HAK: Lopes: Rekonciliasaun Housi Lei Nia Roman
"Hahalok at sira ne’e kulmina wainhira referendum 30 Agostu 1999 ramata, iha ne’ebe povo Timor Lorosa’e maioria hakotu nia hakarak atu sai housi kolonizasaun no okupasaun ne’ebe at, houdi sai povo ne’ebe ukun rasik an. Milicia pro-integrasaun ho tulun no ordem housi TNI hala’o operasaun bumi hangus (sunu mutuk), ne’ebe populasaun civil barak lori todan, liu-liu sira ne’ebe sira (milicia no TNI) konsidera pro-ukun rasik an. Iha operasaun ne’e, populasaun civil barak sai mutun (vitima), balun mate no feto sira ema viola (perkosa), barak mak sira tortura no obriga atu halai, sunu uma no lelan povu nia riku soin." Aniceto Guterres Lopes, Direktor, Yayasan HAK

Jun 21 2000 Y-HAK: Lopes: Reconciliation from a Legal Perspective
"The peak of this oppression occurred after the referendum of August 30, 1999, when an absolute majority of East Timorese society expressed their resolve for freedom from the despicable colonization and occupation practiced by Indonesia. In response, the Indonesian military and their pro-integration militia carried out their scorched earth policy. Countless civilians were victims of murder, rape, and various forms of torture. In addition, the military forced people to flee, burning and looting civilians' property." Aniceto Guterres Lopes, Director, Yayasan HAK

Sept 27 1999 Noam Chomsky: East Timor Retrospective - An overview and lessons
"Terror and destruction began early in the year. The TNI forces responsible have been described as "rogue elements" in the West, a questionable judgment. There is good reason to accept Bishop Belo's assignment of direct responsibility to commanding General Wiranto in Jakarta. It appears that the militias have been managed by elite units of Kopassus, the "crack special forces unit" that had "been training regularly with US and Australian forces until their behaviour became too much of an embarrassment for their foreign friends," veteran Asia correspondent David Jenkins reports. These forces are "legendary for their cruelty," Benedict Anderson observes: in East Timor they "became the pioneer and exemplar for every kind of atrocity," including systematic rapes, tortures and executions, and organization of hooded gangsters. They adopted the tactics of the U.S. Phoenix program in South Vietnam that killed tens of thousands of peasants and much of the indigenous South Vietnamese leadership, Jenkins writes, as well as "the tactics employed by the Contras" in Nicaragua, following lessons taught by their CIA mentors. The state terrorists were "not simply going after the most radical pro-independence people but going after the moderates, the people who have influence in their community." "It's Phoenix," a well-placed source in Jakarta reported: the aim is "to terrorise everyone" -- the NGOs, the Red Cross, the UN, the journalists." Noam Chomsky


BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor  home  March news
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