AFP: Scars of vote violence remain real for many East Timor women


Sunday, November 19 12:15 PM SGT
Scars of vote violence remain real for many East Timor women
DILI, Nov 19 (AFP) -


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.

After her rape, "L", 15, was taken by her rapist and captors, pro-Indonesian militias, as a war trophy to Indonesian-controlled West Timor when the militia fled the advances of international peacekeepers.

She was picked from hordes of refugees sheltering in a church in the southern border town of Suai in September last year.

Her militia captors killed her sister, 13, and up to 200 of the refugees, in one of the worst massacres to follow East Timor's vote for independence last year.

She became pregnant after a year as the sex slave of her captors in a refugee camp in West Timor and her parents in Suai were frantically trying to get her brought home.

But the flight of aid workers from West Timor in September, following the brutal slaughter of three UN relief workers, severed any contact her parents and social workers in Dili had over the border.

"We don't know what's happened to her now. There is nobody we can work through there," Abuelda Alves, chief of advocacy at East Timor Women's Forum (Fokupers) told AFP. "We've lost all contact."

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.

The Special Crimes Unit set up by the United Nations administration in East Timor (UNTAET) is investigating more than 100 cases.

"Many of these crimes were carried out with planning, organisation and coordination," a Fokupers report states. "Soldiers and militias kidnapped women together and shared their victims."

In eight cases known to Fokupers the women were forcibly taken to West Timor and turned into virtual sex slaves, raped on a daily basis and forced to do the domestic work of their captors.

Fokupers has documented four cases of rape victims falling pregnant, and two separate cases where militias have taken their pregnant victims to clinics in West Timor and forced them to undergo abortion.

But for the victims, some bearing the babies of their rapists, the suffering does not end even on their return home. Ostracism awaits them.

"They are viewed as rubbish," Abuelda says. "Their families are embarrassed. Women who were already married, their husbands reject them."

A woman brought her militia-fathered baby to UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson when she visited East Timor earlier this year.

"The mother said: 'Here, this is the product of a militia rape, what are we supposed to do?" Alves said.

Victims returning from the West Timor camps have to contend with the frequent perception that they complied with their militia captors, said David Senior, sexual violence investigator at the Special Crimes Unit.

"It's usually not a situation where they've experienced one rape, usually they've been put in a situation, over in Atambua or Betun, where offenders had easy access to them once a week or three times a week.

"Whether they acquiesced or were just so terrified they had to continue, after a while that was perceived as acceptance," Senior said.

"When they come back here the fingers are pointed at them."

Senior has interviewed victims who have been refused support in their community.

"In a lot of cases they've been forced to leave their village because they're seen as militia wives."

In all but one of the cases examined by Senior, the victims were the wives, daughters or sisters of pro-independence guerrillas and activists.

"I believe that it's hand in hand," Senior says.

Fifty-six East Timorese suspected of serious crimes, including rape, have been locked up in Dili's Becora prison. Thirty-five have been released because resources are inadequate to keep investigating them. Dozens more are believed to be living in West Timor.

Justice may be far off for East Timor's rapists, but their victims are suffering plenty of punishment.