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Danish survey highlights trauma, torture in E. Timor

Kyodo News Service

LONDON, Nov. 22 Kyodo

Many people in East  Timor  have been tortured during the island's recent violent history and are now suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a survey conducted Copenhagen-based International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT).

The study found that 57% of 1,033 East Timorese residents questioned in June and July this year said they had experienced some form of torture.

The survey, published in the latest edition of the British medical weekly The Lancet, shows 34% of the respondents suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The IRCT, an independent group of international health professionals, said the survey is intended to assess the extent of torture and trauma in East Timor  and the health impact on the population.

The organization said too often the psychological needs of post-conflict countries are ignored at the expense of the physical rebuilding of a nation.

Respondents were not confined to one specific period of time although a lot of the responses related to the violence following the U.N.-sponsored referendum August 1999 where the former Portuguese colony voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia.

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.

Many respondents described having been threatened at gunpoint, especially during interrogation by the Indonesian military and 22% said they had witnessed the murder of a family member or friend.

In terms of trauma, the IRCT said 97% of the respondents had experienced at least one traumatic event. The five most common events cited were: direct exposure to combat situation (76), lack of shelter (64), and ill health with no access to medical care (60).

Many of those questioned said they had lost loved ones as a result of the violence, with 31% and 24% of saying the had lost their father or mother.

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.

The researchers found that most people in East  Timor looked primarily to their own family, community and church for assistance in getting over the trauma.

With this in mind, the IRCT said it is working closely with other organizations to educate primary school teachers in basic concepts of trauma and psychological recovery in children, as well as providing support to the wider family.

International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims
The IRCT is an independent, international health professional organization, which promotes and supports the rehabilitation of torture victims and works for the prevention of torture worldwide. IRCT carried out a national psychosocial needs assessment in East Timor in June and July 2000. See Kyodo News Service & Lancet for summaries of the findings.
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