Subject: Rape a Weapon of War in Timor Occupation [+By Sian Powell/The Australian]

The Australian Monday, January 30, 2006

Rape a Weapon of War in Timor Occupation

Sian Powell

Thousands of women endured crimes against humanity, writes Sian Powell

IN September 1999, a young East Timorese woman was brought to a militia post in Gleno. In the days immediately after the independence ballot, she was at the mercy of men who had lost the fight to keep East Timor within Indonesia.

A former militia gangster, Francisco Martins, told the independent Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation that he had seen the young woman in Gleno after she had been abused so violently she could hardly walk.

The militia commander had brought her in, and that evening Martins saw four militia gangsters from his Darah Merah Integrasi gang (Red Blood for Integration) take her away to rape her.

The next morning he saw her again, covered in blood. "She cried and asked our help to take her to the church," he said. "It was only then I knew they had raped her because she couldn't walk, she was stumbling."

After the rapes, the woman was returned to the militia post, tied up and finally killed.

The cycle of rape and sexual violence, entrenched in East Timor since the Indonesian invasion, accelerated in 1999, according to the commission, which found rape had been used as a weapon of war.

The commission's 2500-page report on Indonesia's 24-year occupation of East Timor carefully documents the tragic history of the executions, the massacres, the torture and the deliberate starvation of the East Timorese.

Still to be publicly released, it has already soured relations between Indonesia and its one-time territory. A visit by East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao to Jakarta to present the report to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was cancelled last week.

The report, obtained by The Australian, makes it clear that in many ways the women of East Timor were the real victims of the occupation. Rape, it found, was used by the Indonesian military to splinter the resistance, and the sexual violence sharply accelerated in the months before and after the independence ballot in August 1999.

"Rape, sexual slavery and sexual violence were tools used as part of the campaign designed to inflict a deep experience of terror, powerlessness and hopelessness upon pro-independence supporters," the commission found, noting that 93per cent of sexual violations during the occupation were committed by the Indonesian armed forces and their militia proxies.

Women who supported the resistance were particularly at risk. One wife of a Falantil resistance fighter told the commission she was kept captive in Manufahi in 1981.

"We were continually raped for seven months, although I was already old and my daughter-in-law was pregnant," she said.

Based on interviews with nearly 8000 witnesses from East Timor's 13 districts and 65 sub-districts, the report concludes the rapes constituted a war crime, and those responsible were guilty of crimes against humanity.

Although it only heard testimony concerning 853 sexual violations, the true number was in the thousands, the report says.

Unlike the East Timorese men, whose war wounds were honoured by their compatriots, raped and violated East Timorese women were often shunned by their husbands, families and communities, as well as by the Catholic Church.

In a society which values virginity and chastity and abhors any form of adultery, rape victims have tried to keep their shame silent. Yet many, including those who were impregnated by Indonesian soldiers, police officers or militia gang members, have had their lives blighted.

The commission documents the cases of women who were forced to become "military wives", women who were raped in front of their children, and the rapes of pregnant women, the sexual torture of women -- including the use of cigarettes to burn their nipples and genitals.

"The purpose was also to humiliate and dehumanise the East Timorese people," the commission found. "It was an attempt to destroy their will to resist, to reinforce the reality that they were utterly powerless and subject to the cruel and inhuman whims of those who controlled the situation with guns."

One young woman told the commission she saw her relatives murdered in the Suai church massacre in late 1999. She was then forced into a nearby school building, repeatedly raped by militia members, and forcibly transported over the border to West Timor.

One militia man found her in the West Timor camp. "He said he had been looking for me for two days," she said. "He hit me with his handmade weapon right in the mouth, kicked me in the chest and hit my back in front of several people. That night he moved me to his house and raped me again.

"I was with this man for three months and sixteen days. During the day he would go out and keep me locked inside a room and when he returned he would open the door and do it again."

One young woman was abducted when she was two months' pregnant and detained in a notorious torture centre, the Flamboyan Hotel in Baucau, for six months. "She was stripped naked, electrocuted and raped in a standing position," the commission found. "The torture and rape she endured were so brutal that in the end she agreed to become the `wife' of a member of Battalion 744 in order to secure her release."

Documenting the sexual slavery, the commission found the "ownership in these cases was either individual or collective," and women were often passed on when troops were rotated out of East Timor. The military kept lists of women who could be used for sex, and handed the lists to their successors.

One woman, forced into years of sexual slavery, had five children from five different military fathers. "The father of my first child, who died, was from the Komando Unit," she told the commission. "The father of the second child was from Unit 412. The third was from Unit 413. I forgot the name and unit of the fourth child's father."

These "military wives" told the commission they felt soiled and shamed. The report notes that one woman had been referred to as a "war prize", another said she "felt like an animal". Many said they felt like whores, and there are cases of mental instability, as well as cases of women who never recovered to marry and live a normal life.

"The victims' testimonies clearly show there was a widely accepted practice for members of the security forces to rape and sexually torture women while on official duty, in military installations and other official buildings," the commission found.

"These practices were covered by almost total impunity."

One woman from Mauchiga told the commission she was raped by four soldiers in 1982, when she was heavily pregnant.

"When they finished I was crying. But what did they say? `Why are you crying? Our penis is the same as your husband's. We did it so your baby will come out quickly'.

"After saying that they left me. I managed to stand up by holding on to the trees around me and walked back to our place." She gave birth the next morning.

-------------------- Joyo Indonesia News Service

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