Subject: GLW: Women's struggle in East Timor: an eyewitness report
Date: Sat, 10 Jul 1999 16:59:33 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

Green Left Weekly [Australia] July 7, 1999

Women's struggle in East Timor: an eyewitness report

By Jill Hickson

DILI - In June, three 10 year-old boys found a grenade in their playground in Dili, the capital of East Timor. They pulled the pin and it exploded. Two of the boys were blown to pieces. The third was rushed to the church clinic in shock, but could not be saved.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) declared it an accident, but the local human rights organisation disagreed: what was a grenade doing in a children's playground?

A 22 year-old, six-months' pregnant women from the town of Ermera was attacked and raped by 15 men in her home on May 15. They put a gun in her mouth, beat her and terrorised her.

Ten of the men were from the Besi Merah Putih pro-integration militia and five were Indonesian soldiers, including a commander. After the attack, the woman fled to safety with relatives in Dili.

The military and militia have controlled the district around Liquica since attacking it in April, destroying all the villages and forcing people into refugee camps where they can be controlled. Every night the militia hold drinking parties in the main square.

They go to people's houses and if the men refuse to let their wives or daughters leave with the militia they are interrogated the next day as suspected supporters of the resistance. The women are raped and abused during the night, and only allowed to return home the next day.

These are some of the testimonies we heard during our visit as part of a women's delegation to East Timor in the last week of June. The delegation, which included 13 women from seven countries, met with East Timorese women and human rights organisations.

Organised by the Asia Pacific Coalition for East Timor, the group met with clandestine women's groups to hear about the real situation for women in East Timor in the lead-up to the August referendum on autonomy or independence. We saw clear evidence that the situation for women is very bad, especially for those living outside of Dili.

Throughout the 24 years of occupation by the Indonesian military, East Timor's women have been targeted in an attempt to subjugate and pacify them. Many of the men have fled for their lives to the mountains, where they join the resistance; the women and children have to stay behind. Most women in this situation never see their husbands again as the men are killed in the fighting.

The delegation spoke with many women from Dili, as well as from outlying areas. Many are refugees in Dili, which has been a relatively safe haven (until April, when militias attacked many pro-independence activists here). There is an estimated 18,000 refugees are in Dili and up to 52,000 refugees throughout East Timor.

In Ermera, we were told that there are 11 women, including one 14 year-old, being kept at military posts as sex slaves. Each night they are passed around the posts, which are about three kilometres apart. We heard stories of women who are raped until they cannot walk. If they try to run away they are shot.

During the occupation, many women have been forced to become the "wives" of military personnel. They live with the soldiers and bear their children, but when the soldier returns to Indonesia, the women are left to fend for themselves and their children.

During our interviews, women showed us their scars from beatings with tractor chains, rifle butts and other instruments. They talked about being thrown to the ground to render them unconscious so they can be raped without resistance. When they do resist they are tortured with cigarette burns and beatings. Some women carry the scars of bullet wounds.

A climate of fear
A climate of fear prevails in East Timor. Most of the regional areas, especially in the west, are totally controlled by the militias, backed by the Indonesian military. Most attacks are carried out under the direction of military commanders.

When we visited the regions, house after house was flying the Indonesian flag. When questioned, the residents explained that if they did not put up the flags and sign an oath of loyalty to the pro-integration forces, they would be shot.

After the fall of President Suharto, many CNRT (National Committee of Timorese Resistance) branches were set up and student demonstrations occurred around the country. There was hope and optimism when the new president, BJ Habibie, announced that the East Timorese could choose between autonomy under Indonesian rule or independence.

The CNRT branches have become targets in the militias' terror campaigns. In the district of Ambeno, on May 1, local CNRT activists announced that they had dissolved their branch voluntarily. In a written statement they said the branch had committed political errors causing prolonged conflict among the East Timorese people.

The dissolution ceremony was attended by local authorities, leaders of the region and the chief commander of pro-integration, Joao da Silva Tavares.

Seven other branches announced their dissolution at the same time. Yet on May 2, the leaders of the seven branches, who had fled to Dili, told people that the dissolution statement was drafted by the pro-integration commander and that they had been coerced into reading it out.

Even in Dili, no one ventures out after 10pm. When visiting a restaurant after 10pm, two delegation members were approached by five militia wearing black t-shirts adorned with the Indonesian flag. One made it clear that he had a gun under his shirt.

After questioning the delegates' presence in East Timor, their driver was told not to take anyone out after 10pm, or they would have to face militia who patrol the streets after dark.

No security
Based on the testimonies we gathered from East Timorese women, it is clear that a free and fair referendum will be impossible in the present climate. While UNAMET will staff all polling booths, security will remain in the hands of the Indonesian military and police.

We saw two shiploads of 3000 police arrive in East Timor, bringing the number of Indonesian military and police to more than 23,000: one for every 40 East Timorese.

The many East Timorese who have had their homes destroyed and been forced into camps controlled by the militias will take a huge risk by voting for independence. They have been forced to sign pledges of loyalty and told to vote for autonomy.

On June 14 in Ritabou, in the sub-district of Maliana Kota, (Bobonaro district), the Dodarus Merah Putih militia held a "consolidation of tasks" meeting. The whole village was forced to attend this "educational" gathering as part of the pro-integration program.

The commander of Maliana, Lt. Colonel Burhanuddin Siagian, told the villagers that autonomy had to be accepted in the district of Bobonaro. If the people refused, he said, they would be wiped out.

The head of the East Timorese People's United Front in Bobonaro, Francisco Soares Pereira, who is also head of the Public Works Office, threatened that the pro-integration group would fight until the last drop of blood if the people do not vote for autonomy.

Such meetings have been held throughout the country and anyone who did not attend is presumed to be pro-independence and is in danger of being arrested and killed.

In the refugee camps, the situation is made worse by the lack of food. Non-government organisations have been denied access to the regions by the military. Unclean water supplies are a major problem.

According to Dan Murphy, a US doctor working in the church clinic in Dili, tuberculosis exists in epidemic proportions in many areas and the death toll is huge. Just hours before we visited Liquica, a baby in the refugee camp there died from diarrhoea, a preventable illness.

Systematic abuse
Many people now flee to the mountains when their villages are attacked, and many, including women and children, have died of starvation as a result.

Women as well as men suffer from many forms of violence, such as kidnapping, arbitrary arrests, detentions, extrajudicial executions and torture. On May 17, in Ulmera village in the Bazartete sub-district, (Liquica district), six members of the Besi Merah Putih mlitia arrested 26 year-old Tereza dos Santos at her house because, they said, her husband had gone to the jungle to join the resistance. While in detention, she was raped repeatedly.

In all such cases, the women will not report their abuse or seek medical treatment, being too ashamed to present to doctors. This is especially so since, for most women, the only option is the Indonesian military hospital, where they will be subjected to further abuse and humiliation.

To date, not one case of abuse has been taken to court (the judges, too, are Indonesian), nor have any of the perpetrators been detained and charged. The women pointed out to us that the people they must report the crimes to are the very people committing the crimes.

When questioned about this situation, UNAMET said it has raised the issue with the military authorities whose job it is to ensure the security of the people, but that, so far, no cases have been investigated.

When the women were asked about reporting their abuse to UNAMET, they explained that militia members hang around the gates of UNAMET offices and note who goes inside. The Indonesian military guards question everyone who arrives at the gates, and demand to see their papers. The visitors are later targeted by the militia, and their homes attacked.

For those East Timorese women who have been sexually abused, the humiliation does not end with their escape from the militia or military. Women students in Dili told us that in traditional East Timorese society, women who have sex before marriage are considered unclean, lose all respect and are often are shunned by their community.

Many women who have been raped feel so ashamed that they keep quiet about their experience, lose all self-esteem and confidence, and therefore become prostitutes for the Indonesian military.

The women we spoke to said the only solution to the problems in East Timor is the removal of all Indonesian armed forces. Without protection from the military, they said, the militias could be dealt with.

The women's delegation is urging more international delegations of activists to visit East Timor, especially women, whose presence can give confidence to East Timorese women to speak out. The presence of international delegations will be especially crucial after the referendum when, the East Timorese believe, the militia and military will go on a rampage, punishing the people for supporting independence before they are forced to withdraw.

[Jill Hickson made the recently released film Indonesia in Revolt: democracy or death! and is a member of Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor.]

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