|Subject: NYT: Sexual Violence as Tool of
War: Pattern Emerging in East Timor
New York Times, 1 March 2001 Sexual Violence as Tool of War: Pattern Emerging in East Timor By SETH MYDANS
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."
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