|Subject: East Timor women must tell of
atrocities by Indonesians
Received from Joyo Indonesian News
Jakarta Post June 9 & 10, 2003
East Timor women must tell of RI atrocities
Karen Campbell-Nelson, Researcher, Commission for Reception, Truth-seeking, and Reconciliation (CAVR), Dili, East Timor
Part 1 of 2
It is important the women of Timor Leste tell what they know about past violations, to balance the tendency for men to dominate the documentation of history, and to remind social, political, and religious leaders of Timor Leste what is required of an inclusive reconciliation process.
This is how Beatriz Guterres begins telling us what she knows.
"After Andre and I married in December 1982 we moved from Beobe to Craras. When the Craras massacre occurred on 8 August 1983, I was two months pregnant. [Because] my husband...was suspected by ABRI (Indonesian armed forces, now TNI) ...we sought refuge in the forest. However ... we were ambushed.
"I surrendered, but my husband got away and ran to Bibileo Mountain. Every day I was interrogated by ABRI at Buikaren. My child was born in February 1984. When he was five days old, my husband surrendered. He stayed in our house for one month before he was made a TBO (Tenaga Bantuan Operasi, Operational Assistant) by ABRI. After he reported for duty he never returned. He was probably murdered the same day he was called to report. My child also died at 14 months because of illness and we had no medicine."
Beatriz was one of 14 Timor Leste women invited to Dili by the Commission for Reception, Truth-seeking, and Reconciliation (CAVR) to participate in the Commission's third national public hearing held on 28-29 April.
According to its mandate, CAVR is to seek the truth about human rights abuses that occurred in the context of political conflict in Timor Leste from 1974-1999. One means for establishing the truth is by giving witnesses, and experts the opportunity to speak in public hearings.
The theme for this hearing, Women and Conflict, was explored through various submissions, eye-witness accounts, and the sharing of personal experiences by women such as Beatriz. The women's stories painted a painfully vivid picture of their experience of human rights violations from 1974-1999, the historical period being investigated by Commission researchers.
During the hearing these accounts were supplemented by two presentations. Mario Carrascalco, East Timor's governor from 1982-1992, shared stories that clearly illustrated the impact of Indonesia's militarization of the territory on Timor Leste women.
John Fernandes, field coordinator for the Indonesian Family Planning Program in Manufahi district shared his knowledge of how the promotion of birth control prevented women from freely exercising their reproductive rights.
Submissions by three different groups -- Timor Leste women, the Indonesian National Commission Against Violence Towards Women, and members of the former West Timor Humanitarian Team that investigated violence against Timor Leste women in West Timor refugee camps -- provided different perspectives for analyzing how gender is exploited, but also shaped, in contexts of political conflict and violence.
To better understand all that is required, we must hear the rest of Beatriz's story. Not long after her child died, Beatriz was forced by the military to join a women's night patrol to guard the village, Lalerek Mutin, from Falintil attack. Patrol members were regularly harassed on their night rounds and it is likely this is how Beatriz first came to the attention of a Kopassus (Special Forces) officer, E.
Only a few days after meeting E, Beatriz lived with him as his wife. E first demanded Beatriz dance with him all night at a military party. The following day, he followed Beatriz to her rice field where he beat her mercilessly. Beatriz ran home only to be confronted by male members of her family and community who persuaded her to give in to the soldier, "Better you sell your soul to save our necks. No one will blame you."
So Beatriz lived with this soldier for one year before his term of duty expired and he left Timor Leste. Although Beatriz was pregnant with his child, she had a miscarriage. This was Beatriz's first forced marriage. It was followed by two more.
"In 1991 another Kopassus soldier, Prada M, had duty in Lalerek Mutin. When my friends and I were in the rice field he shot in our direction. My friends pressured me so that I would become his wife in order to save myself. Because I was ashamed I stood and said, "OK. I'll cut myself in half. The lower half I'll give to him, but the upper half is for my land, the land of Timor." They said to me, "Don't be afraid, don't run. You probably must suffer like this because your husband was murdered, whereas you are still alive. ... Our lives are the same."
Then Prada M. walked with me and I answered each of his questions only with, "Ya"...I was just resigned to my fate. We lived as husband and wife and I had a child.
Although Beatriz' friends tried to assure her their lives were just the same, they were not. Once Beatriz was perceived as a "fallen woman" for living with Indonesian soldiers, it was easy to forget that friends, family, and community members had contributed to her fall.
Politically-motivated violence became so distorted that a beating or being shot at was interpreted, correctly it seems, as a soldier's interest in a Timorese woman. Such was the distortion that Beatriz's own community treated her as the village's scapegoat, turning her into a sexual sacrifice to mitigate violence against the larger community. The community logic seemed to be that if military violence could be limited to the women they abused (to Beatriz) it would not so easily spill over into broader attacks on the residents of Lalerek Mutin.
But once Beatriz "fell" she became more vulnerable, not only to repeated incidents of forced marriage, but also to community perceptions that this was her fate.
The tendency to blame the victim is nothing new. However, in the context of political violence in Lalerek Mutin this tendency was used to explain away the disappearance of Beatriz's husband as well as to accept her forced marriages as judgment for her simply being alive. They knew Beatriz suffered. Yet they saw her suffering as fate or divine judgment rather than a violation of her rights and in this way deflected blame from themselves and others who did not rally to Beatriz's defense, but indeed pressured her to accept the violations.
The third incident of forced marriage begins when two soldiers, one the commanding officer of the other, come to where Beatriz is working in the rice field and begin to fight over who will take Beatriz as his own.
Local village officials become involved and the village head scolds Beatriz, telling her if she wants a husband to choose one, not two. Beatriz protests. "I was in the paddy field cutting rice when suddenly these two appeared and started fighting ... I just wanted to cut rice, not talk to them about who would be my boyfriend."
The village head repeats his demand, "You date just one of them, not both!" In the end Beatriz is, once again, resigned to what she and others call her fate. She lives with one of these two soldiers and gives birth to his child. When the child is only a few months old, the soldier who fought with his commanding officer in order to win Beatriz, as if she were a boxing trophy, leaves Timor Leste.
Beatriz's story points to the complexity of gender-based violence in Timor Leste during the 25 years of conflict prior to the country's independence, a complexity the reconciliation process cannot afford to ignore.
Part 2 of 2
Women's experience of the conflict demands special attention and reflection because, as the stories of Beatriz and the other women at the public hearing suggest, it is different from men's. Stories of rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, and sexual torture -- not only at the hands of Indonesian police and soldiers, but also those of the other parties in the conflict, Fretilin and UDT -- make clear that women are sexually vulnerable in a way men are not.
Because women are socially constructed as primary caretakers and nurturers of children, guardians of the hearth, healers of those in pain, their social identity is derived from their biological roles as those who give birth and nurse. When they are sexually violated, it is not only their bodies that suffer; their very identity as women is attacked.
This, then, is a part of women's suffering. Many women continue to suffer physical trauma -- they cannot give birth or only do so painfully, their sexual organs are scarred or damaged. But also damaged is their sense of self. How can they come to accept themselves as whole women if they or others feel their sexual abuse has soiled their reputation and moral character for life? How can they heal?
"Reconcile" comes from the Latin word re-conciliare. It means "again-make friendly". Indeed one of the mandates of the Commission for Reception, Truth-seeking, and Reconciliation (CAVR) is to facilitate a process whereby relations among those estranged from each other can be reformed and enemies can become friends once again.
When I consider the experiences and trauma of women in Timor Leste, my understanding of what reconciliation might mean for women is aided when I reflect on another word -- integration from the Latin word integrare, to make whole. What I observed during the public hearing on Women and Conflict was women yearning for integration at three levels.
First, women who suffered abuse during the years of conflict in Timor Leste are at once victims and survivors. We celebrate their courage, fortitude, resourcefulness, and strength when we recognize them as survivors. But we must also recognize them as victims who long to be healed.
Listening to women who shared their experiences I was reminded the healing process may take a lifetime, but it is supported when women are given the opportunity to tell what they know. Telling what they know enables women to take steps towards personal integration.
They need to hear they are valued and loved and to have their questions answered. When one participant expressed concerns about the status of her marriage since her rape by a militia commander in 1999, it was healing for her to hear one of CAVR's National Commissioners, Father Juvito, tell her that rape cannot nullify her marriage.
Telling what they know to others who want to listen helps women place the abuse outside themselves where it can be seen, heard, and whittled down, piece by piece, rather than allowing it to eat away at them from the inside like a silent cancerous growth.
Second, by telling what they know in public, women also become integrated into the truth-seeking and reconciliation process in Timor Leste. However, given the burden of patriarchy it is not enough simply to make opportunities available to women along with men.
The opportunities must be especially for women, something that requires planning, preparation, and often an inordinate amount of support and encouragement for women. The proceedings of this public hearing were broadcast live over national television and radio.
This will hopefully encourage other women to come forward with their statements, to tell what they know to members of CAVR district teams throughout Timor Leste so that their perspectives and experiences are integrated into what would otherwise be a male-dominated process.
And once women are integrated into the process, the stakes for reconciliation are raised. Take Beatriz. Ideally she would receive support for herself and her children from the fathers of her children. Since that is not forthcoming and it is unlikely the Indonesian military will compensate Beatriz for her suffering, then it falls to religious and political institutions in Timor Leste to address her situation.
But what about her friends and family? The men of her community who pushed her into unwanted common law marriages, not once, but three times? Beatriz still lives in this community and has made enough peace with herself and others to continue living there.
But to integrate women into the truth and reconciliation process demands acknowledgement of uncomfortable truths about local communities. The Commission might ask itself: What would be a process of reconciliation for healing this dimension of abuse?
Third, the recent public hearing also suggests something about political integration. At the conclusion of a testimony by Maria, another woman who was yet to tell her story, Victoria, spontaneously arose and came forward, making an impassioned confession.
She admitted to having been involved with the Fretilin fighters who tortured Maria. Victoria yearned for public confession and forgiveness. Victoria approached Maria and hugged her and Maria hugged Victoria in return.
When the women who spoke came together from different corners of Timor Leste and began telling what they know to each other, it became apparent to them that what was common about the violations they suffered was that they were politically-motivated, were instigated by men, and mostly perpetrated by men.
Although some women, such as Victoria, were drawn in as perpetrators, the political, social-economic, and personal disintegration due to conflict in Timor Leste must be seen as driven by men of all political persuasions and in that sense, no men won as a result of the conflict.
Without the stories of women to balance those of men, whatever political integration may exist for Timor Leste will not be total. The truth will remain distorted and reconciliation may only contribute to a future in which men's friendly relations allow the violation of women's human rights to continue. Reconciliation in Timor Leste must seek to make individuals, communities, and the nation whole.
After years of so much fragmentation this is not easy, but it must be done for shattered lives and communities cannot be swept away like glass. Some women began piecing together fragments when they spoke of gender-based violence at this public hearing.
The process remains a fragile, yet beautiful one. Listening to these women tell what they know was at once a painful and strengthening experience that helped me to better understand how such a small country could survive such a history of pain.
If the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, then Timor Leste's future promises to be a great one as long as the women's parts are told, reconciled, and integrated.
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