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Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Timor-Leste

Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Timor-Leste

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Published by: Warren Wright on Feb 25, 2011
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Timor-Leste    Issue Brief     November 2009  |
issue brief
Number 5 | November 2009
Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV)is a pervasive global phenomenon,but is of en a politically sensitiveand unacknowledged issue.
It hasserious consequences or the physical,reproductive, and psychological healthand social well-being o individuals. Italso re ects and reinorces inequalitiesbetween men and women.
SGBV isincreasingly regarded as an impedimentto the economic and social developmento states.
T is
Issue Brie 
considers the scale andmagnitude o SGBV directed againstwomen and girls in imor-Leste. Itconsiders the culture o impunity thatpervades the country around SGBV andimpedes progress on this issue; the lack o ‘enjoyment’ o human rights by womenand girls due to SGBV; and the systematicailure o the security and justice system totackle violations. Focusing on both the pre-and post-independence eras, it synthesizesthe evidence to help identiy entry pointsor the prevention and reduction o SGBV.It  nds the ollowing: 
Women and girls continue to ace ahigh incidence o SGBV in the post-independence period, as well asprevailing cultural norms that act as animpediment to their ull partnership insociety and government. 
Documentation o, acknowledgemento, and compensation or previoussexual crimes against women duringthe occupation are ar rom complete,and hinder collective healing andunderstanding o SGBV. 
raditional and ormal justicemechanisms have ailed women and girlson SGBV while key legislative reormson intimate partner and amily violencecontinue to languish in parliament. 
T ere is a strong need or routine SGBVmonitoring by government, police,
After the guns fall silent
Sexual and genderbased violence in TimorLeste
hospitals, and service providers, andimproved collection o data to inormpolicy measures. 
T e work o the UN Police VulnerablePersons Unit (VPU) within theimor-Leste police (Policia Nacionalde imor-LestePNL) should beexpanded and urther resourced, withoutreach to all districts. 
T e strong commitment to theprevention o SGBV rom severalo imor-Leste’s key civil society organizations is commendable, anddeveloping capacity in service delivery,monitoring, and public educationshould be supported by the imoresegovernment and multilateral andbilateral donors.T is
Issue Brie 
takes SGBV as encompassinga range o harms, including rape, maritalrape, and attempted rape; sexual violence,including assault, abuse, and harassment;sexual exploitation and tra  cking; orcedmarriage; intimate partner and amily violence; and harmul cultural practices.
 T is project uses as key terms
intimatepartner violence
amily violence
, in orderto capture the unique violence in intimateor committed relationships and violenceperpetrated by or experienced rom otheramily members. T e term
sexual violence
 is used as a broad term, o which sexualassault is one element.
SGBV in thepre-independence period
Inormation on the social situation o imorese women and girls is sparse priorto 1975. imor-Leste is described as aheavily patriarchal society, in uencedby layers o indigenous belies andthe legacy o Portuguese colonialismand Catholicism, where most emalesare illiterate subsistence armers.
Anethnographic study o ertility and gender
Box 1 Socio-political factorsunderlying SGBV in Timor-Leste
T ere is a lively debate regarding theextent to which existing cultural,political, and social norms condition thedisposition o individuals to violence. Inimor-Leste, a range o circumstances,ideas, and attitudes are thought to shapeSGBV, including: 
a history and culture o tolerance ormale violence within the society; 
weak ormal justice and security sectors; 
widespread unemployment andpoverty, especially in the districts; 
mass displacement in 1999 and 2006; 
trauma as a result o the occupationperiod; 
the patriarchal organization o society; 
the practice o bride price (
the traditional, male-dominatedsystems o law and con ict resolution(
widespread male in delity andpolygamy, but an insistence on emalechastity; 
alcohol abuse, gambling, and bettingon cock ghts; 
the woman’s perceived responsibility or a couple’s ailure to producechildren (inertility); 
amily-enorced silence in cases o abuse; and 
a general public presumption thatSGBV is a normal part o lie.
: UNFPA (2005), p. 7.
in imor-Leste by David Hicks makesseveral general observations about genderrelations, including that masculine isconsidered superior to eminine, just asthe adult (ather) is superior to the child,
 which is borne out by current writing by imorese women (see Box 1).
|  Timor-Leste    Issue Brief    November 2009
T e majority o inormation availableabout imorese women and girls rom1975 to 1999 concerns their particularexperience o sexual violence during theIndonesian occupation. An unveri ablenumber o imorese women and girlswere abducted, raped, and impregnatedby Indonesian solders; of en kept captiveand enslaved; and later rejected by theiramilies. An even more acute orm o gender-based violence occurred duringthe post-reerendum violence o 1999:the systematic rape o imorese womenand girls in the context o their orceddeportation to West imorese camps.
 estimonies to this eect have beencollected by the UN, human rights NGOssuch as Amnesty International, theIndonesian Human Rights Commission,journalists, and East imorese NGOsthemselves.
Even so, there are no accuratestatistics on the scale and distribution o sexual violence during the occupation until1999 and consequently during the periodo orced deportation and internment inWest imor.One o the key obstacles preventingimorese women and girls rom seekingredress in the post-occupation era isinadequate documentation. Bishop Belowrote in 2001: ‘Up to 3,000 died in 1999,untold numbers o women were raped and500,000 persons displaced100,000 areyet to return.’
T e phrase ‘untold numberso women’ is both poignant and literalthe story o women’s and girls’ experiencebeore, during, and af er the 1999 violenceremains largely untold, despite theextraordinary e orts o imorese womenadvocates.It is widely known that SGBV during theoccupation by Indonesian military andmilitia groups was politically motivatedand systematic.
A UN report ound that‘[r]ape was used by the military as a ormo revenge, or to orce the relatives out o hiding’.
T e backdrop o militarizationalso masked incidents o intimate partnerand amily violence.T e most comprehensive overview o sexual violence in occupied East imorappears in chapter 7.7 o the  nal reporto the Commission or Reception, ruth,and Reconciliation (CAVR),
also knownas the
report, which presentedboth statistics and the experiences o women and girls. T e CAVR recorded853 cases o sexual violence and drew the‘inevitable conclusion’ that ‘many victims. . . did not come orward to report themto the Commission’.
Reasons or under-reporting include the death o victims andwitnesses (especially or earlier periods o the con ict), victims who may be outsideimor-Leste (especially in West imor),the painul and very personal nature o the experiences, and the ear o social oramily humiliation or rejection i theirexperiences are known publicly. T e CAVRultimately decided that the total numbero sexual violations was likely to be severaltimes higher than the number reported.
Other data appears to support a higherincidence o SGBV during 1999. In a 2004study o 288 imorese women, one in ourreported being exposed to violence during1999.
Leading imorese women’s NGOForum Komunikasi Untuk Perempuanimor Lorosa’e (FOKUPERS) documented46 cases o rape during the 1999 violence:9 perpetrated by Indonesian soldiers, 28 by pro-Jakarta militias, and 9 by joint attacksby militias and soldiers. Some 18 o thesewere categorized as mass rapes.
‘Many o these crimes were carried out withplanning, organization, and coordination’, aFOKUPERS report states.
Meanwhile, inthe reugee camps o West imor, to whichtens o thousands o women and girls wereorcibly deported, a act-nding teamin one study alone ound 163 di erentcases o violence against 119 women. Itnoted the many serious impacts o sexualviolence on women’s health, including,but not limited to, death in childbirth,ongoing reproductive health issues, andpsychological harm.
T ere is still acampaign to obtain the release o severalyoung women in the West imor campswho are thought to be held against theirwill as ‘war trophies’ by militia leaders.
 Despite even this limited acknowledgmento the causes and consequences o SGBV,media reports con rm that the ‘victimso militia rape and sex slavery continueto bear the scars o post-ballot violencein imor-Leste, acing ostracism ontheir return home’.
With the exceptiono isolated examples such as the book 
and the CAVR ‘Women andthe Con ict’ hearing,
women havenot spoken out in public about theirexperiences. ‘What has been violatedis their sense o who they are and theirpossibility o living without ear’, said oneadvocate in the CAVR report.
T eseexperiences o violation and stigmatizationhave prevented imorese women and girlsrom seeking help in the post-occupationperiod, especially in relation to intimatepartner violence and amily violence.
SGBV in the post-independence period
SGBV in imor-Leste occurs againsta backdrop o general poverty anddeprivation, especially or women andgirls. As o 2009, the  country is consideredthe poorest in Asia and one o the leastdeveloped on the planet.
According to aUN Development Programme (UNDP)report released in January 2006, 90 outo 1,000 children die beore their  rstbirthday, hal the population is illiterate,64 per cent su er rom ood insecurity,hal lack access to sae drinking water, and40 per cent live below the o  cial poverty line (an income o USD 0.55 a day).
Anestimated 95,000 women have been givensterilizing injections since 1975, of enwithout their consent,
and over hal o women and girls are illiterate.
 Maternal mortality rates are particularly high. T e incidence o maternal mortalito ers an important proxy or the healthand social status o women and girlsgenerally. Figures generated by the WorldHealth Organization (WHO) in early 2001reveal that twice as many women die inchildbirth in imor-Leste as anywhere elsein East Asia or the Western Pacic region.
 According to WHO, only 196 midwivesare available or a population o 800,000and less than a quarter o imor’s womenhave ready access to a healthcare acility or qualied midwie. UNDP and WHOobserve that these  gures represent ‘anabsolute tragedy’.
Intimate partner violence and amilyviolence
T e  rst National Women’s Congress in2000 identi ed ‘domestic violence’ as apriority issue or imorese women.
T eissue o SGBV in the home remains the key priority or imorese advocates and NGOs,who state that high levels o intimatepartner violence and amily violence arereported in every district.
T e prioritgiven to the issue by NGOs is based on theunderstanding that women in imor-Lestehave endured a severe increase in intimatepartner violence and amily violence andother types o crimes since 1999.
 Notwithstanding considerable attentiondevoted to the issue since 2000, data isincomplete and of en anecdotal. T e maininormation sources are complaints topolice, hospital emergency room data,court reports, and NGO service providers.Unortunately, public sources o data aboutSGBV, despite the basic gender equality mandate o the UN Mission in imor-
Timor-Leste    Issue Brief     November 2009  |
Leste, are typically unreliable or unavailableor public research.
Until publicvital statistics surveillance systems arestrengthened and expanded, NGO reerraldata remains one o the best sources o primary data on SGBV. T e government o imor-Leste relies heavily on NGO reportsor its report to the UN Committee on theElimination o Discrimination AgainstWomen (CEDAW).
Police data shows a high incidence o SGBV reports relative to all other crimessince 2000. In the establishment o the UNPolice Vulnerable Persons Unit (VPU), ane ort was made to ensure that most o  ceshad at least one emale o  cer on sta specially trained to acilitate interviewswith emale victims. T e VPU begancollecting inormation on gender-basedviolence in October 2000, but was notoperational during the 2006 crisis and sothe data has gaps (see Figure 1).In 2008 the VPU changed the classi cationo gender-based violence cases by movingrape rom ‘domestic violence’ to ‘sexualo ences’ and created two new categories o ‘assault/domestic’ and ‘dispute/domestic’to deepen understanding o the nature o cases and to better document and respondto speci c complaints. T e implications o the changes to coding are not yet clear, butthey appear to represent more precisionor police responses and consistency withUN global reporting measures on SGBV.
 Wider interactions with the PNL andsurvivors o SGBV outside the VPU havebeen very mixed, with reports o policein the districts ignoring serious violationsoccurring in their presence.
 Incidents o SGBV can also be extractedrom reported hospital admissions,although hospitals and other healthacilities in imor-Leste do not generally maintain standardized records on gender-based violence or screen or SGBV.
ALAVA survey ound that almost one-f h o all women presenting at emergencrooms in Dili and Baucau hospitals in thesummer months o 2006–08 were recordedas victims o domestic violence, with thisproportion rising to one-third or womenaged 20–39 years.
 Core support services or survivors areprovided by NGOs in imor-Leste.FOKUPERS and the NGO PsychosocialRecovery and Development in East imor(PRADE) administer various reerral andsae-house programmes and keep statisticson women contacting their services.T e government’s Department o SocialServices has our o  ces in the country,but ‘lacks su  cient resources and capacity to carry out its mandate o supportingindividuals in crisis and providing childprotection services’.
T eir statistics wererecently included in the NGO WorkingGroup on CEDAW’s shadow report toCEDAW in March 2009 (see able 1).T e incidence and severity o SGBVcan also be ound by monitoring courtstatistics, of en collated and published by the imorese legal NGO Judicial SystemMonitoring Programme (JSMP). Drawingon two months o court monitoring o women-related cases in the Dili DistrictCourt, JSMP ound that women-relatedcases constituted the majority (55 per cent)o all criminal hearings scheduled andthat 78 per cent o these involved serioussexual assault.
T e report o the JSMPVictim Support Service Unit rom October2007 to May 2008 identi ed 24 domesticviolence cases rom the total o 50 cases.
 JSMP reports remain the main source o inormation on police and court treatmento SGBV issues.
Finally, a valuable source o inormation onSGBV includes social surveys o imoreseamilies by the International RescueCommittee (IRC) in 2002 and 2003
inconjunction with a research consortium.O those surveyed in 2002, 43 per centreported at least one incident o violenceby their partners.
In 2003, 51 per cent o married imorese women said they eltunsae in their relationship, and also thatamily disputes and violence perpetrated by a husband against his wie were considereda ‘normal’ yet very private occurrencewithin the amily.
Women’s own attitudes to intimate partnerviolence and amily violence remain
Figure 1 SGBV incidents recorded by the VPU, 2003–08
SGBV cases 
2005 2006 2007
Table 1 SGBV cases recorded by NGOs, 2000–09
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Domestic violence 37 36 39 11 30 58 34 62 117 27Sexual violence (adults) 6 5 19 18 5 8 9 9 2 2Sexual violence (under-age) 1 1 10 8 12 2 1 5Intent to do sexual violence 4 1 2 3 5 1 7Incest 2 2 2 6 2 4 4 12 1Sexual abuse 4 3 4 3 2 1Abandonment 33 31 45 14 23 23 18 30 29 3Torture 10 10 1 5 4 3 5 2Defamation 1 8 1 1 3 2 1Obligatory marriage 1 1 3 2Intimidation based on gender 1 1 3 9
Total 84 100 131 46 84 117 80 118 180 36
T e categories re ect FOKUPERS’s 11 categories o direct (‘criteria’) types o SGBV. 
Includes data or January and February 2009 only.
: NGO Working Group on CEDAW (2009), pp. 63–64
Most o the cases in 2003 were classi ed as ‘domestic violence’, although the exact numberis unspeci ed. 
Covers the period July 2003–June 2004, including 201 ‘domestic violence’ cases and115 ‘rape’ cases. 
Covers the period January–August 2004. 
Includes 215 ‘domestic violence’ cases. 
Includes 161 ‘domestic violence’ cases and 54 ‘rape’ cases.
: UNSG (2009), p. 12; UN Shadow Report (2009), p. 65.

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