Bairo Pite Clinic

Women's Health

Speeches, interviews, published papers and other documentation relevant to women's health issues in East Timor . Click on the title below.


Healing East Timor by Sue Hoban December, 2002

Women Worldwide Call For an International Tribunal For East Timor . Officials, Scholars And Activists Say Justice For Crimes Against Timorese Women Needed Now

ISSUES FOR WOMEN IN EAST TIMOR: THE AFTERMATH OF INDONESIAN OCCUPATION Mira Martins da Silva & Susan Kendall February 2002 (Adobe Acrobat document)

Natércia Godinho-Adams on Resolution 1325 Women, Peace and Security, 30 October 2001 .

A Statement from Women's Studies Scholars, Women Leaders and Feminist Organizations   East Timorese Women's Network, June 2001

Maternal mortality in East Timor L Walley Lancet 2001.

Sexual Violence as Tool of War: Pattern Emerging in East Timor Seth Mydans and Anastasia T. Vrachnos The New York Times, March 1, 2001 .


Healing East Timor

Susan Kendall 

by Sue Hoban from the Mosman Daily December 19, 2002 from the ETAN website


For the past two years Susan Kendall, the social worker who co-ordinates northern Sydney 's sexual assault service, has been leading a double life. Two weeks ago she left her office and well established facilities at Royal North Shore Hospital to make the by now familiar trip to East Timor .

A few days later she was back in the field in Dili, working closely with locals to try to address the problems of sexual and domestic violence in a country where about 70 per cent of women are believed to have been raped. Ms Kendall, who has spent at least 12 months of the past two years in East Timor , said the true figure may in fact be much higher.

She first became involved in the reconstruction effort in East Timor when she helped train a group of health workers who were setting up their first mental health service. Ms Kendall was later invited to Dili to attend a women's congress and stayed for two months to help them get the service established.

She said the congress, attended by more than 500 women from all parts of the country, identified violence against women including sexual assault and domestic violence as a major priority. "What is happening there now is unique the national leadership and the government now clearly see the need to deal with the trauma from that violence as being just as important for the country to be able to move on as issues like better housing, health and education," Ms Kendall said.

Ms Kendall said the Indonesian regime pursued a policy of reducing the Timorese birth rate by giving women injections to make them infertile. As a result, pregnant women avoided doctors and did not get proper care for themselves of their babies.

Then there was the estimated 60-70 per cent of East Timorese women who were illiterate, she said. "That is largely because parents would keep the girls home from school once they reached puberty because that was when the TNI (Indonesian military) got hold of girls and there were a lot of child marriages," she said.

She related stories of young women who had been raped alongside their widowed mothers and sisters and said it was conceivable that many East Timorese families would have three generations of women who had experienced rape. But she was concerned not to paint too harrowing a picture, pointing to the progress which had been made in the three years since East Timor was virtually razed after the referendum vote. 

A safe room for women and children who experienced either sexual or domestic violence had recently opened at the Dili Base Hospital . Ms Kendall has also been involved through Caritas Australia in putting together a community education program on sexual assault which is now being delivered around the country by a team of 12 men and women.

"The way the community is receiving that is an indication of how important they think it is to address this issue," she said.

But the flow of expertise has not all been one way. Ms Kendall said there were lessons from the East Timor approach which she was keen to bring back to Australia , notably the value of including men in sexual assault education programs.


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Women Worldwide Call For an International Tribunal For East Timor

Officials, Scholars And Activists Say Justice For Crimes Against Timorese Women Needed Now.  May 13, 2002

Women from across the world said today that an international tribunal was the only way to hold accountable those most responsible for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor .

More than 125 women from 14 countries and 22 U.S. states signed the statement , which was released by the East Timor Action Network/U.S. (ETAN) less than a week before East Timor becomes the first new nation of the millennium.

“The Indonesian [ad hoc Human Rights] court will not adequately address cases of gender violence and the systematic targeting of women and children, among other serious crimes,” asserts the statement, which is signed by such well-known women as activist Gloria Steinem; actor Susan Sarandon and playwright Eve Ensler; Judith Shapiro, President of Barnard College; authors Naomi Klein and Susan Brownmiller; Jessica Neuwirth, President of Equality Now; Eleanor Smeal of Feminist Majority; author and organizer Vandana Shiva of India; and human rights defender Sister Dianna Ortiz. Three members of Congress, Representatives Tammy Baldwin (WI), Barbara Lee (CA) and Cynthia McKinney (GA), also signed.

“This strong showing of international women's solidarity recognizes the suffering of East Timorese women during the Indonesian military occupation, while paying tribute to the long tradition of women working for justice and peace,” said ETAN field organizer Diane Farsetta. “The wide range of signatories, including members of Congress, authors, actors and activists demonstrates the strong consensus on this important issue.”

The statement was initiated by women's groups in East Timor and begins by quoting REDE, the East Timorese Women's Network: “Of all the victims of Indonesian military violence the greatest suffering was borne by women, who up to this time, have not met with the justice they hoped for.”

In 1975, the Indonesian military illegally invaded and occupied East Timor ; more than one-third of East Timor 's population was killed. Women were specifically targeted by the Indonesian military with rape, kidnapping and torture, as well as forced “marriage” and sterilization. In 1999, over 98 percent of eligible East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence in a UN-organized referendum. After the results were announced, the Indonesian military and its militias carried out a brutal scorched-earth campaign in retaliation, killing at least 2,000 people, raping hundreds of women and girls, displacing some 600,000 people, and destroying more than 75 percent of the country's infrastructure. An international peacekeeping force finally restored stability a month later, and the UN has administered the territory since then. On May 20, East Timor becomes fully independent.

Investigations by the UN and the Indonesian government's own human rights commission found the Indonesian military responsible for 1999's atrocities. UN commissions and High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson have called for an international human rights tribunal to be established for East Timor . Seeking to avoid international action, the Indonesian government promised to hold its own trials. Its ad hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor began hearing cases last March. However, Indonesian and international human rights groups have sharply criticized the court. The International Crisis Group recently reported that the process is so problematic it may “trivialize… the concept of crimes against humanity in Indonesia .”

The women's statement released today by ETAN recalls the advance made “last year by the decision of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia… classify[ing] rape as a crime against humanity,” and adds, “atrocities committed against the people of East Timor deserve no less attention.”

“The release of the statement soon after Mother's Day and just one week before East Timor 's independence is very fitting,” added Farsetta. “We hope this strong stand taken by women around the world will be heeded by the Security Council and world governments. The mothers of East Timor deserve the peace only justice can give them, and the international community has an obligation to welcome the birth of the world's newest country with a renewed commitment to justice.”

The East Timor Action Network/U.S. is a nationwide grassroots human rights organization, which has worked for self-determination, human rights and justice for East Timor for the past ten years. The full women's statement and list of signatories can be found on ETAN's website at .

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Natércia Godinho-Adams

United Nations Security Council "Arria formula" meeting on the implementation of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, 30 October 2001


On behalf of East Timorese women's organizations I thank you for Resolution 1325.

In the last 25 years 96.6% of East Timorese experienced trauma. With the assistance of UNTAET's Gender Unit and the leadership of Mr. de Mello, women obtained 26% of the seats in the recently elected Constituent Assembly. This remarkable achievement occurred despite the mixed messages from UN departments and ultimate rejection of the proposal that would have required 30% of each party's political candidates to be women. The will of the East Timorese must be celebrated by continued efforts at expanding women's roles within a patriarchal society.

Among several other successes, the formation of Timor Loro Sae's Women's Political Caucus, and the "Women's Charter of Rights" mark an historical milestone in women's commitment to peace, security, and justice.

While much progress has been made, much needs to be done. Rural women continue to be marginalized and grossly neglected. Post-conflict aid has not improved their lives as they continue to live in extreme poverty, and lack access to adequate health care, particularly pre- and post-natal care. They do not participate in decision-making at all levels of government and educational programs. A problem with the election process was voiced by several rural women who stated that: "they had been told who to vote for by their village chiefs." This indicates a need for election observation efforts to be gender sensitive to women as voters and candidates.

Women and children frequently carry the greatest burden of crisis situations as a result of loss of income, unemployment and family displacement. Under traditional systems, women's leadership and decision-making roles were severely limited. However, while crisis creates serious problems for women it also creates opportunities. Men's and women's roles changed substantially during the years of conflict and social disruption since 1974. A significant number of women assumed active roles in the clandestine liberation front and the armed resistance. They were soldiers, they smuggled medication, food, armament, and information to the resistant movement hiding in the mountains. Will the women benefit from the demobilization and reintegration programs supported by the UN? In the absence of the male household head, women assumed new responsibilities in traditional male income generation. East Timorese women want to build a society that will respect their newly acquired post-conflict roles, and will not force them to return to traditional powerless roles.

As you know from your visit to East Timor , family attachments have been disrupted, and women bear the psychological scars of the war. East Timorese women call for a concerted effort by the UN to help reunite displaced families, and in particular to bring together unaccompanied children who were separated as a result of the organized violence. We also call for a return of East Timorese refugees in West Timor , where women and children under the control of the militia are often sexually attacked and suffer from malnutrition and poor health. Widows and single mothers in East Timor have received little to no aid in the last two years. Currently, women who care for children with disabilities receive little to no support. A lack of support for women contributes to social ills already visible in Dili's streets, such as prostitution, street children and child labor.

Women were targeted for sexual assault in a cruel and systematic way throughout the Indonesian occupation. Women were subjected to sterilization programs, stripping, rape, and other forms of sexual abuse and humiliation. Although there is a lack of data of the HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections there is an urgent need to raise awareness and take preventative measures. East Timorese women call upon the UN to provide resources for cost effective and community managed health promotion projects that cover reproductive health, communicable disease control and environmental health. Similarly, mental health programs must be included in health policies and funding allocation.

East Timorese women's organizations have become increasingly concerned at the growing rate of domestic violence. One half of the cases of violence heard by the courts have been of domestic violence. While examining factors and drawing intervention strategies one thing is certain: women are breaking the traditional culture of silence by reporting acts of abuse that often involve their spouses or brothers.

We thank the UN for holding UN peacekeepers responsible for assaults on women. A Jordanian peacekeeper was indicted of rape on August 21 in a Dili court, and his trial is expected to begin shortly.

East Timorese women join the rest of society, including Bishop Belo, all political parties and NGOs in appealing for justice for serious crimes including gender-based crimes through an International Tribunal. Last year's resolution on women, peace and security emphasized "the responsibility of all States to put an end to impunity and prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes including those relating to sexual and other violence against women and girls." Because Indonesia is unlikely to successfully prosecute those who ordered and implemented the invasion, occupation and destruction of East Timor from 1975 on, the Security Council must take immediate action to create an International Tribunal for East Timor to ensure that those most responsible for these crimes are brought to justice.

© 2000-2001 Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children

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Maternal mortality in East Timor

L Walley Lancet 2001; 358, (9280): 11 August 


In her report on the state of the health-care system in East Timor ( March 17, p 873 ) 1 Kelly Morris makes no mention of the state of health of mothers in that country, which is a substantial omission.

According to WHO, maternal mortality for East Timor is around 830 per 100 000 live births--one of the highest rates in Asia--mainly caused by haemorrhage, infection, pregnancy-induced hypertension, obstructed labour, severe anaemia, malaria, the lack of trained care givers, and access to antenatal care and emergency transport.

Present maternal health services are poor. Births are generally delivered at home by traditional birth attendants. There are 23 East Timorese doctors for a population of 500 000, none of whom are trained in obstetrics. The general hospital in Dili has the only obstetric unit, which provides level 1 obstetric services, and has 15 trained midwives; the country's one obstetrician left at the end of June. In Baucau, the second largest town, some obstetric services are provided by Médecins Sans Frontières in the government hospital, but facilities and equipment are limited.

The oversight in Morris's review is illustrative of the lack of attention given to maternal health care by governments, the media, and especially by our specialist colleges. In the past 50 years, technology has led to falling maternal death rates.

The Safe Motherhood Initiative was launched at the first international safe motherhood conference in Nairobi , 1987, to combat maternal mortality. Unfortunately, the response has been inadequate, despite the call being issued many times since. Reasons for failure have been given as missed opportunities, muddled thinking, mistaken priorities, the reduction in development assistance by the world's richest countries, and promotion by governments and international health organisations of reproductive health (abortion and contraception). Billions of dollars have been spent on birth-control programmes but only a small fraction on emergency obstetric care.

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the UN Charter of Rights, among which is the right to proper medical care. However, maternal mortality does not have the same political clout as, for example, AIDS or landmine injuries. The tragedy is that the solutions to this suffering have been known for decades and cost very little. Mothers are being neglected because there is neither the will nor the compassion to do what is necessary.

I am involved in MaterCare International, a newly formed group of obstetricians, that is attempting to organise an emergency service for East Timor . We need all the help we can get.

R L Walley Discipline of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Health Sciences Centre, St John's, Newfoundland A1B 3V6, Canada


1 Morris K. Growing pains of East Timor : health of an infant nation.   Lancet  2001;  357:  873-77.


In addition to the services provided at Dili Hospital mentioned in the above article, Bairo Pite Clinic provides obstetric care with a workload of up to 60 deliveries a month. This is provided by Dr Murphy who has obstetric training and a group of dedicated and experienced midwives.

Mother son and Father all doing well after another healthy delivery at Bario Pite Clinic. (By Clive Pickering)

Little baby Gusmao (By Clive Pickering)


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A Statement from Women's Studies Scholars, Women Leaders and Feminist Organizations

"An International Tribunal is the most pressing demand in the interests of justice. Of all the victims of Indonesian military violence the greatest suffering was borne by women, who up to this time, have not met with the justice they hoped for." from a statement by the East Timorese Women's Network, June 2001

We join with our East Timorese sisters in calling for an international tribunal for East Timor .

We urge the United Nations Security Council to establish an international tribunal for East Timor without delay. The East Timorese people have waited far too long for the architects and perpetrators of the atrocities committed against them to be brought to justice. Over two years have passed since the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor called for an international human rights tribunal. During that time, it has become clear that only an international tribunal can hold accountable the high-ranking Indonesian military, police and government officials most responsible for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor .

When Indonesia illegally invaded and occupied East Timor in 1975, it began a genocidal campaign that lasted nearly a quarter-century. During the first five years of the occupation, some 200,000 people - one-third of the pre-invasion population - were killed. The occupation specifically targeted women in several ways, including the following:


  • Rape and "forced marriage" to military personnel were used to terrorize and control East Timorese women, to punish pro-independence families, and to reward Indonesian soldiers. A study of gender violence in 1999 by the Communication Forum for East Timorese Women (FOKUPERS) found many acts of rape were "planned, organized, and sustained - militia and soldiers conniving together to abduct women and share them like chattel; or, in some cases, forcibly taking women across the border into [Indonesian] West Timor where the women were raped daily and made to perform household chores." Tragically, the women among the estimated 80,000 East Timorese still in Indonesian refugee camps remain vulnerable to sexual assault by militia and military members.


  • East Timorese women were forcibly sterilized by the Indonesian military under the guise of "family planning". It is estimated that tens of thousands of women were injected with contraceptives without their consent - sometimes even without their knowledge - and never with adequate follow-up care.


  • An unknown number of East Timorese children were kidnapped and raised in Indonesia as Indonesian citizens, a practice that continues today. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has confirmed 240 cases of East Timorese children being taken from their parents by militia in Indonesian refugee camps since 1999; according to the UN, as many as 2,000 children may be held captive currently.


In the face of such suffering, it is truly reprehensible that the world community has knowingly placed its faith in an unacceptable alternative to an international tribunal - the Indonesian ad hoc Human Rights Court for East Timor . Due to its many flaws, the Indonesian court will not adequately address cases of gender violence and the systematic targeting of women and children, among other serious crimes.

International justice was significantly advanced last year by the decision of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to classify rape as a crime against humanity. But the world community cannot stop there. Atrocities committed against the people of East Timor deserve no less attention than those committed against peoples of other nations. An international tribunal for East Timor, with a mandate covering the entire Indonesian occupation, must be established now to redress the most heinous crimes committed against the women and men of East Timor. Otherwise, international justice will appear weak and conditional, rule of law will be undermined, and the people of the world's newest nation will have good reason to lose faith in the world community.

To view signatures of supporter as of click on the date May 12, 2002  

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Sexual Violence as Tool of War: Pattern Emerging in East Timor

Seth Mydans and Anastasia T. Vrachnos for The New York Times Originally published in The New York Times , March 1, 2001 .  F rom:


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 counselled 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 Portugal , was annexed by Indonesia in 1975 after Portugal 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 defence that Miss Martins' 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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