It takes a nation to protect the nation
Hushed rape of Timor
26 March 2005
IT caused outrage among East Timorese and Australian troops sent to protect them, raised tensions among UN peacekeepers to a deadly new level and caused senior UN staff to resign in disgust.
The deployment of Jordanian peacekeepers to East Timor was probably one of the most contentious UN decisions to follow the bloody independence ballot. It was eclipsed only by the cover-up and inaction that followed when the world body learned of their involvement in a series of horrific sex crimes involving children living in the war-battered Oecussi enclave.
Children were not the only victims - in early 2001, two Jordanians were evacuated home with injured penises after attempting sexual intercourse with goats.
The UN mission in East Timor led by Sergio Vieira de Mello (who was later killed in Baghdad) did its best to keep the matter hushed up. The UN military command at the time was only too happy to oblige.
Today the cry for justice from the child victims continues to go unheard.
With the UN battered by a series of allegations embroiling its Nobel Prize-winning peacekeepers in a web of global sexual misconduct, new details have emerged of widespread sexual abuse against the civilian population by the Jordanian soldiers in Oecussi.
The findings are contained in a secret report by the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor, a copy of which has been obtained by Inquirer. It determines that Jordanian peacekeepers routinely sexually abused young East Timorese boys in return for money and food. Witnesses interviewed by UN investigators also claim Jordanian involvement in several alleged rapes of boys and women. The report contains witness testimony, much of it too graphic to repeat in this newspaper. And it concludes that, with the help of Indonesian soldiers, Jordanian blue berets routinely procured the services of prostitutes from across the border in West Timor.
Not contained in the report are subsequent claims of an armed stand-off between Australian soldiers and the Jordanians after a digger blew the whistle on the abuse.
One of the most poignant moments in East Timor's troubled recent history occurred in 2000 when scores of tearful villagers lined the seafront in the shattered provincial capital of the Oecussi enclave to farewell the Australian paratroop battalion. Soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, had come to serve and protect the Timorese. Many of them were sorrowful that day, anxious about the future welfare of the locals.
There was rising apprehension about the new UN protectors - a Jordanian peacekeeping battalion that, like the recently departed Indonesians, was Muslim, a cause of considerable concern within the small, staunchly Christian enclave. Sadly, during the ensuing months, the fears would prove well founded. Two Jordanian soldiers were eventually sent home in disgrace - but for the victims the experience has left a legacy of anger and bewilderment.
"The expectations of everyone, including the people of Oecussi, was that those involved in committing these acts would face justice," says East Timor's Social Welfare Minister Arsenio Bano.
Spurred by international outrage, an Australian-led international force, Interfet, landed in East Timor in September 1999 to restore law and order in the bloody post-ballot shambles that had engulfed the former Portuguese colony. Logistical constraints and operational orders to avoid armed confrontation with Indonesian troops meant the diggers arrived late to liberate Oecussi.
But in October, fresh from operations in the high border country around Bobanaro, 3RAR's paras deployed to Oecussi. They found a population still traumatised by the horrific murder of 56 people at Passabe village. Departing militia and Indonesian soldiers had ensured that what little infrastructure existed in the enclave had been destroyed or carted off across the border. For the villagers, the arrival of the Australians must have seemed like manna from heaven.
Aggressive anti-militia patrols during the ensuing months soon helped forge strong bonds with the community and an equally steady stream of shrill complaints by Jakarta of Australian heavy-handedness. Not only did the paratroops provide the isolated and vulnerable enclave with a shield against the return of murderous pro-Jakarta militia, they also helped restore their shattered faith for men in uniform.
But in early 2000 the diggers were ordered to pack up and leave to make way for the new Jordanian contingent. In reality, Canberra had told the UN it was unwilling to continue to garrison the enclave.
The only UN troop contributor nation prepared to send its soldiers there was Jordan. Its offer was quickly accepted by defence planners who thought the presence of Muslim blue berets along the enclave's porous border would help calm tensions with Jakarta.
It did not have the desired outcome. The deployment got off to a woeful start. Apart from a handful of competent officers, the Jordanians were poorly prepared and resourced. At one point Australian UNTAET military commander Mike Smith threatened to cut their UN allowances unless they got their act together.
Stories soon began to filter back to Dili of Jordanian troops making unwanted sexual advances on local women and minors, both boys and girls. East Timor Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta became so concerned about their behaviour that he threatened to hold a news conference but backed down after being told by UNTAET that no other nation would go there.
Then in May 2001 Australian Corporal Wayne Andrew Wratten, who was working at a fuel depot in the enclave, formally complained to his superiors of a disturbing series of sexual abuse allegations involving the Jordanians. Wratten said he had been approached by five East Timorese boys who claimed Jordanian soldiers had offered them food and money in exchange for oral sex and intercourse.
UNTAET convened an inquiry but, in the meantime, details of the allegations had been leaked back to the Jordanians and tensions were on the rise.
"Wratten informed PKF [peacekeeping force] that he had been receiving complaints from local children about Jorbatt [Jordan battalion]," said a senior UN official based in Oecussi at the time.
"A Jordanian officer in HQ informed Jorbatt that he had ratted on them. Wratten and his guys manning the helo [helicopter] refuelling pad in Oecussi town started getting threatened. There was one occasion where Aussie Steyrs were pointed at Jorbatt and Jorbatt M-16s pointed at Aussies."
The official, who asked to remain anonymous, said the incident involving loaded rifles occurred in late May.
"The Aussies began to refuse to refuel Jorbatt vehicles, harsh words were exchanged and then it was guns up. Wratten was then evacuated and two or three close protection guys were flown down," he said.
Senior Australian army officers at the time contacted by Inquirer say they cannot recall the incident. However, East Timorese and UN human rights workers have confirmed the story, and Bano says he was also told of the stand-off.
A former senior Australian army commander agreed that tensions had risen in the enclave, requiring a "great deal of sensitivity" to manage the situation.
Meanwhile, a UN police specialist child interview team was sent to Oecussi between July 5 and July 9 to investigate the claims and spoke to 10 witnesses, including seven minors and three adults. The allegations involved East Timorese minors, all boys, the youngest of them just 12.
The police inquiry also noted the limited amount of time it was given by the military-dominated board of inquiry for its mission.
"The unacceptable sexual conduct alleged was that a minor had sperm around his mouth," the report says.
It names two Jordanian soldiers, Mohamed Al-Drabseh and Ibrahim Al-Otoum, as the likely perpetrators.
Investigators heard graphic stories of demands by Jordanian soldiers for sex with other boys in exchange for bread and money: "Witness Francisco alleged that he was asked several times by Jordanian soldiers if he wanted anal intercourse or oral intercourse.