East Timor, The Occupation, and Its Future

Angela Robson in Le Monde Diplomatique:

Hardly a family in East Timor was untouched by the Indonesian invasion in 1975. In the occupation, a third of the nation may have died from bombing, starvation and systematic killing (1). This is besides the forced displacement of most of the population and widespread evidence of rape, torture and other human rights violations. It is the worst massacre, per head of population, in recent history, comparable to Cambodia under Pol Pot and to Rwanda.

In one of the first investigations into mental health in East Timor, carried out by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) in 2000, 75% of the population had experienced a combat situation and more than 33% had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); 20% believed that they would never recover from their experiences.

Mira Martins da Silva says that the combination of “occupation and conflict, and the consequences of not addressing PTSD, have resulted in persistent anxiety and mistrust, which we’re now seeing being unleashed on the streets of Dili. We get a lot of female clients who suffer from stress and trauma as a result of violence in the home, or public violence. They don’t talk about it generally with other people and so the anxiety bubbles up in other ways. For boys, it’s OK to show their anger, to get involved in gang violence, to engage in revenge.