Timor: UN peacekeepers father & abandon infants of poverty-stricken women Print E-mail
The Age -- Melbourne -- Saturday July 22 2006

UN's legacy of shame in Timor

A report has questioned the actions of some UN staff in Timor.

UNITED Nations peacekeepers have abandoned at least 20 babies fathered with poverty-stricken Timorese women

Lindsay Murdoch, Dili

Photo: Andrew Meares

A UN investigation has also uncovered a culture of cover-up, in which babies born to peacekeepers and sex crimes committed by UN staff in the past seven years have been kept secret because of a "fear of shame and embarrassment' in the deeply religious country.

The findings will shock the UN bureaucracy as it prepares to boost by thousands its peacekeeping force in East Timor.

A report on the investigation, obtained by The Age, recommends that a policy of zero tolerance of sexual misconduct be enforced on UN staff sent to help rebuild the country after two months of violence.

UN peacekeepers in East Timor have previously been accused of offences including child sex abuse, bestiality, and coercing women and children into prostitution. No one has ever been charged.

But the report reveals for the first time that babies born to UN peacekeepers have been abandoned without financial support.

It also makes clear that the births of these children, and other instances of sexual misconduct by UN personnel, are likely to have been significantly under-reported.

The report says that the Timorese mothers of the babies fathered by peacekeepers have been stigmatised and, in some cases, ostracised by their communities. It also found that efforts within the UN to organise help for the women have failed.

In the mountainous coffee growing district of Ermera, soldiers have left behind seven young children after earlier promising to marry their mothers, the report says. In the district of Bobonaro, four babies were allegedly fathered by two UN police and two civilian staff.

A dowry was apparently paid to one family. But in most cases, the mother's family has been left to support the children.

The report was written by Sofi Ospina, an anthropologist commissioned by the UN to investigate the gender-related impact on East Timor of having 18,000 uniformed and civilian UN personnel from 113 nations in the country after UN operations began in 1999.

It comes as Secretary-General Kofi Annan prepares a report for the UN Security Council on the composition of a new mission for East Timor when the current one expires next month.

Ian Martin, a special UN envoy, has recommended the Security Council send police units backed by a rapid response force. He also recommends a military presence at least until after elections scheduled for May, and UN advisers to help organise the vote.

There are now 2500 Australian soldiers and police in East Timor, mostly in the capital, Dili.

While thousands of Australian soldiers and police have served in East Timor since 1999, none have been accused of sexual misconduct. The behaviour of some peacekeepers has outraged many UN staff, several of whom have resigned in disgust.

In one of the worst instances detailed in Ms Ospina's report, a peacekeeper from an unnamed country is alleged to have abused two boys and two girls in the enclave of Oecussi.

In early 2001, two soldiers were sent home with injured penises after allegedly attempting sexual intercourse with goats.

Ms Ospina says that, as in other UN operations, the arrival of peacekeepers has attracted prostitution. She refers to a study showing that in 2004 there were 250 female and 110 male sex workers in Dili. Of the males, 75 per cent were younger than 18.

The report says the fear and reluctance to report sexual misconduct by UN personnel may be justified. Both the perpetrators and, usually, the person to whom such cases would be reported are men in positions of relative power, the report says.

Local administrative authority is usually embedded in a traditional mind-set influenced by conservative Catholic ideology, it says. Women may expect not to receive a sympathetic hearing in such a context.

The report warns that the UN's credibility could be compromised by its inability to ensure that staff who commit sex crimes are prosecuted.

It recommends that commanders should communicate and enforce a policy of zero tolerance for sexual misconduct.

There should be immediate repatriation and disciplinary measures for all offenders.

The report says that accusations and rumours of sexual abuse should be investigated. Pregnancies and births resulting from sex with Timorese women should be documented and the UN should make sure that non-government organisations help the mothers and their children.