There is a famous saying, that says, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Around the world today there are many places of need where organisations are working to help. There are nations in civil unrest, where peace keepers are required. Poverty stricken families need supplies from non government organisations to live through another day. Critically ill patients need the wisdom and care of medical professionals, who often come from another nation. All over the world, people are caring, helping and protecting those in need. Making this world a safer, healthier and easier place to live. However, the sad reality of life is that not all of the people commissioned with this task of bringing safety, healing or care to others do what they should. Some, abuse the power and trust that they have been given and further damage vulnerable people. It is this situation that brought Dr Jasmine-Kim Westerndorf and her colleagues, Josie Flint and Louise Searle to Timor-Leste.
Dr Jasmine-Kim Westerndorf, is a lecturer in International Relations at Latrobe University in Melbourne, Australia. She is a published author and has spoken world wide about civil conflict and the methods for achieving peace. In July, Dr Jasmine came to Timor-Leste as a researcher. Her current project is to investigate the impact of peacekeeping forces. She explains, “There is growing evidence that sexual abuse and exploitation is ubiquitous to peacekeeping operations, although to varying extents, and it clearly undermines the core principles of respect, protection and human rights that underpin peace operations.”
Dr Jasmine was conducting her research in the Oecusse region of Timor-Leste, a small area of the country, surrounded by Indonesian territory. Oecusse is a difficult region to access from the outside world, if you do not travel by air. The alternatives of travelling by land or by sea, are both time consuming and rough. This is why using the MAF aircraft can be extremely helpful to people wanting to visit there. “It was a pleasure flying with MAF – furthermore, due to time and funding constraints, had this service not been available we simply wouldn’t have been able to conduct our work in Oecusse and local perspectives on peacekeeping lie at the heart of our project.”
She continues, “Our MAF flight to Oecusse gave us the opportunity to conduct interviews with local workers from non government organisations, civil society activists, and government officials who dealt with foreign peacekeepers. Speaking face to face with people who were privy to the dynamics of peacekeeper relations with the people during this time is very important, because some quite horrific instances of abuse and exploitation, particularly of children, were perpetrated by peacekeepers there.”
Dr Jasmine and her colleagues from the Humanitarian Action Group (HAG) hope to uncover what current policies and factors contribute to sexual abuse and exploitation, thereby providing a comprehensive base of knowledge to try and prevent these behaviours in the future. Because, “without a comprehensive evaluation of this nature, it is inevitable that the policies and factors that result in sexual abuse and exploitation will continue to go undetected.”
Both Dr Jasmine, Josie and Louise are interested in “advocating for better approaches to human security in fragile contexts, and especially the security of women and girls, who are uniquely vulnerable due to their gender. To date, the international community has adopted a range of strategies and policies to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse, but they have not been effective, which motivates our efforts to investigate the negative effects of foreign interveners, long after they return home.”
MAF works in Timor-Leste to assist people living in isolated areas. Medical evacuation flights are flown bringing sick and injured people to hospital. Aid workers are transported to improve nutrition and literacy rates. And sometimes, like in these flights provided for Dr Jasmine, MAF flies researchers who can listen to people’s stories of trauma and abuse, and use those stories to recommend changes in policies that just might prevent these atrocities happening in the future.