the project: memory, truth and reconciliation in timor-leste, indonesia & melanesia

IMG_4423“Memory, truth and reconciliation in Southeast Asia” is a project in collaborative analysis and policy recommendations that centres on a one-day workshop comparing the experience of truth and reconciliation in two Southeast Asian territories. One, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (East Timor), has completed a truth and reconciliation commission. The other, West Papua, is a territory of Indonesia in which contested versions of the past contribute to current conflict. The workshop will gather scholars knowledgeable on the two cases; participants from both Timor-Leste and West Papua; and members of Canadian NGOs with a project or advocacy interest in the two territories.

Timor-Leste was occupied by the Indonesian army for 24 years (1975-99) before gaining its independence. After independence, a truth and reconciliation commission formed with two goals: to reconcile two sides in a long-running conflict, and to reconcile the new country with its own tumultuous past by crafting a narrative that would tell the truth about what had happened between 1975 and 1999 through Timorese testimony, rather than outside research, for the first time.
West Papua came under Indonesian rule in 1963 and remains the site of a struggle between independence activists and those who support Indonesian rule. One of the major demands that has emerged in the past decade is for “pelurusan sejarah,” a setting straight of the historical record. This can be likened to a call for a truth and reconciliation process, centring as it does not on the political future, but rather on how two sides in a conflict address the past, and to what extent historical injustices can be righted in an effort to reach peaceful future outcomes.

The project surveys the experiences of truth and reconciliation commissions in Southeast Asia, with a focus on the pre- and post-truth commission phases. It will examine the post-report phase of the Timor-Leste truth commission and on the ongoing effort to establish a truth and reconciliation commission in Papua, Indonesia. Truth commissions are a valuable tool in conflict resolution, but they often lack follow-up mechanisms to implement their recommendations. Existing literature looks in detail at the operational phases of truth commissions, but neglects the campaigns to establish truth commissions and efforts to have their recommendations put into effect. By leaving out these phases, it downplays the role of activists and civil society organizations in creating the context for truth commissions and pushing for follow-up action.


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