Truth and Reconciliation: Truth and Reconciliation in Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and Melanesia Recommendations to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Development of Canada


Truth and Reconciliation in Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and Melanesia

Recommendations to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Rt. Hon. Stéphane Dion, and the Minister of International Development, the Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau

Dear M Dion and Mme Bibeau,

In keeping with Prime Minister Trudeau’s notice to the international community that Canada is back and ready to engage, this letter lays out concrete recommendations for how Canada can support the vital work of truth and reconciliation in parts of Southeast Asia and the Southwest Pacific. These issues touch on both foreign affairs and development co-operation.

In the wake of conflict and crimes against humanity, one increasingly common tool is the Truth and Reconciliation commission. A tool developed for use in less developed countries emerging from conflicts, it has also been applied in Canada, where a Truth and Reconciliation commission investigated the legacy of residential schools for indigenous people.

Truth knows no borders – and increasingly, neither do truth commissions. Many are joint international- national panels. Others are funded and draw on knowledge from outside the country. And many commissions address conflicts that cross borders.

As a Northern country grappling with its own legacies of violence and seeking to implement the 94 calls to action issued by the TRC Canada, and as a participant and donor in truth commissions in the global South, Canada is well positioned to consider border-crossing issues of truth and reconciliation, and of memories of violence, trauma and crimes against humanity.

“Memory, truth and reconciliation in Southeast Asia” is a workshop comparing the experience of truth and reconciliation in Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and Melanesia held on October 15, 2015, at the University of Ottawa. It examined the experiences of truth commissions in Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands, alongside calls for truth and historical justice in Indonesia, especially the territory of Papua. The workshop gathered academics and advocates from Canada, Indonesia, Timor-Leste and the Solomons as well as the United States and Australia to examine truth and reconciliation processes and plans in the Indonesian and Melanesian regions of Southeast Asia and the Southwest Pacific. This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

This letter gathers recommendations made at that workshop and in subsequent conversations among participants, and compiled by the workshop convenor and team at Bishop’s University.

General considerations

Canada has a history of engagement in global debates and global action for human rights. At the same time, it also has a history of colonialism that must be acknowledged. The previous government of Canada often took a principled and praiseworthy stance on the promotion of human rights, but at times had a tendency to lecture other countries and isolate Canada from other voices for human rights in the international community.

“Many of you have worried that Canada has lost its compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years,” Prime Minister Trudeau said after the recent election. “Well, I have a simple message for you: on behalf of 35 million Canadians, we’re back.” This message is a welcome sign of the government’s intention to resume Canada’s role of international engagement.

Equally welcome is the Prime Minister’s commitment to implement the 94 calls to action issued by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission earlier in 2015. The commitment is a welcome indication that the government will learn rather than lecture, and will be more open to indigenous aspirations, perspectives, and worldviews.

Together these signals can link approaches to truth and reconciliation within Canada and beyond this country’s borders – especially given the government’s commitment to interact with indigenous people on a nation-to-nation basis. Truth crosses borders. Reconciliation crosses borders. Memory crosses borders. Canadian policy can cross borders, too.

Memory, truth, and reconciliation in Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste (East Timor) 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. The Commission on Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation (CAVR) issued its five-volume report, entitled Chega! (Enough) in 2005. It was published in English translation in 2015 and a copy was presented to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development on October 16, 2015.

Chega! provides a comprehensive account of violence and human rights abuses in the entire period of Indonesian military occupation. It aspires to be an example to other countries grappling with similar issues. It is considered to be one of the five strongest truth commissions in the world. Yet is about more than simply telling a true history. It is primarily a human rights document, concerned with making recommendations on how to reconcile Timorese society and how to reconcile Timorese victims with the Indonesian regime that inflicted such violence on their country. The report also points out that key players in the international community were complicit in the occupation and in the resulting violations of human rights, and makes recommendations to the international community.

The findings of the Chega! report were affirmed by an innovative joint Indonesian-Timorese truth commission, the first such two-nation collaboration in the world. The Truth and Friendship Commission presented its report to then-Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2008.

Truth and reconciliation are about more than writing a report. They do not end when the reports land on desks in government offices. Both Timor-Leste and Indonesia are now in a post-truth commission phase. In Timor-Leste, this is carried forward by a Post-CAVR Technical Secretariat which issues follow-up documents such as the Plain Guide to Chega! and a comic-book version of the report suitable for use in schools and limited-literacy contexts. It is carried forward in both countries, too, by civil society. Groups including ACBIT (Chega! for Us) in Timor-Leste and AJAR (Asian Justice and Rights) in Indonesia continue to “socialize” (sosialisasi in Indonesian; socialisasaun in Tetun, meaning to disseminate and deepen understanding of) the reports and their recommendations. Ten years after the Chega! report, there is also a growing need for international “socialization” of the reports. This is especially true for countries like Canada, which helped fund the Chega! report and played a role in the events it describes.

Canada’s government knew of the Indonesian army’s plans to invade Timor-Leste in 1975, but did not act to deter the invasion. It was aware of specific atrocities during the occupation period, such as the use of napalm, but concealed the information. Beginning in 1991, however, Canada froze aid to Indonesia after the Santa Cruz massacre in Timor-Leste. Canada welcomed three Timorese student refugees. Under the Chrétien government, it played a constructive role in promoting dialogue and human rights. In December 1998, the government of Canada met a longstanding request of the Timorese resistance movement by endorsing self-determination for Timor-Leste, and Canada was a valuable player on the UN Security Council, at the APEC summit, in the G7 and elsewhere in 1999, when the Timorese voted for independence and a UN-mandated peace force intervened to end pro-Indonesia militia efforts to derail independence. Canada was a partner in Timorese development post-independence in such areas as police training and Canadian NGOs were important in such areas as food security and human rights after independence.

There is a longstanding interest by Canadian government, churches, and civil society (including past work by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, KAIROS Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, USC Canada, and many others). The contributions of Canadian civil society in the occupation period were recognized in 2015 when the President of Timor-Leste, Taur Matan Ruak, conferred the Order of Timor-Leste on the East Timor Alert Network of Canada. In light of these connections, there is a continuing role for Canada in promoting and assisting truth and reconciliation processes in a country where many thousands still suffer the trauma of the occupation years.

Recommendations to the government of Canada with respect to Timor-Leste

  • Canada should implement the recommendations of the Chega! report to the international community, where those recommendations have a bearing on Canada. Specifically, Canada should consider:
    1. promoting “the widest possible distribution at all levels in the international community through the media, internet and other networks and particularly within the United Nations” and Commonwealth member countries (recommendation 1.1)
    2. releasing all documents, including those withheld under ATIP exemption, from the Department of Foreign Affairs file 20-TIMOR and any other government documents that shed light on the period 1974-99 in Timor-Leste (recommendation 1.4). This recommendation does not specifically name Canada, but its spirit implies that Canada should release the relevant documents, and such a release would also encourage other countries to do the same.
    3. Calling on the UN Secretary-General to refer the Chega! report to the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Special Committee on Decolonization and the Human Rights Committee, and requesting that each of these bodies debates the report and its recommendations (1.5).
    4. As one government that had periodic programmes of military cooperation with the Indonesian army, and supplied military equipment to it, implementing recommendation 1.6: “The states that had military cooperation programmes with the Indonesian Government during the Commission’s mandate period, whether or not this assistance was used directly in Timor-Leste, apologize to the people of Timor-Leste for failing to adequately uphold internationally agreed fundamental rights and freedoms in Timor-Leste during the Indonesian occupation.”
    5. Urging those Canadian companies that sold military equipment to Indonesia from 1975 to 1999 to contribute to reparations for Timorese victims (recommendation 1.8).
    6. refusing a visa to any Indonesian military officer who is named in the Chega! report for either violations or command responsibility for troops accused of violations (recommendation 1.9).
  • Canada should support efforts by civil society groups to “socialize” Chega! within Timor-Leste. For instance, Canada should enquire with the government of Timor-Leste as to progress in implementing the Chega! Canada could also raise this question at the Universal Periodic Review of Timor-Leste scheduled for the 26th session of the Human Rights Committee in 2016. As a funder of the report, Canada has an interest in seeing its work followed up.
  • Canada should support efforts by civil society groups to “socialize” the report within Indonesia, and inquire with the Indonesian government as to its progress in implementing recommendations of the joint Indonesian-Timorese Commission on Truth and Friendship.
  • Canada should support efforts by civil society to “socialize” Chega! internationally, for instance by distributing the report or Plain Guide summaries of it, or seeking debate in UN and other international for a of the report and its recommendations.
  • Canada has an interest in seeing Timor-Leste, especially after its expected accession to ASEAN, emerging as a democratic, stable, rights-respecting, environmentally-sustainable state governed by the rule of law. Therefore Canada should consider supporting Timor-Leste’s calls for a negotiated sea border with Australia, seen as the last uncompleted part of Timorese independence. Canada should consider increased development cooperation funding to key sectors in Timor-Leste promoting these goals.

Memory, truth, and reconciliation in Indonesia

The current administration of President Joko Widodo has made a number of commitments to deepening the process of democratization that began with the resignation of former President Suharto in 1998. Among them were promises to open up the territory of (West) Papua and a commitment to more transparency in discussion of the mass killings of 1965.

Unfortunately, recent events show worrying signs that the administration may lack capacity to enforce its wishes upon the still-powerful Indonesian military. First, indications from the ground in Papua are that the territory remains restrictive in who is allowed to visit, and that systematic violations of human rights by the security forces continue.

Second, there have been official and unofficial efforts to prevent full discussion of the events of 1965. There has been no government acknowledgement of the findings by the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission in 2012 that these events constituted a crime against humanity; authorities recently ordered students at Satya Wacana University in Salatiga to burn copies of a student magazine’s special issue on 1965; and organizers of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival report that they were asked to self-censor all sessions that mentioned the 1965 killings. Important efforts are under way led by Indonesian civil society to come to terms with this violent past, such as the actions of the joint secretariat group in Solo.

Third, the president is being asked to sign a law that would send the army “back to the villages” and resume much of its para-governmental authority that was surrendered in the democratic reforms starting In 1998. The principle of civilian command of the security forces is under challenge.

Canada has a longstanding and positive relationship with Indonesia, the largest member of ASEAN and an important dialogue partner. Relations run from the opening of the first Canadian embassy in Jakarta in 1952 to the signing of the Indonesia-Canada Plan of Action in 2014. Canada has influence and is respected in Indonesia for its strong support to civil society strengthening, the empowerment of women, and other sectors. This influence can be exerted in the immediate future in ways that are useful to reconciliation and truth-telling processes in Indonesia.

Recommendations to the government of Canada with respect to Indonesia

  • As recommended under Timor-Leste, Canada should support efforts by civil society groups to “socialize” the report within Indonesia, and inquire with the Indonesian government as to its progress in implementing recommendations of the joint Indonesian-Timorese Commission on Truth and Friendship.
  • Through the Canadian military attaché in Jakarta, Canada should encourage the Indonesian armed forces to accept accountability for human rights violations outlined by the Timor-Leste Commission on Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation and by the Indonesian-Timorese joint Commission on Truth and Friendship.
  • Canada should encourage the continued demilitarization of Indonesian politics and society, and ensure that nothing done though Canada’s Military Training and Cooperation program assists in the growth of the political or social role of the armed forces at the national or village level. Further military ties should be conditional on continued respect for human rights by the Indonesian security forces in Papua and elsewhere.
  • Canada should express its concern over attempts to limit discussion of the 1965 killings in Indonesia; release all documents from the files of the Department of External Affairs on the period 1965-68, covering the transition of power from Presidents Sukarno to President Suharto and the attendant mass violence; and encourage other governments to release their own archival documents on this period.
  • Canada should encourage a truth commission on the 1965 events and encourage the discussion of truth and reconciliation for past human rights abuses in both Canada and Indonesia at a forthcoming session of the Canada-Indonesia Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue process. The BHRD process should also be opened more fully to civil society groups in both countries and made more transparent.
  • Canada should encourage Indonesia to update its National plan of Action on Human Rights and follow through on the commitments made in former plans and at the Universal Periodic Review process.
  • Canada should encourage Canadian companies operating in Indonesia to scrupulously observe human rights (though such measures as those advocated in the former Bill C-300, a private member’s bill sponsored by John McKay MP in 2010, and avoid partnerships with the Indonesian armed forces.
  • Canada should continue to advocate for greater religious freedom in Indonesia and encourage religious community leaders to contribute their expertise and involvement to ongoing and proposed truth and reconciliation processes.

Memory, truth, and reconciliation in Tanah Papua (Papua and West Papua provinces)

The Territory of Papua (Tanah Papua, now the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua) was a Dutch colony until 1962, when it was transferred to United Nations administration. In 1963 the UN transferred administration to Indonesia pending an “act of free choice” by 1969. The act, when held, was widely considered to be fraudulent, including by the UN’s own officials. The process of integration left scars: differences between Indonesian authorities and Papuan nationalists over the means of incorporation continue to be argued. The Papuan nationalist assertion that self-determination was denied is an ongoing grievance contributing to the ongoing conflict. Part of the assertion of difference is a claim that (West) Papua is geographically and ethnically part of Melanesia, rather than Asia.

The offer of “special autonomy” was to include a truth and reconciliation commission, but this commitment was first watered down and then abandoned. The Indonesian government approach based on security and development has failed to end pro-independence aspirations. President Widodo’s promise to open the territory to foreign journalists and NGOs has not been fully respected. Expressions of human rights and environmental advocacy are all too often branded “separatist” and suppressed. Papuans continue to be killed, jailed, and silenced simply for expressing their freedom of thought and action.

Tanah Papua is at the same time one of the last remaining stands of substantial tropical rain forest. The survival of Papuan ecosystems is a matter of global interest. Forest fires brought on by the indiscriminate expansion of palm oil plantations are a global environmental threat.

Papuan civil society groups are keenly aware of the link between natural and human environments, constantly preoccupied with the unbreakable links between humans and nature. Women’s wisdom and traditional knowledge are constantly mobilizing peacebuilding efforts at the local level throughout Tanah Papua.

Canadian civil society has a longstanding engagement with Papuan civil society, including indigenous-to-indigenous links. These have been fostered by such NGOs as the Pacific Peoples’ Partnership in its “Papua Land of Peace” collaboration with partners in West Papua. Canada-Papua links were symbolized by the bestowal of the John Humphrey Freedom Award in Ottawa to Papuan advocate Yan Christian Warinussy. In environmental and human rights sectors, particularly, there are strong existing ties between Canada and Tanah Papua that can be mobilized in support of Papuan civil society calls for a “land of peace” and setting straight the historical record (pelurusan sejarah). Canada can make useful contributions to the calls for dialogue (along the lines of dialogue that resolved the Aceh conflict peacefully) if it is not restrictively bound by a policy of complete support for one party to a dispute.

Recommendations to the government of Canada with respect to Tanah Papua

  • Canada should review the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development policy on Tanah Papua, last reviewed in 2000.
  • Canada should support calls by Papuan civil society for a dialogue over the territory’s status with the Indonesian government.
  • Canada should engage in Tanah Papua through civil society connections, including considering funding innovative development partnerships between Canadian and Papuan NGOs and indigenous groups.
  • Canada should urge the demilitarization of Tanah Papua, with security forces in place only for border defence, not for internal policing duties.
  • Canada should press for improvements to human rights in Tanah Papua, the release of Papuan political prisoners, and the full opening of the territory to international NGOs, aid agencies, and journalists.

Memory, truth, and reconciliation in the Solomon Islands & related recommendations to the government of Canada

Although the focus of our workshop was on Southeast Asia, there are substantial parallels with the Melanesian regions of the Southwest Pacific.  A recent conflict in the Solomon Islands ended with the agreement to create a truth and reconciliation commission, composed of both national and international members, which completed its report in 2012. As in Timor-Leste, there has yet to be a parliamentary discussion of the report. The Solomon Islands TRC report was not published, but instead leaked through church sources. Ensuring the continuity of peace in the Solomons, an important aspect of peace throughout the region, requires public discussion and implementation of the TRC report. The report was a joint international-national project; the international progress of truth and reconciliation processes will be harmed if the report is not published and acted upon.

  • Canada should inquire with the government of the Solomon Islands as to progress on publication, discussion in parliament, and implementation of the TRC report.
  • Canada should consider raising the same question at the next Universal Periodic Review of the Solomon Islands, originally scheduled for 2016.
  • Canada should support efforts by church and civil society groups in the Solomon Islands to “socialize” the TRC report.
  • Canada should consider support to South-South truth commission collaborations, such as potential lesson-sharing between the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste, if this is desired by commissions or their follow-up bodies in these countries.

General recommendations with respect to truth and reconciliation

Truth and reconciliation processes are global, and they are an important part of Canada’s interest in global peace and human rights. These processes are themselves a contribution to peaceful, rights-respecting societies. As the only developed country to have held a truth commission, Canada has a unique role to play in global truth and reconciliation processes. Therefore, the following general recommendations are made:

  • Canada’s government should continue to be fully supportive of the efforts by residential school survivors, indigenous groups and people, churches and Canadian civil society to “socialize” the TRC Canada report.
  • Canada’s government should keep its commitment to implement all of the TRC Canada calls to action, and should make this known internationally.
  • In implementing TRC Canada call to action 65, the creation of a national research programme on reconciliation, consideration should be given to including a global component in which truth commissions and processes in different countries can both learn from and share lessons with the follow-up reconciliation institutions and processes recommended by TRC Canada. This reflects the vision of the TRC Canada opening session in Vancouver, where representatives of several other countries’ truth commissions were invited to attend and share their own experiences.
  • Canadian indigenous and civil society groups should consider exchanging lessons and experiences with indigenous and civil society groups in other countries and regions with truth and reconciliation processes, including Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Tanah Papua, and the Solomon Islands.
  • Canada’s government should create a National Plan of Action on Human Rights and submit it to the UN Human Rights Committee by the time of the next Universal Periodic Review of Canada, making itself accountable for progress on human rights, indigenous rights, reconciliation and international human rights advocacy in the same way that Canada asks other government to make themselves accountable to the international community.
  • Canada’s government should mainstream human rights (including women’s rights and indigenous rights) into all aspects of its foreign policy.


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