13 August 2018


Welcome to my  Interests & Activities section. Here you can rummage amongst all those bits that don’t fit into the other pages – photo albums, travel tales, interesting conferences, and more. Think of it like that spare room in your house or the garage where you put things you want to keep until someone works out where to store them.

Scroll down, enjoy the mess and, BTW, let me know what you think!

1 October 2019

The Dili launch of ‘The Day Hope and History Rhymed in East Timor’

“Our beloved Pat Walsh was influential in my diplomatic formation and laying the foundations for my role today in Timor-Leste’s foreign ministry. He always stressed the fundamental importance of working from first principles. His wonderful book will continue to inspire me (and to honour the political cat with only six lives that I had to leave behind in Jakarta!).” Vicky Fun Ha Tchong, Director General, Multilateral and Regional Affairs, Timor-Leste Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. 

Caption to come

Me with Ian Martin (right) and Vicky Tchong who launched the book in Dili.

The launch of my new book, The Day Hope and History Rhymed in East Timor and Other East Timor Stories, was held in Dili on 28 August 2019, two days before the 20th anniversary of the historic 30 August 1999 ballot referred to in the book’s title.

The site of the launch was significant as were many of the participants. It was held at the former UNAMET precinct, now a teachers’ college, from where the UN administered the ballot. Many documentaries of that time show images of terrified Timorese throwing children over the razor wire into the precinct to escape militias. 

The audience at the launch included many Timorese and internationals from 1999, including Ian Martin, the then head of UNAMET. 

The book was launched by my long-time friend Vicky Tchong, whom I had known from the late 1970s through my contacts with the East Timorese diaspora community in Melbourne.

Many thanks to Vicky for her warm tribute to me and the book in her lovely launch speech. And many thanks to supporting reactions from other friends, two of which I reproduce immediately below.

“I read The Day Hope and History Rhymed (a great title) from cover to cover on my flights back (to the UK), and enjoyed it hugely.” Ian Martin, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Timor-Leste’s 20th anniversary of the 1999 referendum.

“I deeply enjoyed each page of this book. I especially love its quirky angles, characters, nods to history (including bits not known by many) and its Seamus Heaney anchors.” Kieran Dwyer, bookworm, Senior Communications Officer, UNICEF, New York.


See here for some selected extracts.

The book is available for purchase in Timor-Leste, Indonesia and Australia.

20 November 2018

The great famine in Timor-Leste, 1977-1980

laga-girl-1979This year marks roughly the 40th anniversary of the great famine in Timor-Leste 1977-1980. Famine was employed by the Indonesian military to force civilians out of the mountains into their control. It was the major cause of war-related death during the Occupation.

Recently I travelled to Laga, east of Baucau, to visit one site where thousands died anonymously and are not commemorated. The photo opposite is a nameless girl photographed in Laga by Peter Rodgers in October 1979.

Click heading below to see my findings and recommendations to the Centro Nacional Chega! (CNC).

Laga famine 40th Anniversary: Integrated proposal to Centro Nacional Chega! (CNC)

13 August 2018

Memorialising Russia’s Soviet past


Many of the basic freedoms of so-called enemies of the people were repressed by the Soviet
Union/USSR during its existence 1922-1991. These violations were particularly massive and
brutal during the Stalinist period 1929-1953. They included the exile and death in forced
labour camps (gulags) of millions of peasants, political opponents, members of the
intelligentsia and church; famine and starvation; intense surveillance, harassment and mass executions by the Secret Police and show trials.

During a visit to Russia in May 2018, I had the opportunity to check out, albeit superficially,
how contemporary Russia is dealing with this horrific past. I was surprised and impressed to
see that civil society and the State have chosen to remember, not suppress, these events.

Below is a link to information, images and reflections on seven memorials in Moscow and St
Petersburg that I was able to visit, photograph or learn about. This introduction is offered in
the hope that it will further inspire and strengthen efforts in Indonesia to reclaim and
publicise the truth about its past during the Suharto years and confirm advances on
memorialisation already underway in Timor-Leste particularly through its Centro Nacional

Memorialising Russia’s Soviet Past: Inspiration for Indonesia and Timor-Leste. Pat Walsh, July 2018.

28 January 2016

European launches of the English Chega!


Nobel Institute of Peace Seminar, Oslo. L-R: Olandina Caeiro, Fidelis Magalhaes, Stig Traavik (chair, Norwegian Ambassador to Indonesia and Timor-Leste), Bishop Belo, Arnold Kohen discussing Timor-Leste’s colonial past.

The European launch of the English language Chega! was conducted at the Nobel Institute of Peace, Oslo, 25 Jan 2016. I was a panellist in the associated seminar which was sponsored by the Norwegian Government and brought together key activists, officials, and experts on transitional justice to reflect on Chega! and Timor-Leste, ten years after the appearance of CAVR’s monumental report. Timor-Leste’s two Nobel Peace Laureates, Jose Ramos-Horta and Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, also participated.


Jose Ramos-Horta presents the English language edition of the Chega! report to Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon, 25 Jan 2016


Bishop Gunnar Stalsett, former Norway Special Envoy to Timor-Leste and Member of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, Emeritus Bishop of Oslo. The seminar was Bishop Stalsett’s initiative.










Further Information:

Pushing the envelope on truth, justice and reconciliation in Timor-Leste
My talk given at the Chega! launch seminar, Nobel Institute of Peace, Oslo, 25 Jan 2016.

Impunity is Contagious, but so is Truth
Oslo seminar presentation by Galuh Wandita, Director, AJAR.

European launches of the English Chega!
My summary of proceedings at European launches of Chega! in Oslo and Brussels.

European launch of the English version of the Chega!, Oslo
Unofficial summary of Oslo seminar by Dr Ai Kihara‐Hunt, University of Essex.

5 January 2016

Chega tenth anniversary regional roadshow

A pictorial summary of events in seven countries to mark the 10th anniversary of Timor-Leste’s monumental Chega! report.

For further information, see my tenth anniversary roadshow report.

Academics workshop on teaching Chega!, Omar Munir Museum, Malang, 4-5 Nov 2015.

Academics workshop on teaching Chega!, Omar Munir Museum, Malang, Indonesia. 4-5 November 2015.

Seminar to mark 10th anniversary of Chega!, Palacio Presidencial, Dili, 13 Nov 2015.  L-r: Jacinto Alves, Prime Minister Rui de Araujo, Guilherme Caiero.

Seminar to mark 10th anniversary of Chega!, Palacio Presidencial, Dili, 13 Nov 2015. L-r: Jacinto Alves, Prime Minister Rui de Araujo, Guilherme Caiero.

Pat Walsh presents Chega! to Prof Mab Huang, University of Soochow Centre for the Study of Human Rights, Taiwan, 16 Nov 2015.

Pat Walsh presents Chega! to Prof Mab Huang, University of Soochow Centre for the Study of Human Rights, Taiwan, 16 November 2015.

Timor-Leste's Ambassador to the Philippines, Juvencio de Jesus Martins, speaks at Chega! seminar, University of the Philippines, Manila, 14 Dec 2015.

Timor-Leste’s Ambassador to the Philippines, Juvencio de Jesus Martins, speaks at Chega! seminar, University of the Philippines, Manila, 14 December 2015.


12 June 2013

Red Cross archives on Timor-Leste

Red Cross index cards used to trace the missing after World War I.

Red Cross index cards used to trace the missing after World War I.

The International Red Cross is revered for its service to suffering humanity as both the world’s conscience and humanitarian front-line. It is also a keeper of the world’s memory and stores a vast archive of records on man’s inhumanity to man in the subterranean vaults of its headquarters in Geneva.

On 21 May 2013 I was privileged to visit these archives and see what material the ICRC holds on Timor-Leste where it worked during the 1975 civil war, the great famine of 1979-80 and subsequently.

CAVR recommended that organizations such as ICRC make their records available to Timor-Leste so that it can accurately and fully reconstruct its historical memory. Some of the ICRC material is public and accessible. The bulk of it – records related to the missing, family reunions, displaced people and political prisoners – will only be declassified 40 years after the event.

Further information
Report of my visit to ICRC, Geneva.

10 June 2013

Archives and transitional justice

Medieval Bern, the beautiful capital of Switzerland.

Medieval Bern, the beautiful capital of Switzerland.

A conference I attended in Switzerland in May 2013 made me more aware than ever of the importance of archives in Timor-Leste. Participants from Morocco, South Africa, Argentina, the former Yugoslavia and others explained how records were being preserved and made accessible in their countries to assist victims, combat impunity and promote human rights.

In my presentation on Timor-Leste I explained that a good start has been made by CAVR and others but that national archival legislation, cooperation between existing archives, professionalisation of staff, and the establishment of an Institute of Memory are needed to make further progress.

The visit was also an opportunity to discuss Timor-Leste with the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs and the UN and to visit Timor-Leste’s Permanent Mission to the UN.

Further information:
My report on meetings in Switzerland, May 2013

4 April 2013

Australia and East Timorese victims of historic crimes

I recently made a submission to the Australian Parliament’s new inquiry into Australia’s relationship with Timor-Leste.

The submission points out that the reports of Timor-Leste’s two truth commissions post-date the last Parliamentary inquiry into Timor-Leste, held in 2000, and that this inquiry is an opportunity for the Parliament to assist East Timorese victims of historic crimes by addressing the findings and recommendations of the CAVR commission in particular.

The submission also points out that Australia’s official apologies to victims of the Stolen Generation and Forced Adoption make it clear that addressing past traumas requires more than the passage of time or developmental measures. Deeper responses, including recognition, reparations and justice, are also needed to assist the healing and reconciliation of victims and the shared objectives of nation-building and poverty reduction in Timor-Leste.

Based on proposals by the CAVR, the submission recommends 10 ways in which Australia can assist Timorese victims. These include an apology, justice measures, a victim impact review of Australia’s aid program, reparations, and support for several relevant institution building and project initiatives.  

Further information
Full text of my submission
Parliamentary Inquiry home page.

24 March 2013

Victims’ right to the truth

Governments around the world, including Australia, are increasingly recognising that victims of gross human rights violations have a right to the truth and to dignity. The right articulates their entitlement to seek, receive and impart information on their case and the associated duty of governments to preserve and provide access to relevant official files.

The UN has declared March 24, the date of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s assassination in El Salvador in 1980, an annual day to publicise this right.

The right has many implications for victims (e.g. of sexual abuse in Australia, of violence by the Suharto regime in Indonesia and Timor-Leste) but also for security agencies, archives and related legislation.

Further information
My recent reflection on the UN Right to Truth Day
United Nations Right to Truth web page

28 February 2013

An evening with Les Murray, Australian poet

les-n-pwAnnie and I braved the Melbourne evening rush hour and wet weather on Thursday, 27 February 2013, to travel across the city to listen to Les Murray read and discuss his poetry. It was well worth the effort. Les, who flew down from his home at Bunyah in NSW that day, was the guest of The Carmelite Centre in Middle Park for their Poetry for the Soul series.

Looking every inch the ‘bushie’ he says he is, Les, now 74, is the antithesis of what many might expect of someone who is an Australian living treasure and said to be one of the best poets writing in English. Portly and dressed in a multi-coloured woollen jumper and track-suit pants, he speaks with an uncultivated voice which, together with his way of talking in images, adds to his warm, rustic charm. One sensed that poetry, and what he called the ‘trance’ and ‘ecstasy’ that inspire it, comes first and that everything else is secondary. He was also refreshingly candid about his poetry, volunteering that he was no good at writing religious poetry and that some of his poems weren’t much good. He shared freely about his life, his semi-autism, being bullied at school, tensions in his father’s family, his conversion to Catholicism (because its ethos of forgiveness attracted him more than the narrow Protestant ethic he’d grown up with), and 20 years of depression. During those dark years he found he could write poetry. You can write yourself out of trouble, he said.

Poetry, he told us, is hard work, harder than prose but more satisfying. It’s like jazz, which looks like improvisation but is difficult because both freedom and control are present. Poetry is like dancing with a book on your head. It has an element of play and of lightness about it. A work of art must always exceed its own rules. Poetry is the fruit of three processes – dreaming, reason, body (the rhyme, words, images etc that incarnate the work). It will last if it embodies this tri-fusion, not least the first element. An under-dreamt poem will be flat; one must go beyond intelligence. Poetry is whole speak, the opposite of the narrow speak that characterises, for example, stock exchange reports. The idea that sparks is essential. Usually making it into a poem requires much work and dexterity but sometimes the poem writes itself, comes down your arm and out through your fingers.

As we left I told Les I was originally from a dairy farm and that his poems on cows, butter factories and stock whips (described as ‘thonged lightning’ in Kiss of the Whip which he read to us) resonated with me. He confessed, however, that – like me – he hadn’t done much milking! In his talk he made some references to the Armenian genocide, to Hitler, and to Mao but when I told him I had learned a lot in East Timor about genocide and forgiveness, he said he did not know much about Timor. I also told him that my sister-in-law Paula Keogh has just completed a memoir on the Australian poet Michael Dransfield. He replied that Michael wrote some good poetry and has been neglected.

You can read some beaut samples of Les Murray’s poetry on his website.

25 January 2013

Windows on gay Paris

My entries in the Your View is Personal Eurostars photo competition, December 2012. Each of my photos was taken in Paris. The competition attracted 770 entries from 28 countries.

I was unsuccessful. First prize went to a young Canadian* for his photo of a Roman aqueduct.

Versailles dreaming

Breaking bread at Musee d'Orsay

Breaking bread at Musee d’Orsay

Street tango at Notre Dame

Street tango at Notre Dame


* Translated excerpt from citation
The winning photographer is Benjamin Tyler Perrin, aged 27 and hailing from Canada. His chosen subject is the Aqua Claudia, a Roman aqueduct dating back nearly 2,000 years. Both the photographer and his winning entry were the stars of the VII Edition of the Eurostars Hotel Photography Award aimed at hotel guests.
The jury was swayed by the simplicity of the shot and the perfect arrangement of typically Mediterranean objects, such as the rock texture, the line the aqueduct follows, the olive trees and the setting sun. Benjamin took the winning photograph at the end of July at the Parco degli Acquedotti, on the southern outskirts of Rome, where he was on holiday with his partner Lisa.

7 January 2013

Getting poetry out in the open

Letter to the editor, The Age (Published 5 Jan 2013)

Christopher Bantick (Comment & Debate, 3/1) is right that Australia, and Melbourne in particular, should give poetry more exposure. Churches like St Paul’s and St Patrick’s Cathedrals would make excellent sites. St Pat’s, where in fact James McAuley is quoted in the cathedral’s water feature, would be further enhanced if the sterile orange glass in the windows down each side of the nave were replaced with poetry in stained glass.

But the idea should be not to box poetry in a corner but to get it out in the open. Given Australia’s multi-cultural makeup, the public should not have to go to church to read poetry. Poetry also belongs in pubs (the Chloe room in Young and Jackson’s would be appropriate), airports (like Dublin in Ireland), footpaths (like Circular Quay in Sydney) and other places where people gather and would benefit from verse.

By the way Christopher, PM Gillard recently instituted a poetry prize and quoted Dylan Thomas in Parliament following the death of her father a few months ago.

Pat Walsh, Northcote

6 November 2012

Reparations for women victims in Indonesia and Timor-Leste

On 5 and 6 November, thanks to the International Center for Transitional Justice, I was privileged to join a workshop in Bali on historic violence against women in Indonesia and East Timor entitled Repairing the past, building our common future.

The workshop was informative, inspirational and moving. I am still processing the compelling documentation on crimes committed by state agencies against women in 1965, then in Aceh, Timor-Leste, and Papua; the legal case for redress by the Indonesian government; and what can be done to ensure the victims are heard and that the state ends the official denial that lies at the heart of continued discrimination against victims and its refusal to provide the reparations women’s organizations are now calling for in keeping with international law.

Advocates for justice are not optimistic. Commenting on women victims in Aceh, one speaker declared that ‘the only thing that has advanced for these victims is their age’.

Over the two days it became clear to me, however, that real progress is being made. This is principally due to three factors:
(a) the collection and exposure of hard evidence of crimes that would have been unthinkable a few short years ago;
(b) advances in relevant international standard setting (e.g. the 2006 UN principles on the Right to Reparations) and law;
(c) the institutional engagement of official but independent bodies represented at the workshop like Indonesia’s National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan, established in 1998 in response to sexual violence against Chinese women committed during the May riots that year) and East Timor’s Provedor (National Commission) for Human Rights, and some very committed NGOs and women activists.

Working together these three factors are a powerful force for change, not least that it is women who are pushing the envelope. The workshop, however, added two other factors: it included policy-makers in the process by inviting several MPs from both the Indonesian and East Timorese Parliaments to join the workshop, and second, it provided these women MPs with an opportunity to meet and work together on what is a common cause.

These are not easy issues, least of all politically. For the sake of long-suffering victims, however, it is sincerely hoped that the participants will continue to collaborate on these matters that are vital for both past victims and to prevent recurrence. The valuable information provided and the involvement of Indonesian organizations and MPs should also help timid East Timorese policy-makers to move forward in 2013 and adopt pending legislation for a national reparations program and Institute of Memory.

Indonesian organizations have declared 2013 the year of truth (Mari Bicara Kebenaran, Let’s talk truth). This is designed to encourage Indonesians to open their minds to the dark and hidden history of their country through listening to the voices of women survivors and to mobilise public support for the rights of these victims.

Workshop Documents
Aceh Peace Process from a Transitional Justice Perspective
CAVR and CTF Recommendations
CAVR Report – Sexual Violence
Enough is Enough – Papuan testimonies
Gendered Subjects of Transitional Justice
ICTJ and KontraS Submission to UN review of Indonesia 2011
ICTJ submission to Timor-Leste Parliament 2010
ICTJ submission to UN review of Timor-Leste
Indonesia’s Obligations to Provide Reparations for Victims of Gross Human Rights Violations
Listening to the Voices of Women Survivors of 1965
Reparations explained
Unfulfilled Expectations: Victims perceptions of justice and reparations in Timor-Leste

24 October 2012

Book launch in Bandung

Nearly 200 students and their lecturer attended the launch of my book Di Tempat Kejadian Perkara (At the Scene of the Crime) at the University of Padjadjaran (Unpad) in Jatinangor near Bandung on 24 October 12. It was the best book launch I’ve ever attended.

I have four organizations to thank for that: Layar Kita (film society); KPG (the publisher); the Unpad International Relations Students Association and their lecturer Dr Viani Puspitasari; and Batu Api (community library).

Strumming on his ukulele like Tiny Tim, a student kicked off proceedings with a couple of songs. Tobing (Layar Kita), the best agent one could hope for, introduced me and I reminisced about my first visit to Bandung in 1968 when I was 27. Dr Viani, who lectures in international relations, spoke knowledgeably about Timor’s history and two students, backed by guitars and violin, performed a musikalisasi of my poem Sinar Malam (Night light – about blackouts in Dili, both the electrical and cosmic varieties).

After a break and ‘door prizes’ (during which students won a copy of my and other books in response to questions from Tobing), we launched into a good hour of Q and A on East Timor and human rights. Questions included: why had Indonesia invaded, why was so little being done about historic crimes, how did Timorese feel about Indonesians, how did I get involved in human rights. Following the Q and A, which was conducted without a hint of defensiveness or hostility, I posed for photos with students and had a number of one-to-ones about issues such as human rights in Papua, Burma (Rohingya Muslims), and courses in human rights.

Locals told me that a small community of East Timorese live near Jatinangor. Called Yayasan Lemorai Timor Indonesia, the community mainly comprises orphans and is led by Pak Arif Marzuki (formerly Martino Balera), a survivor from Matabian in the late 1970s who has since converted to Islam. Pak Arif was invited to the launch but declined.

Di Tempat Kejadian Perkara is now on sale in Gramedia shops throughout Indonesia for Rp 40,000.

28 September 2012

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

A grieving PM Julia Gillard quoted Dylan Thomas in Parliament after the death of her beloved dad, John, aged 83, in Adelaide on 7 September. Her dad, who grew up in a small Welsh mining town and left school at 14, loved poetry and often quoted to her the famous Welsh poet’s Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.

Dylan Thomas wrote the poem for his dying father. Its last verse, desperate and defiant, reads:
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The celebrated poem is featured in a back-lit panel displayed in the Dylan Thomas museum in Swansea, where he was born. Put a visit to the museum on your bucket list. Annie and I ticked it off in 2007. Exquisite.

Equally exquisite was hearing, on 1 September, Thomas’s Under Milk Wood performed by the Whistling Vicar Theatre at the Melbourne Welsh Church. I mention the date because the play is about a glorious spring day in the eccentric, but fictional, Welsh town of Llareggub (bugger all backwards!).

The play epitomises Thomas’ love of words. It is enchanting (‘the fields go down to the hazed town, rippling like a lake, to drink’), funny (‘throw away your little bed socks and your Welsh wool knitted jacket, I will warm the sheets like an electric toaster, I will lie by your side like the Sunday roast’), sometimes cruel and probably misogynist, but nevertheless pure music to the ears (‘Listen. It is tonight in Donkey Street, trotting silent, with seaweed on its hooves, along the cockled cobbles, past curtained fern pot, text and trinket, harmonium, holy dresser, watercolors done by hand, china dog and rosy tin tea caddy. It is night neddying among the snuggeries of babies’.)

For that reason, it’s best listened to read out loud. The Whistling Vicar players were terrific. You can also listen to it on line, done by Dylan himself or another Welshman Richard Burton.


Audio samples online
Dylan Thomas reading ‘Do Not Go Gentle…..’
‘To begin at the beginning…’ Opening lines of Under Milk Wood recited by Richard Burton
From Under Milk Wood: Rev. Eli Jenkins’ evening prayer

12 September 2012

God works in mysterious ways

Receiving Honorary Doctorate of Letters, University of Southern Queensland.

Last Saturday, Chancellor Bobbie Brazil awarded me an honorary Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) at the University of Southern Queensland in beautiful Toowoomba. The award was for my work in human rights but as I pointed out in my acceptance speech I also consider it testimony to the importance the USQ places on social justice and recognition of the extraordinary people who make up the proud human rights sector and the global code of conduct called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that is their inspiration. Prodded to explain the genesis of this singular distinction, Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas would only comment that ‘God works in mysterious ways’, even if assisted by a committee of rigorous academics.

With my wife Annie at the USQ award.

It was a splendid, colourful occasion, steeped in ancient ritual and symbolism, all undertaken to emphasise the solemn status attached to learning. Robed and hatted like a medieval cardinal, I joined hundreds of students graduating in the arts, sciences, engineering, nursing, education and business and an impressive number of PhD’s. USQ specialises in on-line distance education and many of the graduands travelled from different parts of the world for the occasion.

In the morning session, Andy Gourley, Director of the Red Frogs Chaplaincy Network, gave an entertaining account of his work with schoolies events on the Gold Coast that has now gone national and international.

My theme to the afternoon graduands was achieving against the odds based on the extraordinary contribution of civil society to the liberation of East Timor. The talk is called Achieving Against the Odds (click title to read).

With USQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas.

USQ Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Jan Thomas, personally and warmly hosted our visit on top of her many duties. Supported by her wonderful staff, she treated Annie and I like visiting royals. We are both now enthusiastic ambassadors for USQ and Toowoomba.

We were also delighted to meet, amongst others, Deputy Vice-Chancellor John Dornbusch, Professor Peter Terry, the new Bishop of Toowoomba, Mgr Robert McGuckin, Mark Copeland, head of the Diocesan Social Justice Commission and Professor Gerard Fogarty who was made an Honorary Professor Emeritus the same day for his services to USQ and psychology.

26 August 2012

Ode to South Purrumbete

Having lived in diaspora away from South Purrumbete for most of my life, I have regularly had to explain where it is, that it’s not the Burrumbeet near Ballarat and why there is no North, East or West Purrumbete.

Well, here it is in all its glory centred on the volcanic lake from which it takes its name.

Some of the photos were taken from Mt Porndon looking west across Lake Purrumbete (thanks to Sue Seabright for allowing us the privilege to climb her mountain) or on the shore of the lake as the day ended. The silhouetted figure is my brother John. The others were taken in the early morning from Mt Leura in Camperdown looking east across the lake to Mt Porndon.

Though not strictly Purrumbete, also included are a profile of the Benedictine Abbey of St Mark near Camperdown (the landscape calls for hymns of praise) and, a short distance away, my late grandfather Albert Agustus Forster’s derelict milking shed. A former Station Master, Grandpa Forster had a quaint sense of humour and used to tell us kids his full name was Albert Agustus Loftus Smartsteel John Bull Doctor Leeda de Forster. It stuck. My sister and brother can reel it off like parrots at family gatherings. 



15 July 2012

A plastic cup of goodness

The Koran emphasises human solidarity.

Picking my way up Dago Rd during a recent visit to Bandung, I suddenly found myself in a cul-de-sac.  It was just on 6 pm, a busy time with local Muslims breaking their fast. The footpath had been temporarily sealed off with a bench rigged up to serve dinner to hungry customers and the go-around alternative on the side of the road was blocked by a stationary angkot parked tight against the curb.

Noting my predicament, the stall owner suggested I squeeze through a narrow gap between the bench and his mobile stall, but as this would require me to remove my back pack, duck under head-high steel rods holding his make-shift roof and step down over the curbing onto the busy road, I declined. Sensing I was tired and a bit frustrated, he kindly offered me a seat and then served me a syrupy banana drink in a plastic cup.

It’s a sort of red bull, I observed after a sip, just the thing to get you going after fasting all day, like tennis players use at the change of ends. Delighted with my endorsement, he and his two customers then launched into the prying but polite interrogation that customarily opens encounters in Indonesia.  Where had I come from? Where was I going? How old was I? Why on earth was I walking, up hill to boot? Didn’t I have a car? Was I alone? Was I married, how many kids, what was I doing in Bandung?

Things suddenly became serious, however, when I said vaguely that I was in Bandung publishing on human rights. What did I think of human rights in Indonesia post-Suharto, one of the three immediately asked. Sensing a loaded question, I mumbled something about the situation being far improved on paper and vis-à-vis political freedoms but economic rights were seriously lagging. That was all my interlocutor needed. Shifting closer, he launched into a strong, but persuasive, critique of inequity in Indonesia. Chinese dominated the economy, rich people from Jakarta were buying up big in Bandung, corruption was rampant, and poor people like them were not benefiting from democracy. Australia they volunteered politely was, of course, far different.

Digging in my right hip pocket for small rupiah to pay for the drink (I carry big denominations elsewhere to avoid the embarrassment of displaying a wad of notes in public, not least after an exchange like this), I insisted on paying. The owner wouldn’t hear of it. What about something for his kids. No way, it was enough that I had shared their company at an auspicious time.

May the reward for his sedekah be generous and not-long coming.

1 July 2012

Justice after war and dictatorship in Europe

As there is a general tendency to associate gross human rights violations and repression with parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America rather than the West, it was both surprising and sobering to take part in a symposium entitled Transitional Justice after War and Dictatorship: Learning from European Experiences (1945-2000).

The gathering was convened by the Belgian Centre for Research and Documentation on War and Contemporary Society (CEGES-SOMA), funded by the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and held in Brussels 23-24 May 2012. Its purpose was to get comments from five practitioners with experience of transitional justice in the South, including myself, on a study of ten cases of transition to democracy in the following European countries: Belgium, France, Germany, and The Netherlands after World War II; Greece, Portugal and Spain in the 1970s, and Germany, Hungary and Poland in the post-1989 era. The study and seminar also set out to identify lessons learned.

Inter alia, my presentation on East Timor concluded that official policies on justice for historic crimes changed significantly during the first two phases of post-conflict government in the new nation. Under the UN, 1999-2002, East Timor engaged with the issue but since full self-government in 2002 East Timor has chosen not to pursue the issue. Interestingly this finding matches several of the European experiences. My presentation also pointed out that several of the countries in the European case studies, e.g. The Netherlands vis-à-vis Indonesia, were victims at home but perpetrators abroad and suggested that this contradiction should also be examined in the study.

Further information: