16 August 2011

Sites of conscience

The Liberation War Museum (Bangladesh) and the Dili-based Post-CAVR Secretariat hosted the 6th annual Asian regional meeting of the Asian sites of conscience in Dili 30-31 July 2011. I assisted with the process.

The conference was held at East Timor’s premier site of conscience, the former Comarca prison in Dili where political prisoners were held during the war with Indonesia and which was used by the CAVR truth commission as its national office. Besides Bangladesh and Timor-Leste, countries represented were South Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia and the US. Delegates also used the gathering to brief and seek support from senior Timorese leaders (inter alia President Jose Ramos-Horta, Ambassador for Education, Kirsty Sword Gusmao, and Secretary of State for Culture, Virgilio Simith).

The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience was started in 1999, has accredited sites and members in all parts of the world, including Australia, and a Secretariat in New York. It is based on the idea, both obvious and brilliant, that the power that places of memory have to move people, not least young people, can be used to engage the community in understanding and in action to shape a just future.

Further information:
Sites of Conscience Website
Publication: Making Chega! a Reality: Memory and Memorialization in Timor-Leste.

1 April 2011

Canada’s indigenous past

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission held a conference 1-3 March 2011 on ways of remembering the residential schools which functioned in Canada from the 1870s till the 1990s and were established to ‘kill the Indian in the child’ and ‘civilise’, Christianise and assimilate Aboriginal people into Canadian society.

I shared East Timor’s experience of remembering its recent past through the CAVR process.

Further information:
Canadian TRC Website
TRC Interim Report
TRC webcasts of the conference on creating a Canadian national research centre on residential schools

15 March 2011

The right to the truth

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights convened a seminar on this topic of burning interest to victims and their relatives in Geneva 24-25 February 2011.

The UN says (a) that victims/relatives have a right to seek, receive and impart information on human rights violations they suffered (including the identity of perpetrators) and (b) that States should preserve historic memory of gross human rights violations through the conservation of archives etc in order to facilitate knowledge of such violations, assist with investigations and provide victims with access to remedies.

The issue has obvious relevance to victims in East Timor and Indonesia and the obligations of their respective Governments, both of whom are UN members and subscribers to international law. Has Indonesia, for example, preserved its prison and other records on violations during the Suharto years and will it share this with victims or their relatives?

The seminar was held to assemble practical guidelines on the role of archives in advancing the rights of victims/relatives and accountability for violations. I based my presentation on CAVR’s experience in East Timor.

Further information:
My Seminar presentation
My report on the seminar and recommendations arising