Addressing the Legacies of Human Rights Abuse and Mass Violence: Critical Perspectives on 'Transitional Justice' from Indonesia and East Timor

A Workshop Co-sponsored by the Indonesian Studies Program of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, the International Human Rights Program at UCLA School of Law, the International Institute, and the Department of History, UCLA, April 15-16, 2011

The last decade has seen a surge of activity in the realm of truth-seeking, justice, reconciliation, and redress designed to remedy the legacies of systematic human rights abuse and mass violence in Indonesia and East Timor. Through historical documentation projects that explicitly challenge official versions of the past, unprecedented legal challenges to draconian censorship laws, and grass-roots campaigns that aim to bridge the yawning social gap between the perpetrators and the victims of violence, the participants in this impressive new wave of activity have transformed the political and social terrain in both countries. Their efforts have been stimulated in Indonesia by the climate of political openness that has prevailed since the resignation of President Suharto in 1998, and in East Timor by the achievement of independence in 2002. They have also been encouraged by a rising global trend of support for 'transitional justice' over the same period.

It remains an open question, however, just how effective these interventions have been in remedying past violations, and how useful the model and rubric of 'transitional justice' are in charting a way forward. It is striking, for example, that more than a decade after the fall of Suharto's New Order regime, there has been no meaningful effort to bring those responsible for past violations to justice, or to compensate its many victims. Nor, despite a number of sincere attempts by non-governmental and parastatal organizations, has there has been much in the way of sustained national dialogue or truth-seeking with regard to the mass killings of 1965-66, or the widespread and systematic violence committed over three decades in Aceh and Papua. Among the most significant initiatives to date have been those undertaken in East Timor, under the auspices of the independent Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR), whose final report, Chega!, was published in 2006. Yet even there, serious questions remain about the effectiveness and the meaning of the effort for most East Timorese, and about the value of the international 'transitional justice' model that has largely guided it.

This two-day Workshop at UCLA will examine these initiatives from a variety of perspectives, examine the obstacles and challenges they have encountered, and offer some practical proposals for a path forward. More specifically, it will ask what lessons the past decade of activity may bear for future efforts in the areas of historical inquiry and teaching, legal and political reform, reconciliation, and justice for past crimes. Bringing together human rights activists and scholars in the fields of history, law, politics, sociology, and anthropology from both sides of the Pacific, the Workshop will give participants an opportunity to step outside their professional and disciplinary boundaries, to explore these issues in broad comparative and historical perspective.

The opening session will provide an introduction to the principal incidents and patterns of human rights abuse during the New Order years, and an overview of the key initiatives that have emerged since 1998 to address those abuses. With a view to locating those efforts within a wider historical and comparative framework, the session will also examine instances of truth-seeking, justice and reconciliation in other countries, and offer a critical introduction to some of the major questions that have been raised about the idea of 'transitional justice' generally. Are truth-seeking, justice and reconciliation, in fact, compatible goals? Are state-led initiatives, like the TRC in South Africa, preferable to local, grass-roots efforts? What obstacles commonly impede efforts to address the legacies of past human rights abuse, and how have these been addressed in other contexts?

The second session will explore these questions in more detail through the critical examination of the wide range of initiatives carried out in East Timor since independence in 2002. That examination will aim in part to identify shortcomings in those efforts, as well as obstacles to the effective implementation of recommendations that have emerged from them. At the same time, it will provide an opportunity for participants to reflect on the lessons East Timor's experience may hold for Indonesia, and for the broader idea of 'transitional justice.'

The third and fourth sessions will consider specific initiatives that have emerged in response to some of the more egregious and contentious instances of human rights abuse and violence inside Indonesia, including the mass killings of 1965-66, and state-sponsored violence in Aceh and Papua over three decades. The principal goal of these sessions will be to map recent initiatives in each of these cases, to assess current challenges and obstacles in light of political, economic, and other constraints, to explore new and innovative strategies, and to propose practical suggestions about the way forward.

The Workshop will conclude with an open forum in which participants will be invited to reflect anew on the general questions posed at the outset, and on any additional questions and issues that may have arisen in the course of the Workshop.

Geoffrey Robinson
Professor and Vice-Chair
Department of History, UCLA
Robinson@history.ucla.edu
December 20, 2010

1 A generous gift from Dr. Lemelson in 2008 made possible the establishment of the UCLA Indonesian Studies Program, within the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the International Institute. Since then, Dr. Lemelson has expanded his support of graduate fellowships, conferences and workshops, and visiting scholars hosted by the program.