The Cornerstone of Justice and Future Reconciliation
I have become aware of an important initiative launched by a coalition of some 50 non governmental organisations to structure a civil society-based truth seeking process in Indonesia, in what it is called the Year of Truth. I understand that this effort will try to overcome the multiple obstacles faced around the establishment of an official truth commission in this vibrant nation.
As former Executive Director of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission and consultant in other transitional justice process, I congratulate you for this invaluable initiative. In order to address past grievances, which frequently are still open wounds for victims, it is vital to promote an honest, comprehensive and victim-oriented truth seeking process, which can both establish facts and also restore, in some degree, the lost dignity for those who suffered egregious crimes.
We have painfully learned in Latin America that the past cannot be buried by decree or by the will of rulers. Victims and civil society organisations have the duty to raise their voices. As has happened in countries such as Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Guatemala, Colombia, and Peru, truth-seeking initiatives such as the one you are designing and debating, are the cornerstone of justice and future reconciliation.
I wish you every success in your discussions on these issues, which are so crucial for the future of your beautiful and talented country.
With my warmest regards,
Former Executive Director of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Victims and Our Society Continue to Struggle for Justice
In contexts where denial of human rights violations remain a dominant force, efforts by victims and civil society to break the silence and the suppression of the truth are crucial. The Year of Truth, organized by Indonesia’s Coalition for Truth and Justice, is an important example of creativity and persistence in the face of continued denial. Documenting and preserving the stories of pain and survival, from the far reaches of Aceh to Papua, will allow the next generation to make informed choices about their future.
Next year South Africa celebrates 20 years of democracy. However victims in South Africa continue to clamour for justice and reparations. This has required an ongoing commitment from civil society to continue the work on justice and accountability in order to heal the wounds of the past. Victims and our society continue to struggle for justice.
We are inspired by this initiative on the part of Indonesia’s Coalition for Truth and Justice to break the silence. We wish you every success.
Foundation of Human Rights, South Africa. Former Commissioner of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Difficult but Important Process
Preserving and respecting memories, and looking closely at difficult truths about a nation's past, is a difficult but important process. This may need to continue to many years or decades. Private efforts, such as those by civil society organizations, are often essential. The Indonesian Coalition for Truth and Justice should be recognized for opening this space and providing support for those who wish to take part. Just as other countries offer their own lessons in experiences of truth and memory, the world will watch these impressive initiatives in Indonesia with equal interest.
Author, Unspeakable Truths: Transitional Justice and the Challenge of Truth Commissions
Support on the Hearings for the Year of Truth
Nearly 35 years ago, white supremacists shot and killed five labor organizers in broad daylight after warning local police of their plans. 25 years later, activists in Greensboro, NC (US) formed a civil society truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the context, causes, sequence and consequences of those events. Although detractors speculated that a truth commission without the backing of the local authorities would have no power to compel statements from anyone but the victims and their families, we were humbled by the willingness of people (for some it was the first opportunity to tell their stories) from all sides of the story to come forward and share their stories of what happened. It was powerful for the community to hear all of these versions of the events and their context. Our final report included findings about what happened as well as recommendations to the community about how to seek justice and healing in the form of institutional and policy reforms, further investigations, education and memory initiatives.
It has been seven years since the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its findings and recommendations yet through this experience and many subsequent ones in other communities I continue be impressed by the power of civil-society based truth seeking in the aftermath of human rights abuses, especially when government bodies formally deny wrongdoing and resist truth-seeking. Civil-society truth seeking initiatives can not only create a fuller picture of the extent of abuses by giving victims and others a chance to share their stories and have them acknowledged, but they can also help to build political will for official truth seeking, institutional reforms and other policy changes that will eventually contribute to justice and healing in the aftermath of unthinkable harms. For all of these reasons, I'm sending congratulations and support from myself and my colleagues here in the United States as you embark on the hearings for the Year of Truth. We look forward to learning from your work.
Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner
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