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The Southern Cross : March 2012
March 2012 Page 15 www.thesoutherncross.org.au The Southern Cross Author, human rights activist and Australia Day Honours recipient Pat Walsh spoke with Jenny Brinkworth during his recent visit to Adelaide to launch his new book At the Scene of the Crime at an event organised by the Australian-East Timor Friendship Association. Pat Walsh is passionate about Timor- Leste. As a former director of the Human Rights Office for the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, he was a dedicated campaigner for East Timor's right to self- determination and for the past ten years has been supporting the fledgling nation's pioneering reconciliation program, the CAVR. Even talking about the acronym -- Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation - incites emotion in Pat. "The Portuguese word reception is very significant," he says. "It refers to the Parable of the Prodigal Son and was included to encourage Timorese who had offended their communities and run away to be received back." On his way back to his home town of Melbourne from his latest stint in Timor-Leste, Pat took the opportunity to promote his new book At the Scene of the Crime, a collection of essays, reflections and poetry on East Timor, 1999 to 2010. It has been described by Jose Ramos- Horta, the President of Timor-Leste, as "both insightful and entertaining". "That Timor-Leste and Indonesia are free today is due in part to people with a heart and dogged determination like Pat Walsh," he wrote. Pat said there were massive challenges facing the Commission when it started in 2001, a time when the nation's independence was threatened by infighting and revenge against the perpetrators of violence. The extent of the violence over many years meant the Commission needed to restrict the reconciliation process to events preceding and following the referendum in 1999. It also addressed only less-serious crimes. Serious crimes, such as murder, sexual violence and torture, were referred to special courts established by the United Nations which administered Timor-Leste from 1999-2002. He said there were four key elements to the Commission's work: establish the facts and the truth of what had been done, to whom and why for the period 1974-1999; facilitate community reconciliation; provide victim support and report on its findings and recommendations. This resulted in a five- volume, 3,500 page report called Chega! (Portuguese for 'no more/enough/stop!'). The report is available on line at www. cavr-timorleste.org He said Chega! was a very powerful way of giving the victims a voice but that many were frustrated that, six years after receiving the report in 2005, the Timor- Leste Parliament has not enacted follow- up legislation. While there were advisors such as him from abroad, the commissioners were all Timorese, and the commission -- which employed about 500 people at its peak - was strongly supported by Timorese society including the resistance because its work was considered vital to stabilising the new nation. "The commission would spend three months in each sub-district explaining the reconciliation process to the people -- it was voluntary and didn't involve the police but the commission had strong police powers," he said. "It was very important they understood the benefits to the community and to the nation". In all, the Commission heard 1400 cases of "less serious" crimes of violence such as burning of houses, looting, killing of livestock, misplacement and intimidation. "They often involved young Timorese men, militia, who got bribed or blackmailed with threats to family members in the resistance or seduced into working with the Indonesian military in the belief that they would win the referendum," he said. "Or they might be on drugs and grog... they were manipulated, engineered in lots of ways." Pat said the chance to hear both sides of the story for the first time had a big impact. The victims understood better why other Timorese had engaged in such violence and were able to tell the perpetrators of the harm they experienced. There was a strong link to local customs and traditions with the reconciliation ceremony held in a special place such as under a sacred tree, in a burnt-out building or some other site meaningful to the victims. There was a great deal of ritual such as exorcising of evil spirits and very colourful traditional ceremony. "They would start with the opening of the big mat, which was placed on the floor for traditional elders to sit on and if the reconciliation process went well then the perpetrators were asked to sit on the mat with the victims and elders," he explained. Pat's role as advisor included a myriad of jobs -- from fundraising and employing staff to fixing cars and renovating buildings -- "anything the Commission needed to do their job". As a Timor activist for many years, Pat said it was a "privilege" to work in the country and he is proud of the Commission's achievements. "Only one or two of the 1400 reconciliations didn't end up happily," he said. "There has been a lot of interest shown in the mechanism by organisations in countries like Palestine, Burma, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the Maldives, Solomon Islands and of course Indonesia." Pat launched the DVD, Timor - Leste We Forget, by Sr Susan Connelly from the Mary MacKillop Centre in Sydney on December 17. Further information: firstname.lastname@example.org Pat's book At the Scene of the Crime: Essays, Reflections and Poetry on East Timor, 1999-2010 is published by Mosaic Press and is available in Adelaide from Rosemary McKay tel 0433 101 568 or scotiaforever@hotmail. com. Helping Timorese find peace TIMOR TRUTHS: Pat Walsh in Adelaide with his new book and, below, in Timor-Leste during the reconciliation process. feature |