“The Aceh TRC has a mandate for exhumation, but in terms of budget and resources, they are even struggling to get other stuff done. So the mass graves are sort of put to the side,” Galuh Wandita, director of AJAR and commissioner of Aceh TRC, told participants during GIJTR’s site-visit day at AJAR’s Learning Centre in Bali. Participants met to discuss Progress and Challenges of Accountability in Asia as part of the consortium’s annual meeting, 10 April 2019.
Evi Zain, Deputy Chair of Aceh Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Aceh TRC), explained:
“Aceh TRC is the Independent and non-structural institution to reveal the truth, patterns and motives for human rights violations in armed conflict in Aceh, recommend follow-up, recommend reparations and carry our reconciliation.”
The TRC is officially under the government, however, they are not part of any body so it faces huge operational challenges including lack of support and resources.
The Global Initiative for Justice, Truth and Reconciliation (GIJTR) is a consortium serves, as a new mechanism to respond to the transitional justice needs of societies emerging from conflict or periods of authoritarian rule. The nine members consist of: the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, Documentation Center of Cambodia, Due Process of Law Foundation, Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala, Humanitarian Law Center, Public International Law & Policy Group, AJAR, and led by the ICSC.
The site-visit day focused on the mass crimes that occurred in Aceh, Timor-Leste and Bali. Experts from each region spoke about the conflicts and facilitated discussions on progress and accountability in their context. Participants also heard from AJAR’s President, Patrick Burgess, about the abundance of transitional justice work in the Asia-Pacific region and some current initiatives.
The other initiative in Asia is Centro Nacional Chega! established October 2016, in Timor-Leste. The CNC marks renewed interest in accountability after more than a decade of indifference.
Gaudencio Soares Sauza, from Centro Nacional Chega! (CNC), told the group that:
“Our mandate to implement the recommendations of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation and the Commission of Truth and Friendship. CNC’s area of work includes memorialization and education of past abuse, building solidarity and collaboration.”
Both truth commissions of Timor Leste are mandated to reunite Timor-Leste’s ‘stolen children’, an effort that has been largely facilitated by AJAR and CNC. Galuh explained that this is an incredibly complicated process, especially since civil society organizations cannot afford DNA testing. AJAR continues to advocate for both governments to accept further accountability to the unfinished business left from the 25 yearlong conflicts. Participants were shown a short film produced by AJAR called “Nina and the Stolen Children of Timor-Leste” that shows how children were impacted.
Agung Alit, founder of Taman 65 and Taman Baca Kesiman, told participants about the 1965 massacre, which killed 2-3 million Indonesians. Importantly, Agung spoke about the need for increasing dialogue on the 1965 massacre to remind many Balinese who have already forgotten about their bloody past. Agung built “Taman 65” as a memorialization initiative to help the community to remember their past and share the truth.
For the visit, AJAR prepared a unique exhibition showcasing its work in several countries such as Myanmar, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and Bangladesh. The exhibition included a collection of photos, arts and crafts, and stories from survivors. A special section of the exhibition was dedicated to AJAR’s “Stone and Flower” display, a visual methodology used by AJAR to document survivors’ stories and facilitate community-based healing.