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'. . . And the Truth Shall Set You Free': Confessional Trade-Offs and Community Reconciliation in East Timor

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In East Timor, as with many nations dealing with the legacies of colonisation and occupation, divisions and allegiances forged in the past are combining with other contemporary factors to destabilising effect. The civil unrest of 2006/2007 provides the most recent example of the propensity for violence to escalate rapidly in such a climate. In this context, past experience in promoting and facilitating re-integration following the mass displacement in 1999 in East Timor may offer lessons for those seeking to address social cohesion in the wake of more recent displacement. This paper assesses the work of the Community Reconciliation Process implemented by the Commission of Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (Commonly known by the Portuguese acronym CAVR) in order to provide a reflection on what was achieved and highlight some of the shortcomings that might similarly befall current, and future, attempts. In doing so, the process, and particularly the use of narrative, is considered in terms of its performative elements: the circumstances in which the scripts were written; the stage on which they were acted out; the actors who voiced them, and the audience who listened. It is argued that the Community Reconciliation Process, through its mechanism that synthesised customary reconciliation procedures and elements of the formal justice system, facilitated a reintegrative process that had at its core the exchange of confession, apology and shaming for the right to re-enter the social group from which perpetrators had been excluded. This process, however, may have occurred at the expense of the competing needs of those who had been victimised.

Affiliations: 1: Adviser to the Community Reconciliation Process, adviser to the Government of Timor-Leste, social reintegration specialist for UNDP Timor-Leste


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