Subject: Pat Walsh's talk to AETA - Reflections on solidarity

Dear friend

Some notes on my talk to AETA at their dinner in Melbourne on 28.11.06 are already circulating so here they are direct.

I should clarify that the dinner was not to launch Chega! (as stated in emails from other sources) but to mark Independence, and that I was speaking in a private capacity.

Best regards


Reflections on solidarity

Summary of Pat Walsh's talk at AETA dinner, Melbourne, 28.11.06

This function is to commemorate East Timor's 1975 declaration of independence. As such it is an opportunity to recall the critical contribution made to the eventual achievement of that independence by international civil society and to emphasise the continuing role of civil society and its contribution to nation-building in Timor-Leste. Civil society's commitment is being tested today as it was during the long struggle for self-determination. A long-term approach is needed today just as it was in the past.

Civil society's contribution to independence is acknowledged in the CAVR Report, Chega!, which has been launched in several centres in Australia in recent days and is being launched in both Canberra and Westminster London today. Though not complete, Chega! contains the fullest account to date of global civil society's 'remarkable gift of solidarity' to Timor-Leste. It is to be hoped readers are not deterred by the length of the Report. Many sections, such as the 30 pages on international civil society (which includes an account of Indonesian civil society's role), can be read on their own.

The nature of this solidarity in Australia has changed over the years. Originally it was largely ideologically driven and related to Fretilin, but today it is a broader phenomenon that embraces a cross-section of partnerships in both societies and includes business, professionals, and local and national government in its ranks. This is a welcome development and a model for other countries. It is consistent with a human rights approach, particularly in support of the right of self-determination - a right which is still being realised; it is in tune with the successful inclusive ethos that President Xanana Gusmao injected into the Timor project many years ago; and it ensures the diversified mix of inputs that nation-building in Timor requires. It is an extraordinary offshore resource for Timor that in its own way is as precious as the wealth of the Timor sea. Nothing must be allowed divide or diminish this solidarity. Smart solidarity groups like AETA participate in this movement and contribute through coordination, resourcing and institutional memory.

This confidence in civil society prompted us to launch Chega! not just in Canberra but in other centres in Australia. The experience of other truth commissions is that most governments do not read reports from their commissions and only slowly implement their recommendations, if at all. This is already the case in Timor-Leste, although the recent commitment made by Prime Minister Horta to see his government and the Parliament implement as many of the recommendations in Chega! as possible is cause for hope. Ultimately, however, the fate of Chega! will depend a lot on the commitment or otherwise of both local and international civil society. As a report on crimes against humanity, its contents are of universal concern and are important not just for Timor-Leste but also for the advancement of Indonesia and the international community.

Most Timorese and their international friends have been heartbroken and tested by the events of 2006. Though the crisis has deepened rather than weakened solidarity, it is fair, after 7 years of intensive input, to ask hypothetically why this commitment should continue and to expect, especially from the Timorese Government, some honest answers.

Personally, Annie and I have five reasons to continue.

First, human solidarity. This is a season for solidarity with troubled friends, families and colleagues, not separation.

Second, there is no need to leave. Despite the sickening and maddening violence, the trouble is mainly confined to Dili and is intra-Timorese. Internationals, Chinese, Indonesians, the rich, members of other faiths are not being targeted, though there have been tragic isolated incidents. Dili is not even remotely like Baghdad.

Third, continuing builds confidence. Timorese have lost confidence in their institutions, leaders, neighbours and themselves. It is important, where one can, to show belief and confidence by continuing to live in one's neighbourhood and to work in one's institution. This is also true on the macro-level. After a period of surrender, the peaceful majority are now re-asserting themselves, encouraged by the renewed UN commitment, the presence of international security, and the resumption of government under Prime Minister Horta. Many positive examples could be given that illustrate the emergence of a new spirit committed to unity over division and peace over violence.

Fourth, the Timor project has not failed. The situation is precarious and fragile and formidable challenges, especially in delivering justice and economic opportunity, are still ahead, but Timor is not a failed state. Constitutional processes have been followed and calls for extra-constitutional quick fixes were not heeded; the Presidency, Government and Parliament are functioning; financial resources exist; scheduled elections are being planned; public works have been re-activated. The wakeup call of the crisis has been heard by the President, the Prime Minister and the UN and World Bank, both of which now recognise that things were not progressing as they believed. For his part, Prime Minister Horta, who early on rubbished Chega!, has taken a second look at it and has now publicly acknowledged the urgency of implementing its recommendations on the fundamentals of nation-building such as accountability, rule of law, non-violence, human rights, effective government and the strict neutrality of the security agencies. If one can judge from its public comments, however, Fretilin does not seem to have heard the wake-up call. As a major stakeholder it should be less defensive and conspiracy theorists who are contributing to its state of seige reflex should use their good offices more constructively.

Fifth, it can be done. On a recent visit to Ireland, a land once devastated by colonialism, poverty and conflict, we were struck by its prosperity and the fact that the Fianna Fail party, Fretilin's equivalent, has held power for most of the Republic's life and presided over its recent astonishing growth. Brunei, nearer to home, is an enclave which shares borders with Malaysia and Indonesia, gained its independence in 1978 and has a population half that of Timor-Leste. Its prosperity is also notable.

Solidarity means being solid, firm, stable and dependable, particularly when things go wrong. This year's crisis has taken us all back to basics and challenged us to think more deeply about our commitment. Timorese colleagues worry about the international impact of the crisis. They should know that, as with pre-independence, civil society will accompany them long-term.

Pat Walsh talk summary 28.11.06

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