Roads to reconciliation
Dr Mark Byrne*
A version of this paper was published as Uniya-JRS Occasional
Paper, no.9, September 2005
What do nations need to do to heal the wounds of the past? At first
glance the recent traumatic experiences of South Africa and Timor-Leste
(East Timor) might appear to have little in common with a
nation like Australia, with its long history of stable democratic
government. While acknowledging the historical and cultural differences,
this paper argues that there may be lessons from the transitional
justice processes undertaken in these nations for the Indigenous
reconciliation process in Australia.
Transitional and restorative justice
Transitional justice has been defined as the pursuit of “accountability
for past mass atrocity or human rights abuse... in societies emerging
from repressive rule or armed conflict, as well as in established
democracies where historical injustices or systemic abuse remain
unresolved.” Countries with unhealed
historical wounds may, by this definition, have something in common
with those emerging from war and/or oppression.
In the past, transitional justice processes have mostly been based
on a retributive framework
motivated by concerns for accountability, punishment and rehabilitation
(the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals being the most famous
example). However, retributive justice is usually adversarial, expensive
and time-consuming. In addition, it may not lead to the uncovering
of truth; contrition on the part of offenders; justice for victims;
or the healing of individual or communal wounds.
Recent transitional justice processes have therefore increasingly
been based on a restorative justice model, which “emphasises repairing
the harm caused or revealed by criminal behaviour... through cooperative
processes that include all stakeholders.”
The idea is to bring victims and offenders together, giving perpetrators
the opportunity to admit their crimes while victims are afforded
the opportunity to tell their stories. Some perpetrators are moved
to express remorse, while some victims come to forgive their perpetrators.
Restorative measures are adapted to local conditions and include
forums for victims to confront offenders, the use of customary law
and the payment of reparations.
As South Africa made its “long night’s journey into day” following the end of apartheid rule in the early 1990s, it set
up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) “for the investigation
and the establishment of as complete a picture as possible of the
nature, causes and extent of gross violations of human rights committed” between 1960 and 1994.
Between 1996 and 1998 the TRC took statements from more than 21,000
victims documenting allegations of over 38,000 human rights crimes,
including 10,000 murders. There were more than 8,000 applications
for amnesty from prosecution (although only a small minority of
these were approved).
The hearings gave victims the opportunity to speak in public and
have their grief and anger heard by perpetrators and the nation.
It enabled a new era of South African history to be built on the
foundations of a human rights culture and truth about the past,
so that the crimes of apartheid could never be denied (as has sometimes
happened with the Holocaust).
Nevertheless, the TRC has been widely criticised for two main reasons.
First, reparations to survivors and the families of victims were
generally regarded as inadequate and have been slow to materialise.
Second, offenders were guaranteed amnesty from prosecution if they
agreed to appear before the TRC and tell the whole truth. Some victims
— most notably the wife of murdered activist Steve Biko — took the
TRC to the nation’s highest court (unsuccessfully) on the grounds
that it had taken away their right to seek justice. Mere confessions were not enough: many also wanted contrition
and some demanded punishment.
In this respect the TRC’s hands were tied. The amnesty guarantee
was part of the deal made in 1994 between the African National Congress
and the apartheid government of F. W. de Clerk that led to the elections
which ended the era of white rule. This compromise resulted in
the addition of a postamble to the 1994 Interim Constitution which
articulated “a need for understanding but not vengeance, a need
for reparation but not retaliation, a need for ubuntu [humaneness
and community interdependence] but not victimization.”
The TRC was therefore intended from the outset to be an exercise
in restorative rather than retributive justice.
As TRC Chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu saw it, restorative justice
“is concerned not so much with punishment as with correcting imbalances,
restoring broken relationships — with healing, harmony and reconciliation.”
Central to Tutu’s vision for the TRC were two principles: the healing
power of truth and memory, and forgiveness as an alternative to
revenge. Hearings were held under a banner that read “Truth: the
road to reconciliation.” In one hearing Tutu stated that “This process is not about...
persecution... It's about getting the truth, so that we can help
to heal...” For victims and offenders, black and white,
having the opportunity to remember and confess their crimes or express
their pain in a supportive environment was thought to help the healing
process — whether or not it was accompanied by contrition on the
part of offenders, their prosecution and punishment under criminal
law, or reparations for victims.
Offenders were not asked to do anything other than tell the whole
truth. Instead, Tutu spoke of “substituting forgiveness for revenge
and reconciliation for retribution.”  Forgiveness, he says, is “the
best form of self-interest, because I’m also releasing myself from
the bonds that hold me captive”.
At TRC hearings victims were sometimes encouraged to forgive their
offenders, even in the absence of contrition. As well as helping
victims to come to terms with their grief, forgiveness was believed
to be helpful to national reconciliation. While this encouragement sometimes worked quite
powerfully, other victims felt it to be forced, false, or offensive
to their grief.
Although there had been earlier truth commissions, South Africa’s
TRC gave the world a legacy of establishing truth as the foundation
of reconciliation, the critical role of public hearings, the importance
of cultural concepts such as ubuntu, and the healing power
of forgiveness. However, it also emphasised the need for other transitional
justice processes to consider the relevance of criminal trials;
to implement a range of restorative justice measures other than
forgiveness; to balance the needs of individuals and the community;
and to offer appropriate reparations to victims.
Some of the shortcomings in South Africa’s TRC were recognised
in the transitional justice processes that have taken place in Timor-Leste
since the UN intervention following the vote for independence from
Indonesia in August 1999. While there has been no demand for, or
offer of, reparations from Indonesia, the amnesty problem was theoretically
solved by having minor crimes committed during the period of Indonesian
occupation between 1975 and 1999 handled without prosecution by
the Reception, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CAVR in its
Portuguese acronym). Allegations of major crimes committed in 1999
(rape, torture, murder, war crimes and crimes against humanity)
would be referred to the Serious Crimes Process (set up by the UN
in 2000) for possible prosecution. However, the outcomes have been,
if anything, less satisfactory in Timor-Leste than in South Africa.
The CAVR process is generally regarded by East
Timorese and international observers as a qualified success. It
had community legitimacy and involvement; more than 1400 cases involving
less serious crimes committed in the context of past political conflicts
between 1974 and 1999 were resolved through Community Reconciliation
Procedures involving community service and/or customary law;
and it is said by some to have helped to create a climate conducive
to the return of East Timorese refugees (including former militia
members) from West Timor. Nonetheless, CAVR’s success
was qualified because it favoured the need for repatriated militia
members to be reintegrated into the community over the needs of
individual victims for justice. It was also criticised for re-opening
painful wounds without resolving them; for raising unfulfilled expectations
about justice for more serious crimes; and for the leniency of many
Although it resulted in 391 charges for murder and 75 jail terms,
the Serious Crimes Process is universally regarded as seriously
flawed. It lacked legitimacy and local ownership. It had no mandate
to investigate human rights abuses prior to 1999. It was insufficiently
resourced and it had no jurisdiction to bring to justice the great
majority of the accused: Indonesian military (including General
Wiranto) and civilian leaders and East Timorese militia leaders
now living in Indonesia. The failure of the serious crimes
process also undermined the limited success of the community reconciliation
process, since only the “small fish” were caught in the net of justice.
Neither could the people of Timor-Leste rely on the Indonesian
legal system to bring the perpetrators of the 1999 violence to justice.
Only sixteen people were charged by the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court
in Jakarta, resulting in eight convictions. On appeal the convictions
of all six Indonesian military officers were quashed, leaving only
the two convicted East Timorese civilians to face jail terms. Even
these two men, former Governor Abilio Soares and militia leader
Eurico Gtuerres, are now free.
Since the 1999 referendum, East Timorese leaders have expressed
ambivalence about the need to achieve justice for past crimes while
also rebuilding the country and establishing good relations with
Indonesia. For instance, President Xanana Gusmao has spoken of the
need to achieve social rather than criminal justice. He has also
argued that a focus on war crimes trials and prison sentences would
divert attention and resources away from the work needed to improve
the everyday lives of the people.
The most obvious manifestation of this ambivalence is the new Commission
for Truth and Friendship (CTF) which was negotiated between Timor-Leste’s
leaders and Indonesia. Like South Africa’s TRC, the CTF will have
the power to grant amnesties but not to prosecute alleged offenders.
Gusmao described the CFT as a “mammoth task to seek truth not retribution.” Yet critics argue that the truth about what
happened in 1999 is already largely known, and the amnesty guarantee
means that the perpetrators of the violence will escape prosecution
This is not what the UN Security Council intended when it demanded
in 1999 that “all those responsible for such acts [of violence]
be brought to justice”. Accordingly, UN Secretary-General
Kofi Annan sent a Commission of Experts to Dili and Jakarta in May
2005 to recommend what further action needed to be taken. Their
report recommended that Indonesia be given six months to prosecute
those of its citizens implicated in human rights violations in 1999
or face the establishment of a UN war crimes tribunal. The governments of Indonesia and Timor-Leste rejected the report
shortly before the CTF opened in August 2005.
As in South Africa, a charismatic leader who had made peace with
his oppressors inspired the reconciliation process in TimorLeste.
Forgiveness of past crimes is as important for Gusmao as it was
for Mandela and Tutu. In her autobiography, TimorLeste First Lady
Kirsty Sword Gusmao told of a public meeting where many people spoke
of their wish to see perpetrators of violence punished. Gusmao was
“a little sad” that so many wanted retribution, until an old man
with disfigured hands and arms spoke movingly and with a powerful
I came to understand that whether or not I managed to have the
perpetrators punished... it would not give me back the use of
my hands. And therefore what was the point of screaming for blood!
I urge you all to put behind you that which you cannot change.
This public meeting was held in November 1999. We do not know how
long it took the old man to come to a place of acceptance regarding
“this crime... committed many years ago”. At the time of this meeting,
many of the crimes committed against the Timorese people were barely
a month old. As in South Africa, there was a gulf in Timor-Leste
between the spirit of reconciliation promoted by a charismatic leader
and some victims’ need for retributive justice.
Lessons for Australia
Like South Africa and Timor-Leste, Australia is a nation still
trying to come to terms with a history of one group being oppressed
by another. To see ourselves as we have seen these other
countries in the recent past — as fractured or wounded and in need
of healing — would be a significant step on the road to reconciliation.
The truth commissions of South Africa and Timor-Leste also remind
us that uncovering the past is the bedrock of reconciliation.
As in our personal relationships, it is difficult to come together
if we cannot agree on what has torn us apart. While polls show that
most Australians agree that Aboriginal people were mistreated in
the past, the nature and extent of this mistreatment
has been the subject of much debate in recent years.
Neither is it enough to face the truth about the past and then
expect to simply “move on.” Reconciliation usually requires justice
as well as truth. The more effective the application of restorative
justice processes, the less need there may be for retributive justice.
For instance, public expressions of sorrow and contrition for past
mistakes — or at least recognition of past injustices — can be effective
parts of the healing process as long as they are sincere and are
not substitutes for practical measures. More public education may
also help to distinguish between remorse and responsibility, so
that people today do not feel they are being asked to take on the
sins of the past if they are asked to say sorry.
And reparations (such as for the Stolen Generations) may be a valid
element of restorative justice mechanisms in Australia as elsewhere.
This brings us to the vexed issue of forgiveness. Just as some
victims in South Africa and Timor-Leste were not ready to forgive
their attackers, so we should not expect Indigenous people in Australia
to “forgive and forget” the past just because they may be benefiting
from practical programs to improve health, housing, employment,
education and the like. As Indigenous leaders have said repeatedly,
both practical and symbolic measures are important — as is what has been called “substantive” reconciliation or
the “rights agenda,” including land rights, political representation,
and a formal treaty or agreement to place relations between Indigenous
and non-Indigenous Australians on a legitimate legal and moral basis.
A final lesson concerns the importance of leadership. Because Mandela
and Gusmao emerged from long periods of imprisonment without harbouring
resentment against their oppressors and were able to speak of the
need for peace and tolerance, they served as powerful examples of
reconciliation for their people. In Australia, by contrast, no political,
Church or community leader — black or white — has been willing and
able to galvanise public support for reconciliation. In the absence of national leadership,
in 1997 Indigenous leader Pat Dodson called for a “people's movement
for reconciliation.” The people responded: nearly
a million voted with their feet in the bridge walks of 2000, and
many local reconciliation groups sprang up around the nation. Since
then, though, the movement has gradually stagnated in the vacuum
of political and moral leadership.
On the one hand, as East Timor researcher Lia Kent points out,
there are no universal blueprints
...for grappling with issues of justice and reconciliation. The
experiences of each country are quite unique, implying that any
processes to deal with these issues needs to involve a long process
of consultation and participation of people in the process, in
Yet in seeking to move from conflict to harmony there are basic
human needs and processes, such as the need to uncover the truth
in order to grieve properly and the roles of remorse and reparations
in mitigating calls for retribution, that are shared by different
people and cultures.
Applying these insights to the Australian context is made difficult
by the relatively small proportion of Indigenous Australians and
the length of time the nation has been working with these issues.
Nevertheless, there is cause for hope. The work of oral and other
historians and government inquiries is helping to uncover more of
the truth about our past. The bridge walks, Sorry Books, Sea of
Hands and the patient work of local reconciliation groups remind
us that restorative justice can take many forms and can even be
joyful and spontaneous. The plethora of agreements made over recent
decades in relation to land rights and land use are creating a culture
of agreement-making that eventually may lead to a formal treaty
or agreement establishing European settlement and the place of Indigenous
people on a legitimate legal and moral basis. The generous spirit
of most Indigenous people in seeking to reconcile without rancour
or revenge is a source of inspiration. We look forward to a time
when effective national leadership also emerges on this issue, and
the relationship between Indigenous and other Australians becomes
a source of pride rather than shame.
Thanks to Suganthi Singaraya, Lia Kent, Fr Michael Lapsley,
Minh Nguyen, Sr Patty Fawkner and Sr Margaret Press for their comments
on drafts of this paper.
*Dr Mark Byrne is Project and Advocacy Officer for Uniya Jesuit
Social Justice Centre.
These countries were chosen because the South Africa’s TRC has been
a model for other transitional justice processes, while Timor-Leste
provides a current case study close to home in which there has been
From the website of the New York-based International Center for
Transitional Justice (ICTJ) (www.ictj.org,
June 23 2005). Transitional justice can be implemented through a
variety of processes including truth commissions; criminal prosecution
of perpetrators of serious crimes; community reconciliation processes
between perpetrators of minor crimes and their victims; reparations
or other measures to compensate victims; and structural changes
(to legislation, institutions and employment practices) to reduce
the likelihood of similar conflicts recurring.
The Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals are the most famous example.
Restorative Justice Online (www.restorativejustice.org,
July 1 2005).
However, the use of restorative justice processes is regarded by
many advocates of transitional justice as inappropriate to large-scale
human rights abuses and serious crimes. Proponents of this view
argue that criminal trials bring about better outcomes by promoting
the rule of law and deterring future human rights abuses, among
other things. For instance, according to the ICTJ, “Criminal justice
is an essential part of an integrated response to massive human
rights violations, and should be pursued whenever possible.” (www.ictj.org,
July 18 2005)
First of all, trials promote the value of legality
or the rule of law, which is critical to the building of a pluralistic,
tolerant, and free society. Second, by attributing individual
rather than group responsibility to the worst human rights abuses
produced by the conflicts of the past, it is believed that such
trials can produce 'closure' on the cycle of vengeance between
groups. Third, trials supposedly allow for disclosure of what
actually happened, facilitating understanding of how civil order
broke down and human beings became 'monsters.' Fourth, trials
give victims an opportunity to tell their stories, confront those
who harmed them, and begin the process of healing; trials are
an alternative to both passive suffering and random vengeance.
Fifth, trials may deter those who might be inclined to commit
such human rights violations in the future. (Jennifer J. Llewellyn
& Robert Howse, Institutions For Restorative Justice: The
South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. University
of Toronto Law Journal, Vol XLIX, No 3, Summer 1999 [www.utpjournals.com,
July 18 2005]).
Others question “whether criminal trials are a desirable
or useful means of social reconciliation or healing.” In theory,
there is little reason why similar outcomes could not be achieved
by well-designed and managed restorative justice processes, although
to date this has not happened in the cases of political and/or military
leaders accused of war crimes and human rights abuses (Llewellyn
& Howse, op. cit.). On the application of restorative justice
to war crimes, see, eg., Laura Stovens, When the enemy comes home:
Restoring justice after mass atrocity. Restorative Justice Conference,
Vancouver, June 1-4, 2003 (www.sfu.ca, July 18 2005).
To quote the name of a documentary about the TRC: see http://irisfilm.igc.org (July 10
From the preamble to the Act (www.doj.gov.za, July 10
The TRC carried out its mandate through three committees: Amnesty,
Reparation and Rehabilitation, and Human Rights Violations.
According to Amnesty International’s 2003 report Truth and Justice:
Unfinished Business in South Africa, “By June 2001, when the [Amnesty]
Committee was closing its operations, it had granted amnesty or
immunity from prosecution to a total of 1,160 people from 7,094
August 10 2005).
See, e.g., Heidy Rombouts , The Legal Profession and the TRC: A
Study of a Tense Relationship. Research report written for the Centre
for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, February 2002 (www.csvr.org.za,
August 10 2005).
As a press report put it in after the TRC finalised its work in
The TRC was born out of compromises made during
negotiations between the apartheid government and South Africa’s
liberation movements from 1990 to 1994. Negotiators agreed that
in exchange for testimony, amnesty would be granted to those who
had violated human rights under apartheid. This clause helped
break a political deadlock, paving the way for the African
National Congress (ANC)’s victory in the 1994 elections and the
establishment of the TRC. (Meron Tesfa Michael, “Moment of Truth”,
Worldpress.org, May 2, 2003 [www.worldpress.org, July
Thus the preamble to the Act continues:
… within or outside the Republic, emanating from
the conflicts of the past, and the fate or whereabouts of the
victims of such violations; the granting of amnesty to persons
who make full disclosure of all the relevant facts relating to
acts associated with a political objective committed in the course
of the conflicts of the past during the said period; affording
victims an opportunity to relate the violations they suffered;
the taking of measures aimed at the granting of reparation to,
and the rehabilitation and the restoration of the human and civil
dignity of, victims of violations of human rights; reporting to
the Nation about such violations and victims; the making of recommendations
aimed at the prevention of the commission of gross violations
of human rights; and for the said purposes to provide for the
establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a Committee
on Human Rights Violations, a Committee on Amnesty and a Committee
on Reparation and Rehabilitation; and to confer certain powers
on, assign certain functions to and impose certain duties upon
that Commission and those Committees; and to provide for matters
connected therewith. (www.doj.gov.za,
July 10 2005).
South Africa, Interim Constitution (Old) (www.oefre.unibe.ch,
July 10 2005). The spirit of ubuntu is apparent in the comment
of former South African Communist Party President and white anti-apartheid
activist Joe Slovo, whose wife was killed by government agents:
“…the best revenge… that I can think of for those men who murdered
my wife, is that they be made to live in peace in a system that
they had fought so brutally against”, (Gillian Slovo, Making history:
South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. openDemocracy
5 December 2002, 3 [www.opendemocracy.net,
July 1 2005]).
Bronwyn Leebaw, The South Africa Truth & Reconciliation Commission
July 1 2005).
Quoted in Maggie Helass’s review of Russell Daye, Political Forgiveness
July 1 2005).
Another slogan adopted by the ANC during this period was “Revealing
is healing”, (Slovo, op. cit., 3).
In another hearing Tutu attempted to comfort the mother of a black
youth killed by white security forces by saying, “We hope that the
Lord will support and comfort you and strengthen you, because we
don’t have any more ways to comfort you”, (interviewed in the documentary
Long Night’s Journey into Day [www.irisfilms.org,
July 1 2005]).
Quoted in Maggie Helass’s review of Russell Daye, Political Forgiveness
July 1 2005).
No forgiveness, no future: An Interview with Archbishop Desmond
Tutu. US Catholic (www.uscatholic.org, July
Tristan Anne Borer, Reconciling South Africa or South Africans?
Cautionary Notes from the TRC. African Studies Quarterly
Vol 8, No 1, Fall 2004, 20-38, passim (www.africa.ufl.edu,
July 11 2005).
This split is reflected in an incident reported by Fr Michael Lapsley,
a New Zealand-born Anglican priest and former anti-apartheid activist
who suffered serious injuries after opening a letter bomb sent by
security forces in 1990 and is now Director of the Institute for
the Healing of Memories:
I was on the radio with the mother of a US student
who was murdered by a black youth. She spoke of how she had forgiven
the perpetrator and supported their amnesty application. A listener
phoned up with great anger that the mother had dared to forgive.
Fr Lapsley explains that “People have been given
the impression, especially by the Church, that forgiveness is something
glib and cheap and easy, while most find it costly, painful and
difficult — but liberating when it does happen.” (pers. comm.) The
question for us is what is needed to get to a place of genuine forgiveness,
and whether formal reconciliation processes that offer amnesty from
prosecution in order to advance the cause of national reconciliation
help or hinder a necessarily long and complex psychological, cultural
and spiritual process in which victims and survivors express an
understandable desire for retributive justice.
Gilian Slovo also reports that:
The ability to forgive was sometimes astounding,
as in the case of the widow of a disappeared activist husband
who found out through the TRC process that he had been kidnapped
and killed, his body roasted over a fire for six hours, and his
ashes dumped into a river. After the TRC hearing, she declared,
“Don't we want peace for South Africa? How are we going to find
peace if we don't forgive? My husband was fighting for peace for
all of South Africa. How can you correct a wrong with a wrong?”
On the other hand, the painful struggle for forgiveness was often
equally evident at the TRC, such as in the case of one mother
of an ANC comrade who was drugged by security police and pushed
off a cliff in a van to his death stated, “I will never forgive
them. I want to see them dead like our children.” (Slovo, op.
cit., 4. See also Borer, op. cit., 33.)
UNTAET regulation 2001/10 specified the following principal objectives
for the CAVR:
…to inquire into and establish the truth regarding
the nature, causes and extent of human rights violations that
occurred between April 1974 and October, 1999: to assist victims,
promote human rights and reconciliation; to support the reception
and reintegration of individuals who caused harm to their communities
by the commission of minor criminal offences and to compile a
report which includes its findings, refer matters to the Office
of the General Prosecutor where appropriate, and make recommendations
to the government. (Lia Kent, Unfulfilled Expectations: Community
Views on CAVR’s Community Reconciliation Process. Judicial System
Monitoring Program, Dili 2004, 8 (www.jsmp.minihub.org,
July 13 2005)].
“In particular, the CRP sought to build on the concept of nahe
biti (lit. stretching, rolling the mat), which involves a process
of meeting and discussion in order to seek consensus amongst opposing
parties.” Kent, op. cit., 9.
See Fausto Belo Ximenes, The Unique Contribution of the Community-Based
reconciliation Process in East Timor. Judicial System Monitoring
Program, Dili 2004, 18. (www.easttimor-reconciliation.org,
July 13 2005). However, other commentators disagree. For instance,
according to the Lia Kent, “This was one of the rationales for establishing
the CAVR but I don't think there is any evidence to suggest that
anyone returned from West Timor because of the existence of a reconciliation
process” (pers. comm.).
Kent, op. cit., passim. (www.jsmp.minihub.org,
July 13 2005).
For a critique of the Serious Crimes process, see Judicial System
Monitoring Programme & Amnesty International, Justice for
Timor-Leste: The Way Forward (www.jsmp.minihub.org, September
For instance, according to the CAVR website,
Gusmao has stressed that he supports accountability
for past crimes and has not categorically opposed the use of formal
criminal prosecutions as a means by which to deliver justice.
However, he has not actively promoted them, and has questioned
the use of formal legal procedures on the grounds that:
(a) They are of limited use in promoting peace and reconciliation
in post-conflict societies… and increase the risk of ‘victor’s
(b) They will deter the return of militias in West Timor, jeopardising
repatriation efforts and continuing to foment border unrest…
(c) Any process that prosecutes East Timorese but does not try
TNI generals, who committed 95% of the crimes, will be flawed…
(d) East Timor lacks the resources to conduct criminal prosecutions
July 4 2005).
East Timor - justice denied? ABC Asia Pacific - April 6,
July 4 2005).
See, e.g., Truth Known, East Timorese Need Justice: Accountability
for Rights Crimes Remains an International Responsibility. Common
Dreams Progressive Newswire, March 9 2005 (www.commondreams.org,
July 13 2005).
See www.un.int/usa/sres1264.htm (July
An executive summary of the COE report can be found at www.etan.org
(July 13 2005).
Kirsty Sword Gusmao, A Woman of Independence: A story of love
and the birth of a new nation. Sydney, Pan Macmillan Australia,
It is tempting to use the term “post-conflict”, except that in Australia
the conflict continues.
It would, however, require a cognitive leap that may be difficult
for many Australians to make, given the invisibility of Indigenous
people to most urban Australians, and the evidence of opinion polls
that the majority of Australians have no desire to dwell on the
past (see, e.g.,Newspoll, Quantitative Research into Issues Relating
to a Document of Reconciliation, 2000, e.g., 9-10).
See note 33 above.
See, e.g., Newspoll 2000, 9.
On the ambivalence of most Australians towards acknowledging the
past mistreatment of Indigenous people, see Newspoll 2000, 10. On
the “history wars”, see Stuart Macintyre and Anna Clark, The
History Wars. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 2003.
Whether or not they bear responsibility through their continued,
if often unwitting, involvement in systems and practices that perpetuate
injustice is another matter.
This has been raised in respect of the Stolen Generations and stolen
wages. See, e.g., Andrew Gunstone, The formal Australian reconciliation
process: 1991-2000. Paper prepared for the National Reconciliation
Planning Workshop, Old Parliament House, Canberra30-31 May 2005,
July 10 2005), 5, and the ANTaR Stolen Wages campaign (www.antar.org.au, July 18, 2005).
As former Senator Aden Ridgeway put it, “"We blackfellas can
walk and chew gum at the same time… We can operate many agendas
and work on many fronts, just like the rest of Australia."
Quoted in Michael Gordon, Moving Forward, The Age, May 28
June 24 2005).
See Gunstone, op. cit., 4.
The high point of reconciliation rhetoric probably came with Prime
Minister Paul Keating’s Redfern speech in 1993, but Keating was
ahead of public opinion at the time. For the text of Keating’s Redfern
speech, see www.australianpolitics.com
(July 13 2005).
See Patrick Dodson, Reconciliation at the Crossroads. Address to
the National Press Club November 28 1997 (http://kirra.austlii.edu.au,
September 26 2005).
Lia Kent, personal communication.
This commonality is reflected, for instance, in the Catholic sacrament
of penance and reconciliation; by techniques of conflict resolution
(including victim conferencing); and even in literature.
The sacrament of penance and reconciliation moves
from Contrition through Absolution to Penance. More specifically,
it starts with an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. This is followed
by sorrow or contrition; public articulation or acknowledgement;
absolution or forgiveness; the purpose of amendment (i.e., the intention
to live better); and finally penance or restoration. One cannot
simply move from truth (step 1) to reconciliation (step 6). This
is a summary of the Church’s teachings on the sacrament of penance
and reconciliation from the Catechism (see, e.g., www.usccb.org/catechism,
July 10 2005. See also the document Reconciliation and Catholic
Social Teaching on the Education for Justice of the Center of Concern,
11 2005). Thanks to Andrew Hamilton SJ for elucidating this teaching
These insights also concur with the process of conflict
resolution, a micro-example of restorative justice in which both
sides are encouraged to “speak their truth” while respecting the
other’s point of view as a precursor to finding ways to work together
for a mutually acceptable solution. See, e.g., Personal Courage
and Conflict Resolution at Work: Conflict Resolution Steps http://humanresources.about.com
(August 10 2005).
A similar logic can also be found in literature,
as Marina Warner has shown:
First, the existence of an injustice, testified
by the sufferer… Secondly, the apologist, the one who accepts
responsibility – or takes the blame – and speaks of regret and
– it is implied – pledges reform and redress… Thirdly, the response
of the apologee – the person to whom the avowal of guilt is made…
[and] fourth… a look at what the future may hold…
Marina Warner, Sorry: The present state of apology.
openDemocracy, November 11 2002 (www.opendemocracy.net,
July 14 2005).
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