Victims versus Veterans: nationalism and Human Rights in independent East Timor

Event details


Date & time

Friday 13 September 2013


Lecture Theatre 3, Hedley Bull Centre (130), corner of Garran Road and Liversidge Street, ANU
ANU Canberra


Amy Rothschild – Ph.D. Candidate, University of California, San Diego


Louana Gaffey
+61 2 6125 8244

Abstract: This research examines the impact of human rights and transitional justice on the politics of memory in East Timor, a country still coming to terms with the effects of a violent twenty-four year occupation by Indonesia, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Timorese. In this talk I argue that the current official or collective memory of the Indonesian past in East Timor is a story of heroic resistance to Indonesian rule. The protagonist in this story, the veteran, is glorified, receiving both material and nonmaterial benefits. There is an alternative human rights view of the past, focused on the violations committed by the Indonesian forces and the need for justice, but it has little traction, with its central category of victim viewed in negative relation to the veteran. As a result, those who do not fit the State's definition of veteran €“ including many already marginalized groups such as women, who were typically not guerrillas and were often excluded from the formal structures of the clandestine front €“ are defaulted into a category which furthers their marginalization. While some blame can go to Timor's government for defining the category of veteran too narrowly, human rights and transitional justice can also be faulted for employing a concept of victimhood that fails to adequately account for Timor's history of popular resistance, in which the majority of Timor's €œvictims€ not only suffered violations, but also contributed to the independence movement in various informal ways.

Amy Rothschild is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at UCSD. She also holds a JD (2002) from Yale Law School and a BA in political science from the University of Pennsylvania (1998). Her research on remembrance of the violence of the Indonesian occupation is based on three and a half years of work and research in Timor beginning in 2002, including ten months working at East Timor's Truth Commission as a human rights lawyer, from 2002-2003. Her most recent period of ethnographic fieldwork in Timor took place from August 2011-December 2012.

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