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Victims and Veterans: Memory, Nationalism, and Human Rights in Post-Independence Timor-Leste


This dissertation examines how individuals and groups in Timor, including Timor’s State, have been engaging with, talking about, commemorating, and creating historical narratives of the brutal 24-year Indonesian occupation of Timor from 1975-1999. While the dissertation begins with an examination of remembrance of Indonesian rule in Timor’s immediate post-independence period, as conducted by Timor’s truth commission (the CAVR), its focus is on the “post-transitional justice period” following the end of the CAVR’s formal operations in 2005, and continuing to the present day. It focuses most specifically on the period from 2011-2012.

I argue that there has been a shift in Timor’s post-independence period from a CAVR-sponsored narrative of the past focused on human rights violations and suffering victims, to a narrative focused on Timor’s struggle for independence from Indonesia and the veterans or heroes of that struggle. The dissertation explores how this narrative, which involves the allocation of various benefits to those deemed veterans, has been promoted or embraced by various actors in Timor for different purposes. Among other things, Timor’s political leaders, who themselves are mostly veterans, have promoted a narrative of past resistance to Indonesian rule in order to maintain personal political power.

The dissertation examines how the CAVR’s previously dominant narrative of victims and veterans has come to be largely displaced from Timor’s public sphere. I argue that a victim-veteran binary has developed in Timor, in which the victim has come to be defined in negative relation to the veteran as one who did not resist Indonesian rule and is devalued accordingly. At the same time, I show how the superficial displacement of an official narrative of victimhood and human rights by a heroic narrative of veteranhood in post-independence Timor, belies the fact that certain values of human rights and transitional justice have been incorporated into attempts to define veteranhood and to determine who are the most heroic Timorese.

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