Saturday, April 16, 2011

Session III (Part II): Indonesia 1965-66

Bradley Simpson: Documenting Mass Violence: History, Truth, and Accountability

Bradley Simpson addressed the essential function of historians to “narrow the range of permissible lies.” To accomplish this gargantuan task he explained his work at the National Security Archive in Washington D.C. where they use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to gain access to documents in an attempt to make them available to public. Despite the inherit drawbacks of these FOIA requests that can take between six months to over fifteen years, if ever, to retrieve documents, this is a unique resource available in the United States. This point ties to Mr. Simpson’s larger assertion that historians in the U.S, and the rest of the West, can play an essential role to assist colleagues in countries where such access does not exist.

Furthermore, beyond providing documents to historians and groups such as the CAVR attempting to engage in truth and reconciliation, these documents broaden the scope of the events that took place in their respective countries. He indicated that in many countries who address transitional justice through truth and reconciliation there is a tendency to limit the conflicts to local and national events. Here, such a view minimizes the U.S. and West’s involvement that allowed for Indonesia to invade and occupy neighboring territories. He mentioned examples of documents pointing to the inventories of U.S. ammunition provided to Indonesia and U.S. documents stating that the 1969 Indonesian annexation of West Papua was not a free choice, the official narrative, and to the contrary the vast majority of the population wanted independence.

Mr. Bradley concluded by discussing the recent Freedom of Information Act in Indonesia and how NGO’s and civil society can pressure the government to obtain these documents and, perhaps, assist the Indonesian Parliament to start a comprehensive Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Thus, he argued a collaborative effort between historians in the U.S. providing documents to Indonesian colleagues combined with their own FOIA requests may disrupt the traditional Indonesian government narrative and finally provide a more accurate account of Indonesia’s history.


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