Archives and museums for reconciliation and peacebuilding in Timor-Leste

(Reposted from: UNESCO. August 18, 2023)

On 10 August 2023, UNESCO organized a National Stakeholders’ Meeting on Conflict Reconciliation and Peacebuilding in Timor-Leste, with a focus on the role of archives and alternative sites for history and peace education in the country.  

Archives, often used for transitional justice as a source of evidence, academic research, and advocacy of victims’ rights to truth, reparation, and non-recurrence, is an important source of national history. Museums, monuments, and historical sites are places of memory that confront both history and its contemporary implications. Archives and alternative spaces play a crucial role in history and peace education by offering an opportunity for citizens to engage in dialogues between past and present, with different historical narratives opening up spaces for reconciliation and peace.

“Historical and memorial narratives are integral components of a nation’s cultural heritage and collective identity. History education, particularly, plays a pivotal role in nation-building by fostering unity beyond differences of ethnicity, language, and religion. Moreover, it is an indispensable tool in ensuring that past atrocities do not recur, as it nurtures empathy and a sense of responsibility among the younger generations.”

Ms Funmi Balogun, UN Resident Coordinator, Timor-Leste.

The event brought together 70 national stakeholders from various sectors, including researchers and  representatives of relevant government agencies. It offered an opportunity to take stock of achievements in collection, preservation, and promotion of archives and significant historical spaces for the country’s collective memory. Several institutions, including National Archives, Chega National Center, Museum of Resistance and Archives, and Max Stahl Audio-Visual Archive Center, work as archives’ guardians. Participants highlighted that a strengthened collaboration among the different memory institutions is crucial, to enable better access to archive materials and learning opportunities on the country’s history.

Participants pointed out the lack of relevant laws and policies for preservation, protection, and promotion of archives in Timor-Leste. A strong political will and coordinated efforts are required among the relevant government and non-government entities, including Ministry of State Administration, Ministry of Youth, Sports, Arts and Culture, to develop national archives laws and policies.

As a young country, Timor-Leste faces many challenges in providing quality history education. There are no comprehensive history books developed by Timorese and no faculty of history within higher educational institutions. Teachers  currently teaching history subject within the broader social science do not have educational backgrounds in history education. Participants agreed on the necessity of quality history education focusing on multiple narratives and critical thinking. They welcomed the History Teachers Training Modules developed under UNESCO’s history and peace education initiative including pedagogical recommendations, and integration of history education for peace.

“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of history education for building national identity and social cohesion. The new 9th Constitutional Government of Timor-Leste highlights the necessity to provide education on the country’s own history and culture to the young generations.”

Mr Raimundo Jose Neto, Director General of the Ministry of Education.

UNESCO Jakarta partners with Chega National Center and the Ministry of Education of Timor-Leste, with support from Korea through the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), for the History and Peace Education project launched in December 2021. The initiative aims at strengthening the national accountability and capacity to build the country’s better future in peace, justice, and prosperity for the country’s contribution to conflict reconciliation and peacebuilding in the region and beyond.

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