Authenticating Documents (3)

15 June 2014

Continuing our series of articles on the authenticity of rare materials from the early years of occupied East Timor, we briefly examine a 1980 resistance newsletter, ‘Nakroma’.

nakroma-1980-cover

Nakroma, 1980: Click image to read

Any document which might throw some light on the state of the Fretilin-led resistance after the military defeats of 1978-79 but before the historic 1981 reorganisation is of considerable interest. One such document which has recently come to CHART’s attention is a 31-page late-1980 newsletter  entitled Nakroma. Written in Portuguese-language over the name of Bere Malay Laka, the document reports and reflects on recent history and events and includes information on Fretilin.

CHART does not have the knowledge or resources to translate and fully analyse the document. We invite readers to examine the document (click image above) and offer comments on its content and whether there is any reason to doubt its authenticity.

Where does the document come from?

The 1980 Nakroma newsletter can be found in an Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) file* held by the National Archives (NAA) in Canberra.

According to the file records, the document was passed to Australia’s Jakarta embassy sometime on or before 30 November 1981. Embassy staff reported that the item was given to them by ‘a church source’ with the information that it had been circulating in East Timor in hand-written form. No information is given on how this typescript version came into the hands of the un-named church source.

The DFAT file also records embassy staff talking with two different Catholic Church sources around this time – Father Zegwaard from the Indonesian Bishop’s Conference (MAWI) and the Vatican’s envoy to Jakarta, Monsignor Pablo Puente, an occasional visitor to East Timor. Both men were in regular contact with the Australian Embassy; either could have been the source.

Newsletter contents

The file shows that the DFAT head office in Canberra sent the document to its Lisbon Embassy for pointers to significant content, resulting in an English-language summary.

Of particular interest to CHART is the Lisbon Embassy’s translation of Nakroma‘s claims about military events during 1979-80 and a backgrounder on Fretilin. Especially notable in the latter is the naming of Fretilin as the Partido Marxista-Leninista “Fretilin”. 

Assuming the newsletter is authentic and was written in December 1980, this is the earliest public documentary reference to Fretilin’s formal adoption of Marxism-Leninism yet seen by CHART. It precedes the now well-known March 1981 reorganisation meeting records.

In addition to requests for comments made earlier, CHART also invites comments or corrections on the Lisbon Embassy’s translation and discussion on what this document adds to knowledge of the resistance before the March 1981 reorganisation.

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NAA File Reference:  NAA 1838 3038-2-1 Part 21. See digitised copy.


Authenticating documents (2)

9 June 2014

Documents from the armed resistance inside East Timor in the early occupation years are very rare. In this post we throw more light on an important 1981 record of the re-organisation of the resistance.

Fretilin external delegation, Lisbon. early 1980s. Abilio Araujo at centre. [Source AMRT]

Fretilin external delegation, Lisbon, early 1980s. Abilio Araujo at centre. [Source AMRT]

In March 2012 we examined a 50+ page record of the March 1981 re-organisation of the Fretilin-led armed resistance and the formalisation of Xanana Gusmao’s leadership. See original article and link to document here.

While acknowledging that the document content broadly matched other accounts of the historic event, we did raise questions about its authenticity as a complete record. In particular, we wondered about the provenance of the document – who produced it and was it a retyped or rewritten version of an original document created at the meeting in the mountains of East Timor?

We can now answer some of these questions.

The 1981 document appears to have been prepared in November 1983 by Abilio Araujo, the then Lisbon-based head of Fretilin’s external delegation.  It was based on audio recordings  received that year by Araujo from an unidentified source.

The missing pages

Image of first ‘missing page’

We know this because we have now seen a more complete copy of the document – one that includes the three introductory pages missing from the version we examined in 2012. This more complete version was seen by CHART in August 2013 in the unprocessed archives of long-time Timor researcher Prof. Barbedo de Magalhães.

The missing pages, over the name of Abilio Araujo, briefly describe the source materials of the larger document. Most of the missing pages are, in the highly rhetorical language of that period, Araujo’s reflection on the significance of the document for the resistance inside and outside East Timor.

The text of the missing pages can be seen here. We have also produced a rough English translation courtesy of Google Translate.

More questions?
A question on whether this document is a full record of the March 1981 meeting still remain. We noted in 2012 the surprising absence of detail about the newly-created Revolutionary Council of National Resistance (CRRN) and now note no reference to it in Araujo’s introductory pages. There are a number of possible explanations – the most obvious being that parts of the record did not reach Lisbon.

Any doubts about the authenticity or completeness of this 1981 meeting record can be answered by examining the original source materials given to Abilio Araujo in 1983. We can hope that one day these original materials will be returned to Timor-Leste and be kept in a suitable public repository for present and future generations to study.

Credits

Many thanks to Luis Pinto for drawing our attention to the document in the Barbedo de Magalhães archive.

Top Photograph: In the collection of the Timorese Resistance Archive and Museum (AMRT), Dili. See full image here.


Keeping secret (some) Australian goverment archives

16 April 2014

The National Archives of Australia’s holdings of government records about East Timor are a rich evidential and research resource, but parts of the record remain closed to public scrutiny.  We explore this continuing secrecy through summarising a recent effort by researcher and author Clinton Fernandes to access some restricted 1981-1982 documents.

naa-parts2021red

On 2 April 2014, the President of Australia’s Administrative Appeal Tribunal (AAT) affirmed an earlier National Archives of Australia (NAA) decision to deny Clinton Fernandes access to parts of two Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) folders about East Timor (pictured above).

In 2012 NAA had examined and released the folders to Fernandes (and to general public access), but denied access to 140 of a total of some 600 pages. These pages were excluded on the grounds that, if public, they could cause damage to Australia’s security, defence or international relations or that they were provided in confidence by another government (see details in Section 33 (1)(a) & (b) of the Archives Act 1983 .

Fernandes sought from NAA a review of that 2012 decision but with little result – so he followed standard procedure by then appealing to the AAT for an independent judgement on access to the excluded pages.

Public and closed hearings on January 30 and February 3 this year finally resulted in the AAT’s written decision of April 2. The decision (see full text) kept all ‘exempt’ material secret except for one line on one page and one paragraph on another page.

The folders
The two folders are part of sequence of folders titled ‘Portuguese Timor – Political – General’. This folder sequence, which dates back to 1946, was created and maintained by DFAT in Canberra.

The two folders in question, ‘parts’ 20 and 21, cover the dates 05 August 1981 to 11 January 1982. Clinton Fernandes sought access to these folders because they cover the period of a late-1981 Indonesian military operation known as Operasi Keamanan.* 

Many of the public documents in these two folders do shed some light on what Australian officials did learn about the 1981 military operation. The material judged to be not secret can be viewed online through NAA – see Part 20 & Part 21.

We can only guess how much more information is in the still-secret pages of the folders – at least some of which came from the USA government or Australia’s intelligence coordinating body, the Office of National Assessments (ONA).

Government barrier to fair process
Fernandes’ appeal to the AAT was made more difficult by an action of the Australian government. In January, Attorney-General George Brandis issued a so-called ‘public interest certificate’ which required secrecy for official written evidence and verbal testimony to the AAT. The AAT President hearing the case acknowledged the disadvantage to Fernandes – the certificate meant his representative could neither see nor cross-examine the evidence put to the Tribunal.

A further consequence of the certificate was that the reasoning behind the Tribunal’s final decisions were also to be kept secret – leaving Fernandes with little grounds to challenge the decisions.

The decision – key points
Much of the text of the formal AAT decision is details on the procedures and legal context of the decision-making process. The substantial elements of the decision were:

1. With the exception of ten pages (‘folios’), the AAT affirmed the original NAA decision to deny access to the large number of ‘exempt’ pages. (Decision paragraph 62)

2. After further evidence from the Inspector-General of Intelligence & Security (IGIS) on these ten pages, the AAT decided that only parts of two of the pages could be released (paras. 62-64).**

Why the continued secrecy?
The AAT decision text implies that documents cannot be exempted from access on the grounds of “mere embarrassment” or exposure of Australia or Indonesia to public discussion and criticism (see para 34).

We know some documents from the USA remain secret because the US has asked Australia to keep them so. That is the law (Archives Act 33(1)(b) – so that decision is not surprising. But we do not know why the US wants the material kept secret.

All but a fragment of the documents remain secret because the Tribunal was persuaded by government claims their release will damage some or all of Australia’s defence, security or international relations. But the ways in which specific documents might cause such damage is not revealed.

Only minor clues to Australian government thinking on this can be found in the decision text.

Public evidence from ONA claimed disclosure of its material would be seen by other (hostile ?) parties or could damage relationships with ‘international partner agencies’ which, in turn could damage the broader security/defence relationships (paras 55-56). This is the standard general case made against release of any intelligence agency material and is not a revelation.

The same ONA official also referred to current tensions between Australia and Indonesia as a factor – implying that anything which might exacerbate the tensions was against Australia’s interests (para 57). Again, these are standard arguments which have been asserted by successive Australian administrations for decades.

Comment
We can only speculate on the specific reasons for the continued need to keep secret 30-year-old archives about Timor. Readers are invited to add their own thoughts by way of ‘Comments’.

The most likely reasons are to do with developing and maintaining Australia-US-Indonesia security and intelligence relationships – but beyond that, who knows? Another possibility is that some of the exempt information reveals high quality information about Indonesian military activities in 1981 and/or points the finger at the role of particular Indonesian military individuals still in service or public life.

Whatever the reasons, the Australian government and its agencies are strongly protecting some information from public access. So concerned with continuing the secrecy, the Australian government has flagged it is considering an appeal to the Federal Court against the AAT decision to release those tiny fragments on two pages. (See: Paragraph 6 part 4 of this subsequent April 8 decision of the AAT).

One partial solution to this overall problem may lie with Indonesian and US citizens pressing their own governments to release their still-secret official records on East Timor.

 – – – – – – – – – – -

* The operation was notable for its use of a ‘fence of legs’ (pagar betis) tactic in which large numbers of Timorese civilians were conscripted to assist Indonesia forces to sweep through the territory to capture the Fretilin-led resistance. There were fears at the time that this forced conscription could lead to serious food shortages in rural Timor. This operation also resulted in thousands of East Timorese being incarcerated on Atauro Island.

** Parts to be released: The first line of the hand-written text on Part 21, folio 130 and the first paragraph of Part 21, folio 133.

 


March 24: International Day for the Right to the Truth

24 March 2014

CHART co-founder and board member, Pat Walsh, draws attention to this relatively new official United Nations marker – the International Day for the Right to the Truth.

UN-right-to-truth-banner

Given the official thrashing meted out to whistleblowers like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, many may be surprised to know that the international community believes in a right to the truth (albeit related to human rights violations) and wants the right promoted and upheld!

As enunciated by the UN, the right applies specifically to victims of human rights violations and their tormentors. It entitles victims or their families and representatives to seek, receive and impart information on their case. Equally, it obliges governments and their agencies – prisons, police, military, hospitals and so on – to preserve and provide access to the relevant files in their possession. The initiative has particular relevance to East Timorese and Indonesian victims and their respective governments.

The UN has dedicated March 24 each year to draw the attention of both victims and governments to the right and its practical implications for both. March 24 is the day Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated in El Salvador in 1980 for speaking the truth.

CHART welcomes the UN’s initiative. It underlines the importance of archives. We also hope that March 24 will spur Timor-Leste to consider the implementation of the 17 recommendations* in the CAVR Chega! report that relate to human rights archives – something CHART is able and willing to help with.

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* Chega! recommendations on archives: In summary, CAVR called on corporations and governments to contribute funding and documentation to assist Timor-Leste to re-build its patrimony. Governments such as Portugal and Indonesia and the Vatican, UN, Indonesian Human Rights Commission and Courts are asked to preserve and make accessible their records on Timor-Leste. More specifically, Indonesia is asked to make available its records on the war in Timor-Leste and the Comarca Balide. Timor-Leste is asked to enact general archival legislation and to convert the Comarca into a human rights and archival centre.

More information:
Official United Nations webpage

The Right to the Truth. Pat Walsh, 15 March 2011

Victims’ Right to the Truth. Pat Walsh, 24 March 2013

Chega! report recommendations


Timorese Resistance Archive: New online version

1 October 2013

The rich document collection of Timor-Leste’s Resistance Archive and Museum has been available for several years. We explore a new and improved online access facility for the digitised parts of the collection.

Portugal’s Mario Soares Foundation (FMS) has been a principal contributor to the program to secure the Timor-based archives of the East Timorese political and armed resistance. In particular, the FMS has been responsible for professionally conserving and digitising a huge volume of resistance and related documents.

Since 2005, FMS has delivered the digital files through the website of the Arkivu & Muzeu Rezisténsia Timorense (AMRT) in Dili. CHART reviewed the second of these delivery systems in 2010 (see here). The third version of the digital library, available through a distinct website developed by FMS, offers some definite improvements over the earlier versions.

casa-comum-sample1

Document images from the new Casa Comum digital archive

The new website, Casa Comum, (literally, common home or house) provides access to archival records from a range of institutions across the Portuguese speaking world. The AMRT archive is just one of over seventy archival collections now available.

Improved search options

Digital folders for browsing

Digital folders for browsing

Access to the Timor collection is still possible by browsing digital folders arranged by year (see graphic at right; numbers indicate how many documents in each ‘folder’).  The major improvement comes with the introduction of an advanced search screen (pesquisa avançada).

The advanced search screen helps find documents by title, year, content summary (Assunto), registration number (Pasta), notes (Observações) and original document source/owner (Fundo).

The latter now makes it possible to see something of the context of individual documents. We can see, for example, which items were originally in the hands of Jose Ramos-Horta or view the huge collection of Konis Santana.

The advanced screen also allows restricting a search to a particular range of dates and introduces so-called ‘boolean operators’ (and, or, not) to further control the search results.

Comment
The new online facility is a welcome access enhancement to the AMRT’s important collection. Along with the relatively new CIDAC online archive, researchers have easy access to a very large and growing collection of Timor-related materials.

While CHART can envisage even more enhancements to each of these online resources, we are in awe of the work done to create them. We strongly encourage anyone with Timor archival, research and history interests to use these resources.

NOTE
CHART is grateful to Luis Pinto for drawing our attention to the new facility and to FMS’s Alfredo Caldeira for his demonstration of the database in Lisbon in August.  More on the latter in a forthcoming Timor Archives article.


Tax deductible donations to CHART

25 September 2013

Australians supporting our Timor archives work can now claim a tax deduction for gifts or donations to CHART.

CHART Inc. has been endorsed by the Australian Taxation Office as a deductible gift recipient, following our successful application to join the official Register of Cultural Organisations (ROCO).

CHART’s Chairman, Bill Armstrong AO, said he was delighted with the endorsement and hoped that donations from philanthropic bodies and supportive individuals would follow.

“CHART currently operates on a shoestring budget, using voluntary labour,” said Mr Armstrong. “I hope this endorsement will ultimately allow us to accelerate our planned digitisation of important Timor archives, and continue our program of assisting people and institutions in Australia who hold Timor materials.”

How to donate

Donations should be made payable to “CHART Fund”.

Cheques should be sent to CHART Inc, Columban Mission Centre, 69 Woodland Street, Essendon VIC 3040.

Direct electronic funds transfer (EFT) can be made to:
Account Name: CHART Fund
BSB: 033 048
Account Number: 426060

If using EFT, please email the details to chart[at]timorarchives.info

Donors requiring tax deductibilty must supply CHART with their name and postal address to receive a formal receipt.

All donations will be publicly acknowledged on the CHART website unless a donor requests anonymity.


Herb Feith Foundation digitisation grant

25 September 2013

CHART is delighted to announce the receipt of a significant grant to digitise an important Timor archival collection.

The Herb Feith Foundation (HFF) grant of $24,400 will be used to begin an extensive digitisation of the Human Rights Office collection of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA, now ACFID). The collection, recording the work of Pat Walsh and associates from 1979-2000, is among the highest-ranking Timor archival collections still in private hands anywhere.

The most recent CHART guide to the collection contents can be found here.

Digitisation for Timor
The ultimate focus of the project is to make the digital copies available for East Timorese access through institutions in Timor Leste. The bulk of the grant will be used to train and pay assistants to conduct the scanning work. CHART hopes to engage, on a part-time basis, East Timorese students in Melbourne to do this work.

Smaller elements of the grant include equipment and software purchases as well as translation of key documents into Tetun and development of a Tetun-language version of the CHART website.

Herb Feith (second from right) with Jose Ramos-Horta and Australian Timor solidarity activists, c.1984. [Photo: Ian Bell]

Herb Feith (second from right) with Jose Ramos-Horta and Australian Timor solidarity activists, c.1984. [Photo: Ian Bell]

Herb Feith Foundation
Based at Monash University, the HFF was established in honour of the late Herb Feith (1930-2001). Herb was an internationally-recognised expert on Indonesia and one of very few Australian academics to work for justice for East Timor under Indonesian military occupation. More information on Herb’s life and work can be found here.

The Foundation funds a range of activities. A notable project with Timor parallels is the translation into English of Indonesian-language accounts of mass violence in Indonesia associated with General Suharto’s rise to power in 1965-66.


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