Timor-Leste archives: Development continues

28 March 2015

CHART archivist and manager John Waddingham has just completed his fourth visit to Timor Leste to learn about archival institutional developments there. He reports continuing progress in most of the emerging archives.

Audiovisual archive building under construction. Timorese Resistance Archive and Museum in background.

Audiovisual archive building under construction in Dili. The Timorese Resistance Archive and Museum in background.

Increasing national government investment in archives in Timor-Leste is clearly driving some of the more visible advances in archive developments in the country. Since my last visit in 2011, the splendid redevelopment of the Timorese Resistance Archive and Museum (AMRT) has been completed and construction of an adjacent purpose-built audio-visual archive building is well under way.

Somewhat less visible in Dili are the important archives of Timor-Leste’s Commission for Reception, Truth & Reconciliation (CAVR) and the Arquivo Nacional which holds administration records from the Portuguese, Indonesian and independence eras.

Ten days in Dili is not sufficient time to develop an in-depth understanding of each of these institutions. But my impressions are offered here as an indicator of the direction and progress being made in this area in independent Timor-Leste.

Timorese Resistance Archive & Museum (AMRT)

Since its establishment in 2005, the AMRT has set the pace for archive developments in Timor. The Lisbon-based Fundacao Mario Soares (FMS) largely funded the original building, a large resistance documents digitisation project and online database. The Timor government-funded building redevelopment has turned the AMRT into a much-visited showcase of resistance history.

Fragments from the AMRT's permanent exhibition [Source: AMRT Brochure]

Fragments from the AMRT’s permanent exhibition [Source: AMRT Brochure]

In addition to an extensive multilingual permanent exhibition, the AMRT provides several workstations for researcher access to its digital document collection and a well-equipped auditorium for events and seminars.

Secure climate-controlled storage and processing areas are expected to facilitate the eventual return of resistance documents from Lisbon to Dili – an issue of considerable concern to some Timorese observers of archival developments. The AMRT is now actively soliciting for deposits of original materials from within Timor and outside.

The legal and administrative arrangements for the AMRT have progressed. In June 2014, Timor-Leste’s Council of Ministers approved a statute designating AMRT as a ‘Public Institution’, though I understand long-standing plans for a broad-based Timorese advisory board have stalled.

The AMRT, in common with all archival institutions in Timor, does not appear to yet have formally trained and qualified archivists among its staff. I believe there is a formal agreement mandating the FMS in Lisbon to continue its technical assistance and archival advice/training roles at AMRT.

 Arquivo Nacional

The Arquivo Nacional was the first formal archive to be established in newly-independent Timor-Leste, but it remains the least well-known. Few people seem to aware of its existence or location.

Since its creation to preserve records of East Timor’s administrations, most of its effort has been devoted to arranging and describing the Portuguese-era records discovered in the attic of the Palacio do Governo after the 1999 independence ballot. This work has apparently been completed to a level allowing researcher access. However, there is not yet any publicly available guide to the archives contents.

In the stacks: Portuguese colonial records at the Arquivo Nacional. [Source: C. Prata]

Portuguese colonial records at the Arquivo Nacional. [Source: C. Prata]

I was pleased to hear that work has now begun to examine the huge volume of Indonesian-era administration records being held in very poor conditions by the archive. A lack of suitable work space and storage areas is likely to continue to hamper this work. An even bigger problem lies in how to preserve the key records of the State of Timor-Leste since 2002. Many boxes of unsorted records from Ministries have been seen at the archive since 2009. Temporary storage in stairwells and passageways being testament to the problem.

Earlier cautious leadership and static budgets since 2003, along with the absence of any public advocacy for the archive’s development, have contributed to the archive’s low profile. Compared to earlier visits, however, my 2015 impressions suggest this is about to change. There is a spring in the step of staff I spoke to; an apparent renewed sense of purpose and direction.

This change of atmosphere may be due to recent international contacts and cooperation. Archivists from the National Archive of Brasil have visited Dili several times since 2011 and produced reports and recommendations for archival development. Arising out of this process came draft legislation which defines the structure and purpose of Timor’s national archive and is expected to be finalised by June 2015.

Another important development is Arquivo Nacional work to design record-keeping systems which will be promoted and applied in all government ministries. This will facilitate the transfer from government departments of designated long-term archival materials to the Arquivo. It will also, of course, help in the development of much-needed record-keeping systems in the government ministries.

Centro Audiovisual Max Stahl (CAMS)

Continuing serious illness has not stopped Max Stahl’s ambitions for the preservation of Timor-Leste’s cultural and political audiovisual heritage. If anything, it has intensified his drive.

Never content with just preserving his own historic game-changing footage of the 1991 Santa Cruz Massacre, Max Stahl has trained many Timorese in the art of recording interviews and cultural events in independent East Timor and then preserving and providing access to the materials.

Max Stahl (r) and his technical assistant, Tony, with the new CAMS server equipment.

Max Stahl (r) and his technical assistant, Tony, with the new CAMS server equipment.

Since we last visited Max in 2011, there have been a number of ups and downs. In 2013, historic Stahl footage was inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World register. However, CAMS had to move from its long-standing base in beach-side Farol and now rents a less-salubrious unmarked building in the precinct of the national parliament, opposite the AMRT.

CAMS now receives significant financial support from the Timor-Leste government and has a more formal management structure than existed in earlier years. A formal relationship between CAMS and AMRT has been under construction for some time but there have been difficulties – the nature of which remain unclear and apparently unresolved.

The previously-established link between CAMS and the French national audiovisual institute, INA, continues to provide a secure, external archival storage facility. In Dili, CAMS has installed high-level computer server machinery and specialist audiovisual software to manage and provide online access to the digitised collection. Max envisages this latter development, combined with a move into the new building being constructed nearby, will pave the way for CAMS to become Timor-Leste’s national audiovisual archive.

CAVR Archives

The materials collected by Timor-Leste’s Commission for Reception, Truth & Reconciliation (CAVR) during its operation from 2002 to 2005 include a unique and irreplaceable record of personal experience of thousands of East Timorese during civil war and occupation (1975-1999). These archives are the responsibility of the Post-CAVR Secretariat which was established to protect the archive, promote the CAVR report, Chega!, and to prepare the ground for a successor organisation to continue these tasks.

The Post-CAVR Secretariat reports to the Office of the President; its funding comes from the President’s overall budget.

CAVR Archives staff digitising audiocassettes.

CAVR Archives staff digitising audiocassettes.

It is fair to say that since our visit in 2011, the Secretariat has been in a state of limbo. Legislative instruments for the establishment of an Institute of Memory lapsed with the 2012 elections and there are few public signs that the matter has received urgent attention since. This uncertainty seems also to be reflected in the day-to-day work of the Secretariat, including the management of the archives.

There has over recent years been some disquiet from researchers about access to the archives. Unlike some overseas visitor experience, however, East Timorese researchers told me they had no trouble accessing the archives. On the other hand, these same researchers found that the lack of printed or electronic guides to the collection content made it difficult for staff to locate requested archival materials.

That said, there have been positive developments in archival preservation, including:

  • Post-CAVR has established some links with Indonesia’s National Archive and recently purchased from there a large quantity of archive boxes to replace less suitable containers currently being used. It is not clear whether increased links with the Indonesian archive are planned.
  • More significantly, archives staff have begun in-house digitisation of thousands of audio-cassette recordings of individual testimonies and interviews. While the processes being employed do not meet generally-recognised archival standards, they do significantly enhance the protection of these unique materials.
  • A substantial number of records of CAVR public hearings have been digitised and lodged with the British Library – as a means of external backup and to facilitate access internationally.

We hope the reported interest of both  the President and the new Prime Minister in establishing a CAVR follow-up institution will be acted on by the Parliament in the near future. And we hope such legislation will include clear statements on the need to preserve the archives following recognised standards, add to them and make them more easily accessible for research.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Margarida Mesquita and Cristina Prata for their invaluable assistance in Dili.

Many thanks to management and staff at each of the institutions for giving me the time to discuss their programs. Any opinions or errors of fact and interpretation are, of course, my responsibility alone. JW

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Note: Other CHART notes on archives in Timor-Leste, including links to our 2003 and 2009 reports, can be found on this website’s Timorese Archives section.

 

 


Kevin Sherlock, 8 March 1934 – 2 October 2014

8 October 2014

All of us in the East Timor archives, history and research communities have lost one of our most treasured resource people. Kevin Sherlock devoted the second half of his life to finding, collecting and then selflessly and enthusiastically sharing knowledge, historic and current literature and archival materials about Timor.

We dedicate this page to his life, work and memory by providing information or links to items by or about Kevin. We start the ball rolling with a pointer to our 2011 article about Kevin. We will add material over coming days and invite readers to offer further information or reflections.

Kevin Sherlock at home in his own library/archive. June 2011

Kevin Sherlock at home in his own library/archive. June 2011

CHART Profile, June 2011

See this brief profile on Kevin Sherlock arising from a visit to his home in 2011. The piece includes a link to his 480-page list of items in his collection and Kevin’s own account of how he began and conducted his Timor-life’s work.

Online references

[Under construction]

Tributes

[Under construction]


CHART FUNDRAISING EVENT: Melbourne, August 19

1 August 2014

sidney-flyer-header

A forthcoming public talk on post-election Indonesia by the internationally-recognised expert on contemporary Indonesian politics, Sidney Jones, will raise money for CHART’s East Timor archival work.

The event is organised by Peter McMullin and the Melbourne legal firm Cornwall Stodart in partnership with the Victorian Branch of the Australian Institute for International Affairs.

Sidney Jones
Sidney Jones is founder and director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict. From 2002 to 2013, she was with the International Crisis Group’s Asia program, as Southeast Asia director and then as senior adviser. From 1977-2002, Sidney variously worked with the Ford Foundation, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. She is well known in Timor advocacy circles for her detailed research on human rights violations during the occupation.

Register to attend
Formal registration is required to attend this event.  Please register by close of business on Thursday August 14 through this online registration form.

Entry by donation to CHART
This event will assist CHART to raise much-needed funds for its ongoing Timor archives work. The organisers recommend a donation of $150 but if that is beyond (or below!) the means of some, other amounts are accepted. Donations to CHART are tax deductible.*

We look forward to your attendance and your support for our work.

John Waddingham
CHART Archivist & Manager

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*Please Note: Under tax deductible gift rules, the first $25 of your donation to attend this event will not be tax deductible.

Further information: event[at]timorarchives.info or phone 0421 179 533

Event leaflet


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


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