Upcoming legislation in Timor-Leste’s parliament marks a critical moment in the long-term preservation of, and public access to, Timor’s truth commission archives.
Timor’s 2001-2005 Commission for Reception, Truth & Reconciliation (CAVR) and the 2005-2008 Indonesia-Timor joint Commission for Truth & Friendship (CTF) both hold archival records of long-term importance to the people of Timor-Leste, Indonesia and the broader international community.
Both commissions made broadly similar recommendations on the need for addressing justice and reparations issues arising from the violations of human rights they documented. Similarly, both commissions recommended the creation of formal entities to preserve and provide access to the respective commission archives and to collect, house and provide access to related materials currently held outside Timor-Leste.
Draft legislation defining the institutional framework for implementing the recommendations of both commissions is now under active consideration by the relevant parliamentary committee. Committee A heard Timorese non-government organisations and victims groups’ comments on the draft legislation in early July. The Committee is expected to submit the legislation to Parliament for debate in September.
The Timorese NGO La’o Hamutuk is maintaining a valuable guide to this process, including background documents, links to the draft legislation text and some critical commentary on it.
Archival principles important
CHART’s brief submission on the draft legislation – limited to commentary and suggestions on specific archival aspects – can be found here.
The final form of the institutional arrangements to keep the commission archives is unclear. Regardless of the structure, some basic archival principles will need to be adopted. They include:
Any legal action against perpetrators or reparations for victims must necessarily be based on evidence. If material collected by either commission can contribute to any such future actions, it is absolutely crucial that the evidence is protected against accidental, environmental or intentional/malicious loss, defacement or destruction.
For this reason, the legislation should enshrine the need to follow recognised international archival standards and practices for managing and protecting these important materials. Additionally, an offsite copy of the archives – similar to the post-CAVR secretariat’s initial projects with the British Library – should be mandated.
A piece of evidence is more likely to accepted if it can be authenticated as belonging to a body of evidence from a documented process or investigation. For this reason alone, it is important to keep records gathered by each commission as separate and distinct collections so there can be no confusion about the origins (gathering process, source) of the evidence.
For similar reasons, any related material collected later by the new institution should be maintained separately and not interfiled with either commission’s archive.
Public access to truth commission archives internationally is a complex issue. Restrictions on access to confidential victim statements from individuals may be necessary to protect the victim’s privacy or protect them against pressure or harm from alleged perpetrators. Allegations against individual perpetrators, yet to be tested in some legal process, may need to be protected to prevent private revenge actions.
These examples need to be balanced against the need for access to the records for reparation, legal, educational, historical research and memory reasons.
In the absence of post-independence laws in Timor-Leste on access to government documents and national archives, the current legisation should define rules on access – probably specifying that the post-CAVR secretariat’s access guidelines be adopted as an interim measure.
Anecdotal evidence from researchers suggests already some difficulty in ease of access to CAVR archives, despite the existence of an access policy. Hopefully an ethos of public access – within prudent limits mentioned above – will be enshrined in the new institution, whatever form it might take.