An Australian Senate Inquiry into conditions in East Timor was established in 1981 following a concerted public campaign by non-government organisations and solidarity groups. The East Timor Sub-committee of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA) played a key role in the campaign.
Once the Inquiry was established, ACFOA was then concerned to ensure that the most up-to-date information from inside East Timor was put before it. With Indonesian military restrictions making a visit to Timor impossible, a number of aid agencies sent a private two-person mission to Indonesia to seek current data from East Timorese in Jakarta.
We summarise here the information found during this 1982 ‘hunting & gathering’ mission to Indonesia.
In March 1982, John Waddingham and Chris Dureau SJ visited Jakarta for two weeks to seek information from Timorese, Indonesian and foreign sources on current conditions in East Timor.
Their arrival in Jakarta coincided with the public revelation of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s visit to Timor on March 1-4. Whitlam’s visit, organised by Jakarta’s Centre for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), was arguably also designed and timed with the Senate Inquiry in mind.
Timorese and other sources in Jakarta
There was a substantial number of East Timorese in Jakarta in 1982. A small stream of Timorese working with the Indonesian administration travelled between Dili and the capital. There was an increasing number of Timorese students in Jakarta, along with a growing number of Timorese refugees from Dili stuck in Jakarta while trying to get out of Indonesia (2).
A few Indonesian non-government organisations such as Lembaga Bantuan Hukum (LBH – Legal Aid Institute), Christian churches with Timor links and Indonesian or foreign journalists were also potential sources of information.
Given the high degree of political sensitivity of the East Timor issue in Jakarta and a strong climate of fear amongst the Timorese in particular, most meetings with potential sources were in-confidence and on condition that they were not publicly identified.
No shortage of information
A significant body of data was collected – both in document form and through interviews with individuals with first-hand knowledge of events and conditions in Timor over the previous twelve months.
In addition to strong confirmation of the general picture of East Timorese difficulties under Indonesia occupation, the information gathered was particularly notable in these ways:
* Evidence of the growing voice of the East Timorese Catholic Church against human rights abuses.
* More data on the 1981 Indonesian ‘fence of legs’ military operation.
* Information fragments on the emergence of Xanana Gusmao as a new leader of the armed resistance.
We provide access here to some key elements of materials gathered in March 1982
A compilation of collected material entitled East Timor Dossier March 1982 (large file; ~6Mb) was the main output of the mission. It contains rough English translations of Indonesian and Portuguese-language documents, notes of interviews with individuals, a brief guide to the content and source of the documents and a subject index to the interview material.
The Dossier was submitted to the Senate Inquiry and privately circulated to key international Timorese and non-Timorese advocates.
Other material collected included a set of transcripts of Indonesian interrogations of East Timorese accused of planning an uprising in Liquica in early 1981. To protect the source of the documents and the accused East Timorese, these items were excluded from the Dossier compilation. A small sample of the documents and rough translations is provided here.
Senate Inquiry transcript
Waddingham and Dureau gave verbal testimony on their findings to the Senate Inquiry. The evidence was given in-camera to protect Timorese sources in Jakarta. The passage of time now makes it possible to put the testimony into the public arena. Compared to the Dossier, it contains very little information of value – except perhaps to provide an insight into the efforts of some Senators to question the significance or value of the data collected.
Significance of the event
Information flowing from Jakarta-based sources prior to 1982 was intermittent, at best. The 1982 visit established that much information on developments and conditions in East Timor was available in Jakarta – albeit at some considerable personal risk to informants. Similar information-seeking visits to Jakarta in following years yielded valuable documentary insights into closed East Timor.
Thirty years later, the information in the material collected in 1982 seems fragmentary and at times contradictory. It was all those things – but such is the nature of raw data gathered in difficult circumstances. This data contributed greatly to building a picture of conditions in East Timor in 1981-82. This material also provides an insight into the limits of the data available to external advocates for East Timorese self-determination in the early 1980s.
(1) Senate Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs and Defence Inquiry into ‘The Human Rights and Conditions of the People of East Timor’.
(2)Many of the refugees were East Timorese on an Australian-Indonesia-agreed list for family reunion in Australia but who were unable to pay unofficial bureaucratic bribes to obtain exit visas.
The original documents and translations presented here are held in the archival collections of Timor Information Service and the ACFOA Human Rights Office. Both collections are in CHART’s custody.