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.


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.


* 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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

Max Stahl Video Archive: Holdings listed

31 October 2011

CHART is pleased to publish here the first comprehensive listings of the collection of the Centro Audiovisual Max Stahl Timor-Leste (CAMSTL) in Dili. These listings were created by CHART from CAMSTL data provided by the Centre’s founder, Max Stahl.

Max Stahl explains archive program to CHART's Cecily Gilbert, July 2011

Max Stahl needs no introduction. His stunning footage of the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in Dili played a central role in strongly increasing international opinion against the Indonesian military occupation of East Timor.

Less well-known is the extensive holdings of the video archive Max has established in Timor-Leste over the past decade – the Centro Audiovisual Max Stahl Timor-Leste (CAMSTL).

Today’s events, tomorrow’s archives
Stahl’s 1990s raw footage and production pieces on military occupation and resistance are only part of the total collection at now at CAMSTL. He and a team of East Timorese are creating an audiovisual record of the first years of newly independent Timor-Leste. The archive holds significant footage on developments in the territory while under United Nations administration until 2002. Since then, a large amount of material has been recorded – covering historical interviews and present day economic, social, political and other institutional events and developments in Timor-Leste.

In addition to filming these subjects, the CAMSTL team has developed hundreds of detailed summaries and transcripts of the material and a growing number of formal production titles in local languages. Such material will prove invaluable to future generations of East Timorese, including its educators and historians to come.

Footage Lists
Raw video footage lists are presented here by year of video creation. Click on year to see relevant list.

1991 1993-98 1999 2000 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 (part year)

A small sample of available transcripts is provided below.
1991. Interview with David Alex, FALINTIL
1991. Santa Cruz Massacre
1999. Refugees in Atapupu, Alor and Atauro
2002. Interview with Padre Domingos Soares
2006. Scenes from the developing political crisis
2008. Xanana Gusmao declares ‘State of Seige’ (after Horta shooting).

CHART will add significant numbers of these transcripts in coming months. They will be found on CHART’s dedicated CAMSTL web page.

1992 Xanana capture: Indonesian records

23 May 2011

Xanana Gusmao moments after his capture. Dili, 20 November 1992

Indonesian video footage of the 1992 capture of East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao is the tip of an iceberg of still-secret Indonesian records about its military invasion and occupation of East Timor.

Aired on Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service program, Dateline, on 22 May 2011, the footage shows Indonesian preparations for the raid on a house in Dili where Xanana was known to be hiding, the armed raid and arrest and parts of a later exchange between Xanana and the head of the Indonesian military, General Try Sutrisno, who flew to Dili on news of the capture. The footage also shows Xanana’s belongings – including weapons and documents.

Questions arising
Several obvious questions arise from viewing this footage: What was the origin of the footage used by SBS and is other material available from that source; will this material be made available to East Timorese institutions for long-term preservation and access; given the relatively poor quality of the footage, does a better master exist; are the documents and weapons captured with Xanana still kept in Indonesia and if so, will they ever be repatriated to East Timor?

Xanana interrogation in Bali – more detail
A further pointer to Indonesian records of the Xanana capture can be found in a 2007 account of Xanana’s interrogation in Bali just days after his arrest in Dili.

Xanana with his interrogator, Lieut-Col. Nurhana, Bali, 1992

Nurhana Tirtaamijaya, an Indonesian military police commander in 1992 and Xanana’s principal interrogator, published in 2007 a personal account of his encounters with the prized political prisoner. Pak Nurhana’s account, while emphasising his claimed ‘victory’ over Xanana, also gives some insight into the sequence of events between the resistance leader’s arrest and his incarceration in Cipinang Prison.

Australian researcher Ernie Chamberlain has translated the Nurhana text. A small selection of images from the interrogation, including captions identifying participants, can be found on Nurhana’s website (scroll through images). See also:
Xanana & Nurhana : Xanana writing : Xanana with laughing interrogators : Xanana laughing

Tapping into Indonesian records
Pak Nurhana says the story he tells was once a State top secret. Hopefully, his preparedness to tell his story publicly means other knowledgeable Indonesians may be prepared to also release their Timor information.

The task of seeking, finding and securing primary records of Indonesia’s East Timor history is large and urgent. We hope this task will be taken up by the people who can best do this – interested and concerned Indonesians.

Thanks to Ernie Chamberlain for drawing my attention to the Nurhana article and, especially, for his translation.

Thanks to Sara Niner for the use of her Xanana capture image – taken from her blog item on the topic.

Nurhana Tirtaamijaya website