Online: Timor International Solidarity Archive

8 September 2020

There are now several online collections of Timor-Leste archival records for the years 1974-1999. We introduce here the most recent of the resources, David Webster’s Timor International Solidarity Archive. While still developing, it promises to be a ‘go-to’ platform for placing and accessing worldwide archives on Timor and an example for Timor-Leste archival institutions.

The Timor International Solidarity Archive (TiSA) provides online access to digital copies of Timor solidarity movement records, 1975-1999. TiSA is the initiative of the Canadian Timor activist and academic historian, David Webster.

TiSA is the first collection of Timor archives to be delivered online using an archives-specific database system. (1) As the database grows, it will be a useful example for Timor-Leste’s developing archival institutions as they consider collection management and online access systems.

Top ten collections by numbers of digitised items online.

Currently the database lists over 60 international solidarity groups and individuals who created Timor materials in the occupation years. The majority of groups represented to date are from various European countries, north America and Australia.

There are currently about a thousand items listed in 34 collections, most of which include digital copies. An ‘item’ can be a single document, such as a letter or photograph, or can contain many separate documents.

Within each collection, the items are generally arranged into one or more ‘series’ or groups: Documents, publications, photographs, newsletters and newspaper clippings. TiSA especially has a strong and growing online collection of solidarity newsletters.

The digital copies are currently restricted to documents and photographs. Documentary materials are delivered in PDF format; some of them are text searchable. The copies are created through scanning or direct photography. The quality of some of the photographed items is at the lower-end, but entirely sufficient.

Some Highlights
TiSA has a strong record set from the Canadian ETAN (East Timor Alert Network) and 1990s news compilations from the USA’s ETAN (East Timor Action Network). Less well-known to the post Santa-Cruz Massacre generation of activists is the Timor work of early US activists such as Michael Chamberlain and Arnold Kohen.

One surprising entry in TiSA is the Asian-African Conference Bulletin, published by Indonesia’s Department of Foreign Affairs in 1955, reporting in English on the historic Bandung Conference of non-aligned countries. While containing no Timor content, it is included for research on decolonisation.

Navigating and Searching
Any exploration of archives databases is made easier if users understand the different levels of archival description. TiSA uses the most common basic archival hierarchy: Collection > Series > File > Item. This means that a given collection is made up of a number of groups (‘Series’). Each Series contains one or more ‘Files’ and each File can contain one or more ‘Items’. Every entry in TiSA  includes information about its place in that hierarchy.

The opening TiSA screen invites browsing in a number of ways, the top three ways being ‘archival descriptions’ (data on all description levels), ‘collections’ (actually provides the names of ‘creators’ (2)) and archival institutions (where the original archives are held). This is a good way to get a feel for the range of material in the database.

A simple search box at the top of the TiSA screen will find a search term wherever that term is in the database. As the database grows, this method may produce too many results for certain common terms. Generally, we find it is well worth the time to learn to use the advanced search screen to help keep search results more specific.

CHART comments
TiSA has the potential to set the standard for present and future online access to Timor archives. Its value will be greatly enhanced by contributions of material from solidarity groups around the world. Some CHART-created materials are accessible through TiSA; more contributions to come in the near future.

From an end-user point of view, TiSA might be improved by development of a front page which includes the best aspects of the browse function and the advanced search screen. Missing from TiSA, and all but one of the available online databases, is a set of subject headings to use in searches. (3)

In the meantime, it might be useful for end-users to be provided with a basic online guide to the structure of the data and methods for browsing and searching. The search results will be further enhanced by ensuring that key data elements like description levels and creators are consistently entered into the database.

With the exception of the Max Stahl Audiovisual Archive with its highly specialised database, Timor-Leste archives do not yet appear to have adopted archives-specific systems to manage and provide access to their collections. At least one Timor-Leste archival institution is seeing TiSA as a potential model for its own archives management system. We hope other institutions will follow this example.

[See also a Tetum-language version of this article]


(1) Access to Memory (AtoM) is an open-source free-to-download database system started by the International Council of Archives (ICA) to encourage the use of archival description procedures in small-to-medium size institutions. It is currently being maintained and improved by a Canadian company, Artefactual Systems. AtoM is used in a wide range of institutions internationally – especially in English and Portuguese-speaking countries.

(2) This ‘problem’ is too complicated to discuss here. Suffice to say, we would expect a Browse option called ‘Collections’ to list data with that particular ‘level’ of description. ‘Creator’ is not a level of description, it is a so-called ‘authority record’ (names of people, organisations etc) which can be linked to archival descriptions of any level.

(3) See brief discussion of subject headings in CHART’s 2013 article about CIDAC’s Timor Online resource.

Acknowledgement: CHART provided some early guidance on the development of TiSA. Many thanks to David Webster for the opportunity and for permissions to ‘look behind the scenes’ at the TiSA/AtoM setup.

Timor archives of Anthony Goldstone (1945-2016)

19 February 2018

Anthony Goldstone’s skills as researcher, analyst and writer put him in the top rank of international actors who uncovered the full drama and tragedy of Timor-Leste under Indonesian occupation from 1975. Guest contributor, Edie Bowles, writes of her experience sorting Anthony’s Timor papers for long-term preservation and public access. Her account provides a valuable insight into Anthony Goldstone’s archive and stands as a fitting tribute to him and his Timor work.

Anthony Goldstone, Timor-Leste, 2005 [Source: Pat Walsh]

On September 7, 2016, the community of scholars, activists, and researchers on Timor-Leste lost one of its oldest and most knowledgeable friends, Anthony Goldstone.

Since the mid-1970s, Anthony had written and conducted research on Timor-Leste and Indonesia, first as a journalist for the Far Eastern Economic Review in Jakarta and then as staff at Amnesty International from 1978 to 1985. From 1999 he served on successive UN missions. Between 2003 and 2005 he was general co-editor of Chega!, the 3,000-page report of Timor-Leste’s Commission on Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation (CAVR). On learning of his final illness, the then Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, Dr. Rui Araujo, wrote to Anthony to express gratitude for his long commitment to the country.

Sorting the archive
In mid-May 2017, Rebecca Engel, Luiz Viera, and I gathered at the home of Anthony and his wife Georgina Wilde in Sheffield, England to sort and organise Anthony’s papers, so that they could be preserved in a permanent archive. Anthony had been a friend and mentor to us all, when we worked together in Timor-Leste in the 2000s and in the years after. We all wanted to ensure that original documents in his possession and his own contributions would be accessible to future researchers in both digital and paper form.

Edie Bowles, Rebecca Engel and Luiz Viera examining Anthony’s archives, 2017. Lola the dog cosily attending. [Source: Georgina Wilde]

Going through his papers was a humbling journey through Timor-Leste’s modern history and Anthony’s own moral and intellectual engagement with it. Georgina’s warm welcome gave the task added joy and poignancy. Each evening was a warm mix of discussion of the day’s findings, reminiscences of Anthony, and stories from the outsized little country that had brought us all together. By email from Australia, John Waddingham and Pat Walsh provided excellent technical advice.

Archives, and the story behind them…
This note is an overview of the archive and its most historically significant contents. Anthony worked on Timor-Leste for decades, and some of his most original contributions were made in the 1980s when he was a researcher at Amnesty International. Compared to the levels of international solidarity and attention in the 1970s and 1990s, there were relatively few international individuals and organisations working on Timor-Leste at that time.

The significance of the documentary record from this period lies not just in the substance it contains but in the way that it shows how researchers, journalists, and activists pieced the story together. To work on Timor-Leste during this period researchers had to track, digest, and turn into an ethically and intellectually coherent narrative fragmentary information from a country they could not visit, in the era before cell phones and email. The files contained many lengths of faded fax paper from researchers and journalists, particularly Jill Jolliffe and Arnold Kohen, as they exchanged and triangulated information with Anthony.

Major materials
Two of Anthony’s most important efforts were his translation of a set of Indonesian military manuals from 1982 and writing Amnesty International’s first full-length report on human rights violations in Timor-Leste.

Interrogation manual. Click image to view.

The nine-volume set of manuals was captured by Fretilin in late 1982 near Baucau and sent via Church channels to Abilio Araujo and the Fretilin representatives in Lisbon. Recognising their value, journalist Jill Jolliffe brought them to London where Anthony and others translated them from Bahasa Indonesia to English. In his files were tattered copies of the originals from which he had worked. His own margin notes co-mingle with those made by Xanana Gusmão before the documents were sent from Timor-Leste. Also in the files were copies of the correspondence between Anthony and other Indonesia experts aimed at authenticating the documents.

The ‘torture manuals’
The manuals explicitly legitimated the use of torture in interrogation and draconian population control measures. They therefore became an important piece of evidence in human rights campaigns against Indonesia’s refrain of a peaceful, happily integrated Timor-Leste. They became known as the ‘torture manuals,’ despite the fact that neither Anthony nor Amnesty International used this term (see Amnesty Media release). Their content and significance were actually far larger, including as they did extensive, even respectful descriptions of Fretilin/Falintil’s political and military capabilities. The English translations were reproduced in Carmel Budiardjo and Soei Liong Liem’s The War Against East Timor, published in 1984 (see extract here).

Amnesty International Report, 1985
The slim blue volume that was Amnesty’s 1985 report on human rights abuses in Timor-Leste was a remarkable achievement, considering the lack of access to the country. It contains lists of the names of those executed or disappeared, with the dates and circumstances of each death. The vast majority of this information was subsequently re-confirmed by the CAVR’s research after the end of the occupation.

In Anthony’s files were letters from the Church, individuals, other odd-lot, first-hand accounts, and reports from the Timorese resistance, which were smuggled out of the country, primarily by the Church, in the early 1980s. These documents, together with interviews from Timorese refugees in Portugal, were essential sources of information for the 1985 report.

As part of his research Anthony went to Portugal and interviewed Timorese refugees, and some of the transcripts from the interviews were in his files. Among the most significant of these were interviews with Justino Mota and Antonio Barbosa, both of whom had been Fretilin Central Committee members in 1975. They were among the few who survived the 1970s and managed to leave for Portugal in the early 1980s.

There is also an interview with Virginia de Cruz Dias Quintas (see extract) which deals at length with executions in Los Palos, including the case of Joao Branco and the 41 others executed with him in mid-1979. This was among the best known and most notorious of the 1979 wave of executions, because Branco and his company were nominally serving under the Indonesian forces at the time of their execution. These documents are also likely to be in Amnesty International’s own archive.

1999 and beyond
Approximately two-thirds of the material stemmed from 1999 and after, from Anthony’s work with successive UN missions in Timor-Leste: UNAMET; UNTAET; UNMISET; UNOTIL; and of course the CAVR. From the CAVR were copies of the community profiles, violations, victim statements, records of public hearings, and event data sheets, which document individual human rights.

CAVR Commissioners reviewing Chega! report text, Dili, 2005. Anthony at centre-rear. [Source: Pat Walsh]

Among the files relating to the UN, the most significant are materials related to the creation of Timor-Leste’s police force and army over the course of 2000 – 2002, the negotiations with Indonesia over the border regime, analysis of the 2006 crisis, and human rights, notably Indonesia’s Ad Hoc Human Rights Court, which ran from 2000 to 2003.

Anthony also served on the King’s College London team, which developed recommendations for the transformation of Falintil into the Falintil-Forças de Defesa de Timor Leste (F-FDTL) in 2000 – 2001.

Seeing Anthony through his archive
Throughout his files was evidence not just of the depth of knowledge but also the humanity and intellectual rigor that made Anthony such a fine researcher, analyst, and colleague. Accompanying the documents relating to the 1985 Amnesty report are notes, cross-references, drafts, and translations from Indonesian and Portuguese. With the post-1999 documents are notes linking contemporary events with historical documents, books, and speeches, indicating where accounts connect and diverge.

In the post-1999 world, Anthony resisted the easy consensus and ahistorical analysis that sometimes fogged international thinking around Timor-Leste, whether in the heady days of the early 2000s or during the grim, messy aftermath of the 2006 crisis. Discreet notes of ‘tosh!’ flag the assertions of the empirically lazy. At the forefront was always an understanding that both history and justice rest on truth, and truth was often only to be found in the labor-intensive mining of difficult documents and contradictory stories.

It was for this reason that Anthony’s knowledge of source material was excellent. He not only knew the history but also knew where it was squirreled away in letters, radio transmissions, and documents from the 1980s and 90s. Of the transformative political debates within the Timorese resistance, he knew who had said what, when, and where it was to be found in documents. He could explain errors and inconsistencies that had entered the historical record and why. With humor and humility, he happily recounted what he and others had gotten wrong over the years. Evidenced in his files were not only his knowledge but also his deep sense of justice.

Click to view article

Far Eastern Economic Review, November 1974

Among the earliest documents are copies of articles he had written for the Far Eastern Economic Review in the 1970s. There was a copy of a long letter to his editor at the paper about the imperative of documenting the abuses of the Suharto regime and its preparation for the invasion of Timor-Leste. He was eventually expelled from Indonesia for these views. His rather less rigorous commitment to filing was also on display, as documents from the 1980s and boarding passes from 2000 mingled in the same files.

Access to Anthony Goldstone’s archive
Anthony’s archive will go to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) / University of London. Once the agreement is finalised and documents transferred, the next step will be digitisation and cross-referencing materials with the holdings of CAVR, now the Centro Nacional Chega in Dili, Amnesty International, and other archives. Thankfully much of Anthony’s effort and knowledge, built over decades of work, went into the 3,000 page-long Chega! and dozens of other documents and books that are in the public domain.

His archive is the back-story to that work, the raw information, the building blocks, questions, and correspondence that led to accurate, morally compelling reports. It is these building blocks that will be of importance to future researchers and students as they not only learn the subject matter of Timorese history but also how stories of human rights and justice are put together.

Edie Bowles

Edie Bowles worked in Timor-Leste from 2000 to 2008, first for USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives and then the World Bank. She is currently writing a book on the history of the Timorese resistance.

Rebecca Engel lived and worked in Timor-Leste between 2002 and 2010 where she directed programming for Columbia University’s Center for International Conflict Resolution. She is currently living in London and is a Lecturer in Post-War Reconstruction at the University of York.

Luiz Vieira was the Chief of Mission of the International Organisation for Migration in Timor-Leste from 2002 to 2010. He is currently the Coordinator of the Bretton Woods Project in London.

Tapol & Timor Link now online

6 April 2015


Two influential print journals which extensively covered occupation and resistance in East Timor are now available online.

They are Tapol Bulletin, published by the UK-based Tapol and  Timor Link, published by London’s Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR, now Progressio).

In cooperation with the publishers, the journals were digitised by the Library of Victoria University in Melbourne and are accessible online through the library’s digital research repository. The digitisation project was initiated by CHART.

TAPOL Bulletin
All issues of the printed journal (1973-2008) can be seen here: Tapol – VU Research Repository.

Created by Carmel Budiarjo in 1973 to campaign for the release of political prisoners held since the 1960s by the Suharto regime, Tapol gave increasing attention to the Timor issue from the mid-1970s.

A particular strength of Tapol’s work on Timor was its knowledge of Indonesian language and politics and it played a key role in making internal Indonesian military documents available internationally.

Timor Link
Most of the issues of Timor Link can be seen here: Timor Link – VU Research Repository.

The London-based Catholic Institute for International Relations was a non-government human rights and development  organisation with interests in central America, southern Africa and Asia. CIIR’s pamphlet series, ‘Comment’ tackled the Timor issue in 1982, marking the start of the organisation’s increasingly influential voice on the topic, especially in European human rights and Christian Church circles.

Timor Link became CIIR’s principle vehicle for news and advocacy on Timor from its inception in 1985 until it ceased publication in 2002.

CHART will add links for these journals to its online access point for digitised Timor newsletters – CHART Periodicals.

Chart wishes to thank staff of the Victoria University Library for taking on this digitisation project – especially  Ralph Kiel, Adrian Gallagher, Mark Armstrong-Roper, Lyn Wade and Ingrid Unger.

We also wish to thank Tapol and Progressio staff for their most agreeable response to the project idea – especially Paul Barber and Barbara Patilla (Tapol) and Daniel Hale (Progressio).


Note on Tapol/CIIR archives
The materials collected and created by Tapol and CIIR during their years of public advocacy on Timor will be of much interest to future researchers.

Tapol archives: Most of the Tapol archive is held by the Mario Soares Foundation (FMS) in Lisbon as part of a larger collection of its Timorese Resistance archive. Some 6,500 items from the Tapol archive can be seen in digital form on the FMS-created database, Casa Comum.

CIIR / Timor Link: CIIR’s extensive collection of Timor materials has been preserved but is not yet available for research access. CHART briefly examined the collection in London in late 2013; further information to come.

CIDAC: Timor documents online

16 June 2013

CIDAC in Lisbon has digitised and made publicly available thousands of Timor archival documents.

We provide here a brief introduction to the collection contents and some preliminary observations on the search and access system of this marvellous addition to online archives about East Timor.

CIDAC's linking image to its online facility. Source: CIDAC

CIDAC’s linking image to its online archive. [Source: CIDAC]

Established in 1974, CIDAC (Centro de Intervenção para o Desenvolvimento Amílcar Cabral) in Portugal has been a long-time centre for activism and advocacy in support of East Timorese self-determination and independence. CIDAC holds the documentary records of two internationally known Portuguese solidarity organisations, CDPM (Comissao para os Direitos do Povo Maubere) and APPTL (A Paz é Possível em Timor-Leste).

CHART understands that CDPM, on ceasing its activities, committed to eventually housing its Timor documentary collection in a suitable repository in Timor-Leste. As an interim action, CIDAC has digitised some 10,000 items for universal access. According to the CIDAC website, the digitisation project was assisted with funding from the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.

Collection contents
Timor Online is a varied and rich collection of primary source documents and published materials – predominantly covering the years 1974-1999. It includes items written or created inside Timor before and during the occupation years as well as materials from the political Timorese diaspora and non-Timorese activists and non-government organisations world-wide.

One very valuable component of this digital library is comprehensive digital versions of some key activist newsletters from the occupation period. Titles include: Timor-Leste: Boletim de informação do CIDAC, Informações Timor-Leste & East Timor News – Monthly Memo (CDPM/APPTL), Funu (CDPM), Fitun (Estevão Cabral), East Timor News (CIET, Australia), Hadomi (Comunidade Timorense de Victoria), Informações (Gatimor / UDT),  Kaibauk (UDT) and Nakroma (DFSE).*

Searching and access
Access to all documents is governed by a conventional library-type search screen. Three methods of searching are possible – simple, basic and advanced. After several hours of exploring the collection, CHART recommends the advanced search screen for most searches.

'Advanced' search screen. Arrows indicate CHART-preferred settings.

‘Advanced’ search screen. Arrows indicate CHART-preferred settings.

Whatever the search term and method used, the search result is a list of items in the digital library, arranged in alphabetical order by author/creator of the item. The system searches for terms in the descriptions of the items only – Author, Title, Date (year) etc – it does not look for words in the documents themselves. Digitised documents are presented in the widely-used PDF file format.

Initial observations
Some experimental searches are required to get a feel for the collection’s contents and the data used to describe the documents. CHART recommends the ‘detailed’ record format (see red arrow in graphic) for search results because it provides the best picture of each document’s descriptive data as well as providing a direct link to the document (if digitised; most are).

Subject headings: Headings have been assigned to all items. This can be a useful way to find related materials, but requires some search ‘tricks’ to be fully successful. For example, entering the term ‘Cruz Vermelha’ (Red Cross) in the ‘Subject’ box of the search screen produces no results, but entering (exactly!) the term ‘Organizacoes Internacionais- -Cruz Vermelha’ produces 107 items by or about Red Cross.

Alternately, using the term ‘Cruz Vermelha’ as a ‘sentence’ in the simple search screen produces 111 records by or about Red Cross. The same term used in the ‘Author’ field of the advanced screen produces no results but using the terms ‘ICRC-CICR’ or ‘Comite international de la croix-rouge’ in the Author field produces 20 items created by International Red Cross. [See this search results list for these latter items.]

These problems are common to many search systems and can be confusing. One way to help the searcher overcome them is to provide a browse-able list of subject headings and authors to aid accurate and productive searching.

PDF files: The provided PDF files are photographic images of the original materials and do not contain searchable text. Another notable aspect of the files is that some are quite large. For example, Issue 67 of CIET’s East Timor News is over 37Mb in size. This item takes several minutes to download from the Portugal-based server. It would be possible to significantly reduce the file sizes to speed up access.

Congratulations to CIDAC
The preparation of such a digitised set of documents is a formidable task. The task of then providing access over the internet presents a set of different challenges which CIDAC has had to face and do the best possible with available resources.

CHART offers its congratulations to CIDAC for doing this work. Timor Online is a marvellous addition to the online documentary record of East Timor’s recent history.**

* For a list of all newsletters in Timor Online, enter the letters PER in the Call number field of the Advanced search screen.

** The other major easily accessible online collection is available through the Timorese Resistance Archive and Museum.

Many thanks to Luis Pinto for drawing our attention to CIDAC’s Timor Online.

1965/66 Indonesian massacres echoed in East Timor

26 February 2013

A recent Canberra seminar on the infamous mass violence in Indonesia in 1965-66 revealed many parallels with East Timorese experience under Indonesian military occupation a decade later.

CHART’s John Waddingham participated, sharing his Timor archives project experience with those now seeking to build and share documentary evidence on Indonesia’s trauma in the 1960s.

Indonesian leftists being herded off to public execution. [Source: Unknown]

Indonesian leftists being herded off to public execution. [Source: Unknown]

The killings of several hundred thousand communists and alleged sympathisers marked the rise to presidential power of General Suharto in 1965-66. The broad story has been well-known but the detail has not.

Any critical discussion of the Suharto government’s official narrative on the killings, and its subsequent long-term imprisonment of huge numbers of ‘leftists’, was taboo in Indonesia. The fall of Suharto in 1998 has seen the lid lifted. Indonesian non-government organisations, activists and academics are now openly exploring those events – many with the aim of seeking reparations for victims and their families and holding perpetrators accountable for crimes against humanity.

Seminar topics
Held at the Australian National University, Canberra, New perspectives on the 1965 violence in Indonesia (11-13 February 2013) was organised by Australian-based academics researching 1965. In addition to well-known western researchers in this area like Robert Cribb and Kate McGregor, a number of very active researchers and activists flew in from Indonesia to communicate their work.

Topics included the emerging public debate in Indonesia, the local and Cold War aspects of the killings, Indonesian activist actions to counter the official narrative, to remove stigmas still disadvantaging victims’ families, to collect victim and perpetrator first-hand accounts and to document claims for justice and reparations. Several presentations explored the relationship between Suharto’s military and militias and other non-state actors responsible for many killings. The evidence for external support for the military, especially from the USA and UK, was one of a number of consistent threads in seminar discussion.

Komnas HAM report launch, Jakarta, July 2012.

Komnas HAM report launch, Jakarta, July 2012. [Jakarta Post]

Komnas HAM report
A recent four year study on 1965 by the official Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) was also discussed. The Commission’s landmark report, completed in July 2012, reported evidence of widespread crimes against humanity including killings, slavery, forced removal and displacement, torture, rape, extra-legal executions. The report recommended State apologies and reparations for victims and that responsible Indonesian military officials be charged with crimes against humanity. The 200-page Indonesian language executive summary is available here.

The Komnas HAM investigations shows that the issue is no longer taboo, but some reactions to the report suggest resistance to truth and justice on the matter remains strong. Indonesia’s Attorney-General, responsible for implementing the recommendations, has rejected the report’s legitimacy.

Shared experience: Indonesians and East Timorese. [CHART]

Shared experience: Indonesians and East Timorese. [CHART]

CHART inputs
CHART participated in the third day of the seminar – a closed session for current activists and researchers to exchange views, information resources and strategies. While time was restricted, John Waddingham outlined CHART’s program and methods to locate, document and provide access to archival materials. He particularly emphasised the importance of authenticating documents to ensure they were genuine and the need to demonstrate the authenticity of newly collected oral and documentary evidence from victims and perpetrators so that they cannot be challenged as fabrications.

Many exact matches were observed in the language to describe the 1965/66 killings and the invasion and occupation of East Timor. This shared experience provides an opportunity for Indonesians and East Timorese to better understand each other’s modern history.

The strong emergence of a raft of Indonesian activists and others now digging into their hidden past is a marvellous development. We hope that one spin-off from this blossoming will be increasing interest from Indonesians in uncovering documentary and other evidence of their military’s interventions in East Timor.

– – – – – – – – – –  

Useful introductory guides to the topic:

Inside Indonesia special edition, 2010

Online Encyclopedia of mass violence item, 2009