Vale Max Stahl, 1954-2021

1 November 2021

A legendary figure in Timor-Leste’s struggle for independence, the film-maker Max Stahl has died after his own long battle with illness. CHART’s chairperson, Prof. Michael Leach, reflects on Max’s contribution to, and place, in Timor-Leste’s history.

Timor-Leste is in mourning with the news that Max Stahl, filmmaker and journalist, lost his long battle with cancer in a Brisbane hospital on 28 October 2021 .

Stahl’s film footage of the infamous 12 November 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in Dili, in which Indonesian soldiers killed as many as 250 young Timorese protesters, shocked the world. Coming after the well publicised visit of Pope John Paul II to East Timor in 1989, the footage put Timor-Leste’s struggle for self-determination back on the international map. This occurred just as the Cold War was ending, shifting international politics in favour of the Timorese.

Originally known as Christopher Wenner, Stahl had been a British television host and actor before becoming a filmmaker and war correspondent. His personal bravery in taking the footage during the 1991 massacre is evident, as TNI soldiers opened fire at close range on thousands of Timorese protestors.

Stahl concealed the tapes in a grave, retrieving them by night after his own arrest and interrogation. With the assistance of activist and journalist Saskia Kouwenberg, and others, the footage was smuggled out of the territory. It soon hit TV screens around the world, demonstrating the brutality of the Indonesian occupation, and the determination of a younger generation of East Timorese to resist integration.

Few individuals influence the course of history, but it is hard not to see the journalist Max Stahl as an exception. His footage of the Santa Cruz massacre galvanised and directly stimulated new international support for the independence struggle. Indeed, it is hard to imagine Timor-Leste’s liberation in 1999 without Max Stahl’s footage at the beginning of that decade.

Stahl’s commitment to Timor-Leste continued through the 1990s and after the restoration of independence, especially through his establishment of the Centro Audiovisual Max Stahl Timor-Leste (CAMSTL). The Centro maintains a video archive of the Timorese struggle for independence including the 1999 referendum, interviews with key independence figures and extensive footage of the first two decades of the new nation’s journey (see note below).

The Timorese government has paid tribute to his “substantial contribution to independence” and awarded him their highest honours, including honorary citizenship.

As former President Jose Ramos-Horta declared:

We honour him as one of the true heroes of our struggle…There are only a few key points in the history of Timor-Leste where the course of our nation turned toward freedom. This was one of those points.

It was the first time our message broke through to the world. Human rights networks went into action. Senators, Congressmen and Parliamentarians came to our side. And this happened when one man was willing to risk his life to document up close what was happening and smuggled the message out of our country.

Max Stahl’s passing will now throw open the question of the future of his passionately-built video archive. We can think of no better way for Timor-Leste to honour Max’s memory than for CAMSTL to become a fully-resourced, properly housed and professionally-run National Audiovisual Archive of Timor-Leste.

Michael Leach, 29 October 2021.

Samples of the work of Max Stahl and his team can be viewed online at CAMSTL’s backup/mirror installation at the University of Coimbra, Portugal.

Photograph source: East Timor Relief Association (ETRA) archives.

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.

Falintil: Building the archival record

21 August 2012

August 20 is celebrated annually in Timor-Leste as the foundation day of Falintil*, the East Timorese resistance army. Falintil was founded in 1975, initially as a military wing of Fretilin, to fight in the brief civil war and then the many years of resistance to Indonesian military occupation which followed.

Timor Archives marks this event with a mention of two archival fragments on Falintil and some discussion on securing the archival record for future generations.

Snapshot of Tempo Semanal’s Falintil Album on Facebook.

To mark Falintil Day 2012, the East Timorese media organisation Tempo Semanal published almost 900 resistance-related images on its Facebook fan page. The photographs appear to range in time from 1975 to the early post-1999 referendum period. They include many portraits of Falintil leaders and troops and life in resistance areas.

Many of these historically important images are familiar; seen in private and public collections in Timor and internationally. Many of the images can also be seen in an online collection of East Timor’s Resistance Archive and Museum (AMRT). A 1975 set of images of Indonesian military forces in the album were featured last year on this website (see: Invasion 1975 – Photographs).

Long term archival questions
Tempo Semanal’s album is an eye-catching celebration and reminder of Falintil’s history. However, in common with similar collections of historical materials posted on Facebook and elsewhere, it is unlikely to serve as a reliable repository of archival information for future generations.

The problem with such collections is that they provide little or no information about image origins such as photographer, place, date and circumstance. Facebook users are invited or urged to add such information to the images in the online album. This is a marvellous opportunity to increase knowledge of the images, but who will take responsibility for making sure this data is kept for, and will be accessible to, future generations after Facebook disappears?

Timorese institutional solution?
Such information is most likely to be preserved by an archival institution equipped and dedicated to such tasks. Currently in Timor-Leste the AMRT leads the way in preserving and documenting archival records of the resistance, but it also has significant limitations. The Archive does not yet appear to have a regular system for seeking and recording additional information or data corrections from collection users.

What is needed is a system which not only displays archival collections but invites and allows knowledgeable users to submit missing information about individual items. Such a system needs institutional management and supervision and would be suited to organisations like the AMRT or the envisaged Institute of Memory or National Library.


Alarico Fernandes on early Falintil
We also present here a unique fragment of Falintil-related history – an audio recording of Alarico Fernandes describing some of the events in Aileu in August 1975 which were part of the formation of Falintil at that time. To listen, Click ‘play’ arrow below.

Attending a Timor strategy conference with Jose Ramos-Horta in Melbourne on 22-23 November 1975, Alarico gave a short account of the civil war and post-civil war Fretilin organisation. At the time, he was Secretary for Internal Affairs and Security in the post-civil war Fretilin administration. While the audio fragment does not decisively add new data to the known historical record of Falintil’s formation, its power lies in hearing the voice of a significant person in Fretilin’s and Falintil’s 1975-78 history.

Capturing Falintil history
The Alarico Fernandes fragment is one of an unknown number of related audio items on resistance history. Some date from 1975, others are recorded interviews with veterans during the post 1999 independence years. Many of these recordings are yet to find their way into institutional repositories for long-term preservation and access.

Alarico Fernandes is still alive but reportedly fragile in body and spirit. He, in common with many of the surviving original Timorese resistance generation, will not be with us forever. It is a matter of considerable urgency that the knowledge of the resistance generation is captured as fully as possible while it remains possible.

Ultimately this is a task for enthusiastic East Timorese and their emerging professional archival institutions.



* Falintil is the acronym for Forças Armadas da Libertação Nacional de Timor-Leste (Armed Forces for the National Liberation of East Timor).

Alarico Fernandes recording made by Timor Information Service, Melbourne, November 1975. Original in TIS archives.

Authenticating documents

5 March 2012

During the years 1975-1999, hundreds if not thousands of documents originating in East Timor were circulated internally and internationally. Most items circulated internationally were photocopies, not the original document. Recipients of these copies could assume the document was authentic at the time because it came to them from a known or reliable source. In other words, they knew something of the document’s ‘provenance’ or chain of ownership. When documents (especially copies) appear with no obvious provenance, can we trust them as accurate and authentic records?

In the first of a series of articles about authenticity, CHART explores here one significant document whose provenance is unclear. In addition to inviting comment on the particular document, we also seek feedback and discussion on the general authenticity issue.

CAVR Library. Item TX294

The library of Timor-Leste’s Post-CAVR* Secretariat at Comarca/Balide in Dili holds a series of background documents from a wide variety of sources. Displayed in labelled magazine boxes, these documents are freely available for library users to browse and read.

A magazine box labelled ‘Fretilin’ contains a series of published and unpublished documents, including a photocopy of an untitled 53-page typescript item.

1981 Resistance re-organisation
This Portuguese-language document records the proceedings of a national conference held by the Fretilin-led East Timorese resistance in March 1981. The document reviews critically the conduct of the resistance since Indonesia’s 1975 invasion, describes the current situation and outlines future resistance structure and strategies. The document includes election results for formal positions within the organised resistance, including the election of Xanana Gusmao as Political Commissar and Commander of the armed resistance, Falintil. The document also records a formal Fretilin structural and name-change to Partido Marxista-Leninista Fretilin (PMLF).

This item is clearly a key source document on the restructuring of the formal East Timorese resistance in the wake of its decimation in 1978-79. Because the Post-CAVR Secretariat which holds this public copy has no record of the document’s origins, we need to examine it closely to attempt to establish its authenticity.

Click to view 1981 document

Authenticity – physical evidence
A viewing of the document raises some questions about its origins. Unlike many documents from Timorese sources in the 1980s, this document bears no stamps or signatures (but is attributed to Mau Hodu Ran Kadalak, Conference Secretary). The contents list (Indice) on the first page of the document includes reference to a 3-page ‘note on presentation’ but these pages are missing from the document. The otherwise untitled first page suggests the whole document may have originally included a formal cover.

It is not possible to determine from the document whether the first page and the missing introductory pages were part of the original typed record of the 1981 meeting or whether they were added by another party distributing the records. If the latter is the case, it would seem that the actual textual records of the meeting are retyped from the original versions (which introduces the possibility of errors or omissions). The document also appears to have two pages numbered ’37’.

Authenticity – content
Comparison of the document’s content with other accounts of the March 1981 meeting is one way to assess its authenticity. Both Sara Niner’s biography on Xanana Gusmao (1) and CAVR’s monumental report, Chega! (2), describe the meeting but do not cite this particular document. The principal source for these published accounts are largely writings and oral testimony by Xanana Gusmao, but other eye-witness meeting participants are cited.

There is significant agreement between the published accounts and the document. For example, the names of nine people elected to the Fretilin Central Committee (p.35) and the adoption of Marxism-Leninism (p.33-34) are also recorded in the published accounts. These and other concordances  lend significant weight to the document’s authenticity.

However, there are some puzzling questions remaining in the comparison of the content of the document with these other sources.

Chega!  (Chap.5, p.27) reports that this meeting reaffirmed the roles and positions of the Fretilin external delegation headed by Abilio Araujo in Lisbon and who was named as ‘Secretary General’ (of Fretilin). The meeting document, however, has scant mention of the external delegation and appears to name only one of its number, Mari Alkatiri, as the secretary of the Department of External Relations (p.38).

Page 46 Extract. Translation of first two sentences: The actual structure of power is the one which better responds in this period to the current situation in the country. Thus, at the national level, the Revolutionary Council of National Resistance is the highest level body which corresponds to the Party’s Central Committee whose head manager is the Commander-in-chief of FALINTIL.

Chega! (Chap. 5, p.27-29) and Niner (p.73-75) report the establishment at this conference of the Revolutionary Council of National Resistance (CRRN). According to Chega!, “The CRRN was intended to be the organisational vehicle for everyone who wanted to join the struggle to end the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste. The CRRN was in effect the PMLF’s invitation to all East Timorese regardless of party or other affiliation to join the resistance to the Indonesian occupation” (p.28). This is seen by both published sources as a landmark change in the direction of the organised resistance. Surprising, then, that the document does not appear to record any formal resolution on the creation of the CRRN. The new body is mentioned in the latter part of the text (page 46 – see text and translation above – & page 49), but with little explanatory detail.

While there are many possible explanations for these and other differences, the most obvious one is that the current document is not a complete set of all the original documents created to record the historic meeting of 1-8 March 1981.

Some questions
The evidence suggests that the document is at least a partial record of that special meeting in East Timor in March 1981. However, it is reasonable to ask the following questions.
1. Does there exist a complete copy of the document under discussion here?
2. If, as seems likely, this document is a packaged version of the original meeting records, who created it and when?
3. Do originals or photocopies of the original typed- or hand-written records of the March 1981 meeting exist.
4. Given that oral evidence on the meeting records more than can be found in the documents available here, is it possible that other documentary records of the meeting exist (or at least were created at the time)?

Answers to some or all of those questions will help future generations of East Timorese feel confident about the authenticity of this key document in the history of the formal resistance to the Indonesian occupation, 1975-1999.

See new information showing the document was created by Abilio Araujo in Lisbon in 1983, based on audio-cassettes smuggled from East Timor that year: June 2014 follow up article.

UPDATE (5 March 2016)
Now available: A Tetun translation of the 1981 meeting record. Many thanks to Nuno Rodriguez Tchailoro.



* Commission for Reception, Truth & Reconciliation

1. Sara Niner. Xanana: Leader of the struggle for independent Timor-Leste. Australian Scholarly Publishing. Melbourne. 2009.

2. Chega! The report of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in Timor-Leste (CAVR). 2005.

Credit: Thanks to Marisa Ramos Goncalves for translation of CRRN fragments of document.

Remembering the Santa Cruz Massacre

12 November 2011

To mark the 20th anniversary of the infamous Santa Cruz Massacre, we present here a guide to recent commentary and some archival resources on this landmark event.

Relatives hold photos of Santa Cruz massacre victims during a commemoration in Dili, 12 November 2009. (1)

The shooting by Indonesian troops of an unknown number of unarmed Timorese demonstrators at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili on 12 November 1991 was a watershed event in East Timor’s modern history.

While other massacres and much larger losses of life occurred in earlier years of Indonesian rule, the Santa Cruz Massacre became the iconic representation of the military occupation of East Timor.

The essential difference between this event and earlier crimes was that it was witnessed and recorded by independent (ie non-Timorese and non-Indonesian) reporters and other observers.

The impact of this event on East Timor’s future was decisive. In the words of former Indonesian foreign Minister Alatas, thereafter “international support for Indonesia’s position inexorably declined while that for the independence movement in East Timor markedly increased”. (2)

Long-term preservation of the documentary source materials is crucial to retaining for future generations a detailed knowledge and understanding of this event. Some of these documents may also serve justice if the perpetrators of the crimes on this day in 1991 ever face a proper and fair trial.


Centro Audiovisual Max Stahl – Timor-Leste (CAMS-TL)
British film maker Max Stahl’s dramatic video footage of the massacre was crucial to international knowledge of the event. Copies of the original footage and productions including key scenes are held at CAMS-TL in Dili.

The French National Audiovisual Institute (INA) houses copies of some Max Stahl Timor footage. INA provides sample sequences for viewing online – including the original Santa Cruz footage and subsequent interviews with survivors.

Some Stahl footage can be found on YouTube, including this low resolution sequence.

CHART recently published a guide to CAMS-TL video footage, including the 1991 material and a transcript of some massacre footage.

Resistance Archive & Museum (AMRT)
AMRT provides online access to vast numbers of digitised documents, including Santa Cruz material.

The 20th anniversary is commemorated by AMRT with a special website presentation which also includes a link to a catalogue search result on the term “Santa Cruz”.

Commission for Reception, Truth & Reconciliation (CAVR)
The library and archives of Timor’s CAVR (now managed by a Post-CAVR Secretariat) hold original records on Santa Cruz, including eye-witness accounts. An account of the event and a guide to sources can be found in CAVR’s monumental 2005 report Chega!. See especially Chapter 3 (p.115ff) and Chapter 7 (p.199ff).

ACFOA Human Rights Office
The Human Rights office of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid (now ACFID), headed by Pat Walsh, collected extensive materials on Santa Cruz during the course of its long-standing advocacy work for East Timorese justice and self-determination. CHART produces here for the first time a guide to the content of these files.

This collection of material remains in private hands but under CHART custody where it will be the focus of an extensive digitisation program in 2012 for easy access in Timor-Leste and elsewhere.

East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)
ETAN began in the USA in response to the Santa Cruz massacre and soon became a key reference point for international East Timor activism and advocacy.

ETAN marked the 20th anniversary with a feature page on the event and maintains a guide to Santa Cruz information and ongoing calls for justice on the matter.

Clinton Fernandes
Prominent Timor researcher and justice advocate Clinton Fernandes’ web-based Companion to East Timor includes some sample documents and a summary of Santa Cruz.

Jill Jolliffe
Microfiche copies of some Santa Cruz material may be found in Jill Jolliffe’s archival collection. See pages 35-36 of the guide to her collection – The East Timor Question, 1975-1996.

The Jolliffe collection is held by a number of academic and major libraries in Australia and elsewhere.

National Archives of Australia (NAA)
NAA holds large volumes of material on East Timor. However access to its holdings are generally covered by a standard ‘closed period‘ of twenty to thirty years after the events documented. Santa Cruz files will not be open for access until 2016-17.

With the exception of documentary fragments held in collections outside Indonesia, we have no knowledge of accessible official or unofficial Santa Cruz records in Indonesia.

Other sources and commentary?
Here is a list of other instances,  from disparate sources, of online Santa Cruz materials and commemorations of the 20th anniversary. More to be listed in coming days.

Forensic studies report (2010) by Soren Blau & Luis Fondbrider

Amnesty International Statement (2011-11-12)

Historical Justice & Memory Research Network

La’o Hamutuk reflection (2011-11-12) (Indonesian)

TSF Radio Noticias (Portugal) – includes some great still images of Santa Cruz events.

Sapo Noticias Timor-Leste  (Portuguese language feature)

If you know of other significant archival collections with Santa Cruz content, please advise us and we will add them to this guide.


(1) Martine Perret / UNMIT, 2008. See online source.

(2) Ali Alatas. The pebble in the shoe: the diplomatic struggle for East Timor. Aksara Karunia, Jakarta, 2006, p.64.