Resistance Archive & Museum: New database access

17 September 2010

The Arquivo & Museu da Resistencia (AMRT) in Dili continues to lead the way on access to digitised archives of the East Timorese struggle for independence.

In a new development, the online search facility has been re-designed to improve access to the well-established collection of digitised documents.

The centrepiece of the AMRT collection is internal resistance documents gathered from individuals throughout Timor-Leste since 2002.

Browsing document folders
Researchers now find documents by entering  simple search terms or navigating the collection’s database through browsing the underlying document folder structure. Previously, only visitors to the Archive in Dili could access the document folders on a dedicated stand-alone computer.

The predominant Timorese resistance document collections are arranged in folders by year; each year folder contains up to 10 standard sub-folders (see graphic).

The other main sections of the folder structure are Photographs and a Digital Library. The photographs folder contains a vast assemblage of images of the internal resistance and international solidarity campaigning. The digital library folder contains copies of published materials – from pamphlets to whole books. Many of these items come from the collection of Antonio Barbedo de Magalhães.

New document presentation
The onscreen presentation of documents has also changed. Instead of whole PDF documents being delivered from search results, documents are viewed page-by-page via navigation buttons. Database information about the origins and content of each document (metadata) is displayed alongside the page view. Page images can be enlarged for better readability.

Researchers’ gems
Some very useful items caught the eye of this researcher while browsing the folders. They include:
The guide to Jill Jolliffe’s well-known microfiche collection of Timor documents. (57 pages)
List of acronyms (9 pages)
List of resistance members’ names and pseudonyms (52 pages)

The latter two were probably internal AMRT documents developed during the course of building its database.

Comments
The new design of the search facility is a great improvement over the earlier version. I like browsing the folder structure and the new delivery method of search results – a summary of types of documents and their quantity – is welcome. While the facility is currently restricted to Portuguese language, this is no serious barrier to using the database.

On my wish list for a future improvements would be an advanced search screen which allowed searching for terms in a particular field of the database. At present a word is searched simultaneously across all database fields, sometimes producing too many results to easily browse. It does not seem possible, for example, to search for all items from a particular donor’s collection (Fundo).

Data accuracy & ‘crowd sourcing’
Large databases such as this inevitably contain typographical or informational errors. Having the data online provides the opportunity for end users to spot errors or offer valuable additional information to document data. Getting data help from end-users has the trendy title of ‘crowd sourcing’.

There are errors and holes in the AMRT database. Sadly, data corrections offered in the crowd-sourcing spirit by CHART in 2009 have yet to appear in the database. Perhaps when resources allow, the AMRT will consider establishing a formal method for end-users to submit data suggestions/corrections.

That said, the AMRT digitisation program, and making the material accessible online, is marvellous. AMRT is setting a fine example to all of us interested in making archival material accessible to present and future generations of Timorese and the international community.

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Moment of truth for Timor’s truth commissions’ archives

19 July 2010

CAVR Archives: Priceless, unique, irreplaceable

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

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:

Collection integrity
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.

Collection authenticity
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.

Collection Access
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.


Archives in Timor-Leste, 2009: Summary update

3 September 2009

My brief on-the-ground exploration of archival developments in Timor-Leste during August leaves me both encouraged and bewildered.

Encouraged because the interest in archival matters I found in Dili in 2003 continues, unabated, to drive several interesting institutional developments and encouraged by the very strong interest in Timor archival materials being held in Australia.

Bewildered by the funding, building, training and personnel difficulties that all archives in Timor face, the uncertainties of government decision-making processes and what seems, in part, a rather negative competitiveness between some developing archival projects.

More on all that later. For now, here is a taste of what Cecily Gilbert and I managed to learn in a few short days in the very busy run-up to the 10th anniversary of the decisive independence ballot of 30 August 1999.

Arquivo Nacional
The National Archive, created to hold past and current government records, was established in the early years after independence. Since 2003 the Arquivo has been allocated a building, but does not yet appear to be a major government priority. A sizeable collection of Portuguese-era administrative records are held in reasonable storage conditions but the Arquivo does not have sufficient storage space to properly house a large volume of seemingly unexamined Indonesia-era administrative records. Transfers of independence-era government records have just begun. There does not appear to be any available listings of collection holdings and public access to the collection remains in planning stages. A detailed legislative basis for the Arquivo Nacional’s existence and function, in draft form in 2003, has yet to be adopted. The Director of the archive, Pedro Fernandes, hopes the National Archive will eventually house some Timor-related archival materials held in Australia and elsewhere, but believes it will be some years before the institution will be ready to do this.

CAVR
Materials collected in Timor as evidence for the monumental ‘Chega’ report form the centre-piece of the archives of East Timor’s Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR). Since CAVR’s wind-up in 2005, the Post-CAVR Secretariat has managed the archive, notably conducting a copy program funded under the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme whereby digital copies of original materials are held in London for preservation and (later) access purposes. Both paper and audio-visual materials are currently housed in reasonable archival conditions. Preservation copying of a large collection of audio-tapes of victim statements and other interviews is an important future task which will require significant resources. Access to the archives is possible with applications considered on a case by case basis but is somewhat hampered by incomplete documentation on collection content. Planning for a successor institution is well-developed but currently stalled by Parliament’s continued delay in formally considering the recommendations of Chega. The proposed institution includes a human rights documentation centre based on the existing archive and acquisition of related material from abroad.

Centro Audiovisual Max Stahl Timor Leste (CAMSTL)
Currently housed in part of the Independence Memorial Hall in Farol and directed by the inimitable Max Stahl. In addition to holding historical footage from the occupation years, CAMSTL maintains an active program of recording, for the historical record, video of current events and interviews on Timorese experience of occupation. Timorese employees are trained in camera work, editing and archival procedures and work with volunteers to transcribe all spoken words in footage held. CAMSTL has created a number of films for sale on DVD. Max Stahl has recently concluded an agreement with INA, the French national audiovisual institute, to house archival copies of Timor footage for long term preservation and access. Detailed public listings of the content of CAMSTL are not yet available. We did not have time to learn more about the funding structure and long-term administrative and viability planning for CAMSTL.

National Library
The ‘new kid on the block’ in archival terms, a National Library is under very active consideration at the highest levels. Part-funded by an international donor, a building site has been allocated (but not yet made public), books and temporary storage space have been acquired, plans for appointing an international advisor, beginning staff training and conducting an international building design competition are in progress. Planning is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Culture, Virgilio Smith. It is still too early to know what the final form of the National Library will be but that will become clearer in the coming months. The archival aspect arises from a declared interest by ministerial advisers to acquire for the Library Australian and other Timor solidarity archival materials from abroad. There has also been some tentative discussion of the idea of co-locating some existing archival institutions at the new Library. Our guess is the sceptical reaction from existing archives to this idea will persist at least until they have a clearer picture of the emerging National Library.

Timorese Resistance Archive and Museum
Opened in 2005, the Timorese Resistance Archive and Museum (AMRT) is located near the current (temporary) National Parliament building and the National University. The building houses a selection of Falintil weapons, radios and other equipment along with informational posters and displays of resistance documents (copies). The archival centrepiece of the AMRT is a large collection of documents gathered from resistance figures and supporters inside East Timor from 2002 to the present. Many of the collected documents are currently held in Lisbon at the Mario Soares Foundation (FMS) which has digitised the materials. With the exception of some politically sensitive materials, the digitised copies are available internationally on the internet through the AMRT website (managed by FMS) and a dedicated standalone computer in the Museum building in Dili. Aware of some questions in Dili about the ownership and management of the AMRT, along with some disquiet about documents being kept in Lisbon, a Timorese representative board of management is under construction. Also under construction is an imminent expansion of the existing building to add secure, archival standard storage and work areas and commercial seminar, bookshop and cafe facilities to assist AMRT funding for the longer term.

There’s more, much more, to say about these and other archival matters inside Timor-Leste today. Keep an eye on the ‘Timorese Archives’ section of this blog over the coming month.