Parliamentary Inquiry: CHART submission

15 May 2013

The Australian Parliament has begun a broad-ranging inquiry into Australia’s relationship with Timor-Leste. We present here a summary and full text of CHART’s submission to the inquiry.

CHART calls for a critical examination of current restrictions on access to Australian government archives about East Timor and calls for Australian support for emerging archival institutions in Timor-Leste.

On May 21, the Australian parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade will commence public hearings on Australia’s relationship with Timor-Leste. The inquiry will examine government and non-government relationships and has attracted over seventy submissions – largely from Australian NGOs and individuals.

This is the third Australian parliamentary inquiry specifically on Timor in the current era, following Senate Committee inquiries in 1982-83 and 1999-2000. Historically these reports have had little obvious influence on the direction of government policy (the 1983 report was virtually ignored by the then Hawke Labor Government). However, such inquiries can provide a comprehensive insight into the thinking and actions of key players and are an important compendium of current information. The reports and the large volume of submissions and evidential transcripts also serve as a rich archival record for future generations.

CHART Submission
Our submission to the inquiry is based on an a view that the current many-faceted relationship between Australia and Timor-Leste arises directly out of the traumatic years of the Indonesian military occupation, 1975-1999. For this reason, Australians and East Timorese have a shared and abiding interest in access to historical archives about this period.

The Chart submission makes a series of recomendations in two areas: The right to the truth through access to archives, and the development of relationships between Australian and emerging East Timorese archival institutions.

Access to Australian archives on Timor
Drawing attention to the growing international interest in ‘the right to truth’, CHART makes a number of recommendations on access, including:

  • Timor records in the custody of the National Archives of Australia (NAA) be subject to a special program to expedite their release for public access
  • Processes for examining records for release be revised to speed up public access
  • The Department of Foreign Affairs’ restrictions on access be critically examined to establish whether they are over-cautious or unnecessarily restrictive.

Timor-Australia Archival relationships
Australia, as comparatively rich neighbour, is better placed than any other to cooperate with Timor-Leste in the development of sustainable archival institutions in Timor. While arguing against unsustainable, quick-fix, high technology assistance, the CHART submission recommends:

  • Exploratory relationship-building between National Archives of Australia and Timor-Leste’s Arquivo Nacional
  • Australian government support for Australian institutions with Timor archival holdings and programs
  • Australian archival institutions include in their Timor relationship programs, coordination with related Timor-engaged Australian non-government cultural initiatives
  • Programs to copy Australian-held Timor archival materials for eventual access in Timor-Leste.

CHART believes all these practical recommendations can be achieved over time and done in ways which are of relatively low cost.

Further information:
Full text of CHART submission
Links to all Inquiry submissions

[Note: More links to be added as Inquiry proceeds]

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.

National Library a step closer

3 March 2011

Plans to establish a National Library of Timor-Leste moved a step closer with the recent appointment of a library specialist to guide its development.

Karen Myers, an Australian librarian with significant East Timor working experience, began a 7-month contract in mid-January.

Her appointment follows international advertising in September 2010 through the Italian oil company, Eni, which is contributing substantial funds to the National Library project.

The broad shape of the new institution as a national coordinating body for all libraries in Timor-Leste is outlined in a recent government statement.

The contract library specialist tasks include input into design of physical infrastructure, legal framework for the library, cultural and educational policy statements, training requirements, human resources planning and collection and acquisition policies.

Karen Myers

Timor Experience
Prior to coming to Timor full-time in 2006, Karen worked in a public library service in Victoria and, from 2002, periodically did library work and training at the National University of Timor-Leste.

She worked through Australian Volunteers International in 2006-7 in advisory roles and course development work at the Dili Institute of Technology. In 2007-9 she was advisor to the Documentation Centre of the Post-CAVR Secretariat.

National Library and Archives
CHART has a special interest in the emergence of the National Library for three specific archives-related reasons.

What’s in a name?
The new institution is called the National Library and Archives on the Secretary of State for Culture website. There was some speculation in 2009 that the new institution might incorporate the existing government archives (Arquivo Nacional) and/or some other smaller special interest archives emerging in Timor-Leste (see our brief report here). We look forward to learning more about the expected archives functions in the new National Library.

CHART connection?
CHART is currently planning a significant digitisation program of Australian-held Timor archival materials. We hope to arrange public access to these files through emerging institutions in Timor-Leste. An archives function at the National Library would make the new institution a potential candidate for such an arrangement with CHART.

Today’s publications, tomorrow’s archives
Our 2003 report on archives developments in Timor-Leste noted that “there does not yet appear to be any institution committed to collecting output from today’s East Timor. Today’s newspapers, books, images, leaflets, radio broadcasts and so forth are tomorrow’s archival record of East Timorese civil society in its early life as an independent nation.” (p.11). We await with great interest to see whether the emerging National Library will take on this important role.

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.

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.

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.