Geoffrey Robinson: UCLA historian Geoffrey Robinson is leading a mission to save evidence of East Timor's birth





When Geoffrey Robinson last saw the archives that chronicle the creation of East Timor, they were stored in an unremarkable Dili warehouse: one large room of audio recordings, transcripts, and reports, protected by a key and padlock and a low-ranking archivist.

Set up in 2000, the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation, better known by its Indonesian acronym CAVR, collected records on the period from 1974, when Portugal began to relinquish colonial control, through the 1999 election that made East Timor a sovereign nation, free after 24 years of occupation by Indonesia.

"It's important legally, it's important historically to outsiders, but it provides East Timor a basis to understand its own history," explains Robinson, a UCLA scholar of political violence and Indonesian and East Timorese history. In October, he will go back to Dili to oversee a year-long project to make a digital copy of the archive that will be housed in the British Library, beyond the reach of Indonesian military personnel and members of former East Timorese militias who are implicated in crimes.

Under its Endangered Archives Programme, the library will support the work of Robinson and a Dili-based team to back up the bulk of the archive's contents. Violence and instability that broke loose again in East Timor this May, when then-Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri dismissed almost half of the country's military, served as a further reminder for Robinson of the archive's vulnerability.

Between 1974 and 1999, CAVR reports, over 100,000 East Timorese were murdered or died from hunger or the collapse of health care as a result of the occupation. The London-based human rights group Amnesty International puts the number at 200,000. For a country that now has a population of one million, the toll was enormous.



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