This site brings together the publications of Dr. Sara Niner about people & politics in Timor-Leste.

11 October, 2011

Portugese version of Xanana Biography available: Dom Quixote com biografia política de Xanana Gusmão

Link for book at Diario Digital

Dom Quixote com biografia política de Xanana Gusmão

A Dom Quixote vai lançar em Outubro a primeira biografia de Xanana Gusmão, obra escrita pela australiana, Sarah Niner, consultora das Nações Unidas para as questões timorenses. «Xanana – Uma Biografia Política» retrata a vida desde a infância na distante colónia portuguesa até à sua posição actual como primeiro-ministro de Timor-Leste.

«Xanana – Uma Biografia Política», de Sarah Niner

«Vinte e quatro anos de guerra com a Indonésia transformaram um Xanana anónimo e apolítico num duro comandante de guerrilha e, por fim, na principal figura unificadora do nacionalismo de Timor-Leste. A grande maioria dos pormenores desta luta manteve-se desconhecida até agora.
Em 1999, aquando do seu regresso à pátria após anos de prisão na Indonésia, Xanana foi confrontado com a árdua tarefa de liderar uma população traumatizada com a violência e destruição da ocupação indonésia.
´Em tempos de crise, na ausência de regras formais, muitas vezes emerge e impera a liderança carismática, e Xanana encaixa neste molde. Para líderes como ele, a personalidade é a fonte do poder e está associada ao mote: «tempos excepcionais, poderes excepcionais, povos excepcionais e visões excepcionais...», escreve a investigadora e professora na Monash University, na Austrália. Desde 1991 que Sarah Niner faz trabalho de solidariedade junto da comunidade timorense de Melbourne. Em 2000 passou a fazer consultoria em questões timorenses para a ONU e o governo de Timor-Leste»

30 May, 2011

BACKSTORY: Domestic violence a legacy of Timor conflict

It's a topic that can be tough to talk about and very often it isn't talked about domestic violence and sexual violence and we're looking the situation in East Timor.

Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speakers: Dr Sara Niner, Monash University; Mira Martins da Silva, the Director of the non-government organisation, PRADET; Margaret Gibbons, a doctor with Fatin Hakmatek, which provides care for victims of domestic violence, sexual assult, child abuse and abandonment.


23 May, 2011

Xanana watching footage of his 1992 capture

Xanana watching footage of his 1992 capture

Interesting Dateline segment on Xanana watching and commenting on footage of his 1992 capture in Dili. Xanana was very calm sitting on the big leather lounges in his office, looking almost confounded by his younger self and that man’s composed, even friendly, resistance to the entreaties of the Indonesia generals to tell his men to lay down their arms and call the whole resistance struggle off (which he did under much greater pressure in the months to follow). His responses were muted and it was interesting to wonder how this would play out in his very close relations with the Indonesian political elite today, some of whom like the Indonesian President are ex-military.
The reaction to the footage was also recorded of the Timorese policeman Augusto Pereira whose house Xanana was hiding in and who was jailed and tortured for 6 years after Xanana's capture. Most of his family too was jailed and they had never reunited after their imprisonment. His reactions could not have been more different to Xanana's, he detailed the horrific torture he received and unlike other torture survivors Xanana has valorized (those in his movie ‘A Heroes Journey’ for instance) for forgiving their torturers and moving on with their lives, he seemed stuck in those terrifying moments of his past and his life defined by them.

10 May, 2011

La Trobe University Seminar: Politics of Gender in Timor-Leste: Sara Niner: Thurs 26 May 12:30

The Centre for Dialogue, La Trobe University
Seminar Series presents
Between Earth and Heaven: the Politics of Gender in Timor-Leste
with Sara Niner
Thursday 26th May 12:30 - 2:00pm
Centre for Dialogue Seminar Room 301
Social Sciences Building La Trobe University, Bundoora
Light lunch provided
Gender inequality in post-conflict Timor-Leste (East Timor) is well-documented and there is pressure for women to conform to ‘traditional’ cultural norms now the war is over, yet a strong women’s movement resists this pressure. However, any rise in status for the majority of women must be made through an engagement with indigenous or ‘traditional’ society as that is culturally dominant in Timor. The impact of recent conflict and violence has been profound for the new nation and its people, with public and private or domestic violence still pervasive. The male political and military elite dominant in Timor-Leste today is seen as largely responsible for outbreaks of violence on a national scale (2004-8) and these contemporary events lead us to define Timorese post-conflict society as militaristic in nature. A strong culture of male political domination in Timor-Leste today holds back the women’s movement, along with development, security and a more expansive version of democracy. While ‘gender’ has featured heavily on the development agenda of Timor- Leste over the last ten years little intellectual analysis has been made of what these trends mean for development, security and democracy there.
Dr Sara Niner is an Adjunct Research Fellow in the Arts Faculty at Monash University. She has recently completed a research program on gender relations in the post-conflict period while on an Endeavour Fellowship in partnership with the National Directorate of Culture in Timor-Leste. This follows a two year postdoctoral fellowship at Monash researching women, development and handcrafts in Timor-Leste. She is the editor of ‘To Resist is to Win: the Autobiography of Xanana Gusmão with selected letters and speeches’ (Aurora/ David Lovell Publishing 2000). Her new book ‘XANANA: Leader of the Struggle for Independent Timor-Leste’ (2009) is published by Australian Scholarly Publishing and is currently being translated into Portuguese. This book was based on her PhD completed in the politics department at La Trobe University in 2005. Please visit

04 February, 2011

Unpublished Photo of Xanana Capture 1992

1992 Xanana Capture Dili

I believe this photo is unpublished and records Xanana's 6.00am capture in Dili on 20 November 1992. It looks like it is in one of the internal rooms of the Araujo family home in Lahane (up behind the market) where Xanana had been hiding. This photo was apparently fished out the ashes of a military building in Dili in September 1999 and has finally made its way to me. It is clearly a highly posed shot, especially considering Xanana is smiling directly into the camera (a coded message to the viewer perhaps). Xanana has recorded that that he knew they were coming to arrest him and had already decided not to resist. I am trying to identify the Indonesians in the photo and wonder if anyone can help me. Some background follows which explains who I think might be in the photo.

Kopassus Major Mahidin Simbolon, backed up by 30 or so troops, arrested Xanana (he was later promoted to Colonel, skipping the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, for his actions here). Brigadier Theo Syafei (local operational commander in East Timor) has also taken credit for the arrest and in 2005 relayed a discussion over whether they should execute Xanana before revealing they had captured him. Syafei took Xanana to his home and phoned Armed Forces (ABRI) Commander Try Sutrisno and asked him if he should kill Xanana. Sutrisno replied, "Wait, I 'll get back to you later" but didn't. Syafei took Xanana to the Officer's Mess and later that afternoon Sutrisno arrived in Dili and questioned Xanana.

Xanana records that he suggested to Sutrisno and his contingent (of 20 Generals Xanana says) they hold a dialogue with the representatives of the people of East Timor. Questioning where these people were Xanana boasts he dared them to carry out a referendum and find out.

Read all about it in the full biography available from Australian Scholarly Publishing.