CAVR rehabilitated the former Balide prison (Comarca) in 2001 as a heritage site and used it as its national headquarters. Following the dissolution of CAVR in 2005, President Xanana Gusmao tasked the Post-CAVR Technical Secretariat with the management and maintenance of the site which includes the CAVR archives, library, exhibition and public meeting spaces. Two other independent organisations are also based there: the 'Living Memory' project of the Ex-Political Prisoners Association (ASSEPOL), and the Timor-Leste support office of the Commission for Truth and Friendship (CTF).
Rehabilitation was undertaken in consultation with ASSEPOL who wished to see the site preserved. PT Rosario, a Timorese company headed by a former political prisoner, carried out the re-building with support from Pitt and Sherry, an Australian engineering firm. Funding was provided by the Government and people of Japan.
The new building was formally opened by President Xanana Gusmao on 17th February 2003. The President told the large audience of ex-prisoners, government and UN officials: "As you know this building was formerly a prison for the detention of political prisoners. It has undergone a transformation to become a human rights center. The work of the CAVR aims also to facilitate a transformation from trauma to peace of heart. The CAVR does not only search for the truth but seeks to facilitate transformation in the society from trauma to peace."
The CAVR report recommends "the preservation of the ex-Balide Comarca as a heritage site and its use as a national memorial centre for victims and human rights". (Chega! Executive Summary, Recommendations 13.2, p. 211)
The Comarca Balide Prison: A 'Sacred Building' by Emma Coupland
The Comarca prior to rehabilitation
The current archive room prior to rehabilitation.
The Comarca as it is today -->>
Sixty-five original graffiti by Timorese prisoners, and sometimes by Indonesian guards and others, have been preserved. From these graffiti, we hear voices from the past.
"I have just walked through the building and saw the amazing evidence of the spirit of the struggle and suffering of the people. I would like to congratulate the builders on their work in preserving the graffiti. Congratulations to Julio Alfaro and his team and workers, himself and many of them having been formerly detained in this prison."
Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao, President RDTL
The Comarca is available for public use -->>