Subject: Hokkaido Shinbun Newspaper: The Santa Cruze Massacre 10 years on Nov. 12

Hokkaido Shimbun Newspaper November 12, 2001 (originally in Japanese)

Calling for justice: The Santa Cruz Massacre 10 years on By Naoko Takahashi (Sapporo East Timor Association)

The Santa Cruz massacre, the first major atrocity in East Timor to attract world attention, took place ten years ago today, on Nov. 12, 1991.

East Timor, the easternmost of the Lesser Sunda Islands, was colonized by the Portuguese in the 16th century. When Portugal made its transition to democracy in 1974 East Timor was promised independence, but was invaded by neighboring Indonesia the following year and forcibly annexed.

For the next 24 years, East Timor was largely isolated from the rest of the world, and for a long time the severe human rights abuses perpetrated by the Indonesian army against the East Timorese, who continued to seek independence, went unnoticed by the international community.

On Nov. 12, 1991, however, a large contingent of Indonesian soldiers fired on civilians who had gathered at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor's capital, as part of a memorial procession for an East Timorese youth (killed by Indonesian special forces) that had turned into a peaceful rally for independence. Captured on film by a British journalist, the massacre was broadcast internationally. The world was shocked to see pictures of the unarmed demonstrators fleeing from the firing, and the United States and European countries froze military and economic aid to Indonesia as a result. They also called on Indonesia to conduct a full investigation into the massacre to determine the truth of what had occurred, and punish those responsible.

In response to growing international pressure, the Indonesian government conducted an official investigation and punished some members of the Indonesian military, but the sentences handed down were extremely light, and in no way comparable to the harsh sentences meted out to those East Timorese found guilty of organizing the rally.

The number of people who were killed or went missing as a result of the massacre is estimated at more than 500, but the exact number of victims and their names has yet to be established. Apart from the one foreign victim, no bodies were returned to bereaved families; bodies were buried by the military without proper identification.

The Santa Cruz massacre shocked the world, but according to East Timorese who have visited Japan, it was in fact just one example of the many human rights abuses taking place in East Timor on a daily basis.

On Aug. 30, 1999, the East Timorese braved violence and intimidation to vote for independence in a U.N.-administered referendum. The destruction and killings by the Indonesian military and its militias that took place throughout the country after the results of the referendum were announced are scenes that are still fresh in people's minds. However, the worst of the violence occurred in the 20-day period from when foreign observers were driven out of the country and the military imposed martial law, to when an international peacekeeping force arrived to restore order.

Around 70 percent of buildings in East Timor were destroyed, and about one-third of the population forced into West Timor. A figure of more than 300 deaths has been confirmed, but church sources place the number of victims much higher, at more than 3,000.

While the East Timorese work toward full independence next May, both UNTAET and Indonesia investigate those responsible for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor in 1999.

The East Timorese want to see justice done, but this does not mean they are seeking revenge: They simply want to see the truth revealed and those responsible properly punished according to international law. In order to achieve this, they hope to see an international tribunal set up, not an Indonesian one. This, however, will require political will on the part of the international community.

The Sept. 11 attacks in the United States have unfortunately made it more difficult to achieve justice for the East Timorese. In order to win the support of Indonesia, the world's biggest Muslim nation, for its "war on terror," the U.S. has partially recommenced military aid to Indonesia (which was frozen after the events of September 1999), and has pledged economic aid. It seems unlikely in this situation that the will to push for an international tribunal will be forthcoming any time soon.

Ten years have passed since the Santa Cruz massacre, but for the victims and their families the events of that day are still very much alive. In the same way, if no international tribunal is set up to see that justice is done for the victims of the massacres in 1999, their deaths will have no meaning.

In order to ease the sufferings of the East Timorese people and make it possible to truly celebrate East Timor's coming independence, it is necessary to ensure that justice is finally served.


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