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On 20th Anniversary of Timor Massacre, Rights Network Urges Justice
ETAN Says U.S. and UN Must Act

For Immediate Release

Contact: John M. Miller, +1-718-596-7668; mobile: +1-917-690-4391,

Photo from Santa Cruz massacre, November 1991  

November 12, 2011 - On the 20th anniversary of the infamous massacre at Santa Cruz cemetery in Timor-Leste, the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) called for the U.S. and other governments and the United Nations to commit to justice for the victims and their families. The 1991 massacre -- witnessed and filmed by foreign journalists -- was a major turning point in Timor-Leste's struggle for liberation.

"When we saw and heard about the Indonesian military shooting down hundreds of peaceful, unarmed student protesters, we knew we had to do something to stop the killing. The Santa Cruz massacre inspired many around the world to work for justice for the East Timorese people," said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN. "It directly led to the founding of ETAN in the United States, and to our commitment to work for self-determination for Timor-Leste by changing U.S. government policies which had supported the Indonesia's illegal invasion and occupation."

"Justice for all those killed, tortured, raped and forced to flee Indonesia’s brutal occupation has been delayed too long," he added.

Many in Timor-Leste are focused on learning the location of their relatives’ graves. The remains of many of the victims have not been found.

“While Timor-Leste is now independent, its people will not be able to overcome their tragic past without knowing what was done with their relatives’ and friends’ bodies. Ongoing impunity for decades of systematic Indonesian military and police atrocities keeps the Timorese and Indonesian people from consolidating their democracies and moving on with their lives,” said Miller. "ETAN will not rest until justice is done."


When we saw and heard about the Indonesian military shooting down hundreds of peaceful, unarmed student protesters, we knew we had to do something to stop the killing.

ETAN urged Congress and the Obama administration to respond to the recommendations of Timor-Leste's Commission for Truth, Reception and Reconciliation, including its calls for an international tribunal to try perpetrators of crimes against humanity during the Indonesian occupation, reparations from Indonesia and other countries that supported the occupation, and restrictions on foreign assistance to the Indonesian military.

"President Obama should urge President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to immediately release all information that can help identify and locate those who were disappeared during the occupation,” said Miller. The two leaders are scheduled to meet in the coming weeks.

"Obama must restrict U.S. military assistance until the Indonesian generals and political leaders who organized and directed numerous crimes during the 24-years of illegal occupation are credibly tried," Miller added.

Thousands commemorated the 17th anniversary of the Santa Cruz massacre with a march from the Motael Church to the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili. Many mourners carried photographs of loved ones who died or who disappeared on 12 November 1991. UNMIT Photo/Martine Perret.

On November 12, 1991, Indonesian troops opened fire on a memorial procession - turned into a peaceful pro-independence demonstration - at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste. More than 270 mostly-young Timorese were murdered. Unlike previous mass atrocities committed during Indonesia's 24-year occupation, the massacre was witnessed by the NY-based Amy Goodman and Allan Nairn and other international journalists. Their first-hand reports, video and photographs were shown worldwide. The Santa Cruz massacre galvanized international support for Timor-Leste and was the catalyst for congressional action to stem the flow of U.S. weapons and other assistance for Indonesia’s security forces.


The response from people across the United States to the U.S. government’s complicity in the oppression of the East Timorese  – was so compelling that they had to keep working. One year later, grassroots pressure persuaded the U.S. Congress to terminate taxpayer-funded training for Indonesian soldiers in the United States.

One month after the massacre, on International Human Rights Day (December 10), a few dozen concerned people picketed in front of the Indonesian Mission to the United Nations in New York City. Although they did not intend to start an ongoing movement, the Timorese cause – and the response from people across the United States to the government’s complicity in the oppression of the East Timorese – was so compelling that they had to keep working. One year later, grassroots pressure persuaded the U.S. Congress to terminate taxpayer-funded training for Indonesian soldiers in the United States, the first of many legislative victories which eventually moved Washington from supporting to opposing the murderous occupation.

In a recent statement, ANTI (Timor-Leste National Alliance for an International Tribunal), demanded that the United Nations Security Council "cut the chain of impunity in Timor-Leste and other countries' by establishing a credible International Tribunal in order to judge the principal perpetrators of serious crimes and crimes against humanity in Timor-Leste during the Indonesian occupation."

During more than two decades of occupation of Timor-Leste, Indonesian soldiers committed serious crimes with impunity, taking as many as 184,000 Timorese lives and torturing, raping and displacing countless others. Timor-Leste became independent in 2002.

Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation researched and documented the nation’s experiences during the occupation. The Commission’s comprehensive 2,500-page report recommended establishment of an international criminal tribunal and also advocated that countries (including the U.S.) which backed the occupation and corporations which sold weapons to Indonesia during that period should pay reparations to victims. The Commission urged the international community not to support Indonesia's military until it was thoroughly reformed and respectful of human rights.

Indonesia has agreed to provide information about the fate of the disappeared but has failed to do so. The joint Timor-Leste-Indonesia Commission on Truth and Friendship recommended the creation of a Commission for Disappeared Persons "to acquire information about the fate of disappeared people and cooperate to gather data and provide information to their families." Work on this issue has been repeatedly thwarted by Indonesia.

ETAN was formed in reaction to the Santa Cruz massacre. The U.S.-based organization, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this December 10, advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for Timor-Leste and Indonesia. For more information on the massacre see or ETAN's web site:


see also

Human Rights & Justice page

ETAN's Charles Scheiner reflects on Santa Cruz massacre and solidarity

The Santa Cruz Massacre November 12, 1991

ETAN: On 15th Anniversary of Timor Massacre Rights Network Calls for Justice; ETAN Urges Administration, New Congress to Support International Tribunal (2006)

IndyMedia: East Timor Activists Reflect on 10th Anniversary of Santa Cruz Massacre (2001)


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