ETAN BACKGROUNDER on Santa Cruz Massacre
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2016 Commemoration of Santa Cruz Massacre in Dili, Timor-Leste Re-enactment of Santa Cruz Massacre, Nov.12, 2016. Max Stahl, President TMR and Allan Nairn at 2016 Commemoration of Santa Cruz Massacre

Santa Cruz Massacre

Date: November 12, 1991
Location: Dili, Timor-Leste
Death Count: More than 271
Perpetrator: Indonesian Army

Time for Justice! 25th Anniversary of Santa Cruz massacre"They shot at us straightaway,” he says. “I was in the front row and fell to the ground to avoid the bullets. I saw two of my friends bleeding profusely, dying. I thought, ‘I'm going to die too.’ A bullet had entered my back, and I lost consciousness.” - Levi Corte-Real Bucar  

On November 12, 1991, Indonesian troops shot and stabbed hundreds of peaceful protesters in Dili, Timor-Leste. The troops opened fire on a peaceful memorial procession that had turned into a pro-independence demonstration calling for self-determination and protesting atrocities committed by the Indonesian military. East Timorese. According to Chega!, the report of Timor-Leste's Truth, Reception and Reconciliation Commission, “Independent estimates put the number killed as high as 271, with 250 listed as missing. Hundreds were arrested and detained in the aftermath.” 

In October 1991, a UN-sponsored Portuguese delegation was scheduled to visit Timor-Leste. The delegation was cancelled after the Indonesian government objected to one of the journalists proposed to accompany the group. Despite this cancellation, the Timorese decided to continue with their planned protests. The Indonesian military threatened those preparing to protest, stating that whomever spoke out against Indonesia would be killed.

Some students sought refuge in churches, where they continued their protest preparations. On October 28, Indonesian soldiers attacked people inside Dili’s Motael Church and shot and killed Sebastiao Gomes and arrested 25 others. Two weeks later, thousands of mostly young Timorese formed a memorial procession from the church to the Santa Cruz cemetery where Sebastiao had been buried.

Soldiers marched straight up to us, they never broke their stride.... they raised their rifles to their shoulders all at once and opened fire.
The procession-turned-demonstration was peaceful and orderly. Timorese held signs supporting their church and independence for Timor-Leste. When they reached the cemetery, there were about 3,000-5,000 protesters in what journalist Amy Goodman called, “the boldest act of public protest occupied Timor had ever seen.” At the cemetery, troops boxed the marchers in, raised their weapons, and fired on the protesters. 

U.S. journalists Goodman and Allan Nairn witnessed the massacre, as did British photojournalist Steven Cox and filmmaker Max Stahl. Goodman and Nairn hoped that since they were foreign journalists, they could act as a shield between the military and the East Timorese. They stood in the middle of the road as the military approached, standing between them and the protesters. Some Timorese tried to escape, but were held in by cemetery walls.

Nairn told the U.S. Senate what happened: “Soldiers marched straight up to us, they never broke their stride. We were enveloped by the troops and when they got a few yards past us within a dozen yards of the Timorese, they raised their rifles to their shoulders all at once and opened fire.”

Many Timorese were instantly killed. Goodman and Nairn were badly beaten by a group of soldiers; Nairn’s skull was fractured. The two believe that the soldiers decided not to kill them after seeing they were American journalists. They managed to flee Timor-Leste a few hours after the massacre.[4] Later that night, Stahl recovered footage that he had hidden in a recently-dug grave and smuggled it out of the country.

Nairn described the bloodbath to the Senators: “People fell, stunned and shivering, bleeding in the road, and the Indonesian soldiers kept on shooting. I saw the soldiers aiming and shooting people in the back, leaping bodies to hunt down those who were still standing. They executed schoolgirls, young men, old Timorese, the street was wet with blood and the bodies were everywhere.”

After the massacre, the military sealed off the area. Aid workers and religious people who came to help were turned away. Many Timorese were left to die on the road.

Photo by Steve Cox, Generations of Resistance: East Timor  
Other witnesses reported that some injured Timorese were executed by Indonesian troops after being brought to the hospital. Many bodies were allegedly buried in a mass grave near Tibar, about thirty minutes from Dili. However, the remains were never found. The Indonesian government did not even attempt to identify the dead or inform the families of those killed.

Nairn believes the massacre was the result of a deliberate policy to kill defenseless people: “The soldiers simply marched up in a disciplined, controlled way and began to fire massively on the crowd…It was quite evident from the way the soldiers behaved that they had marched up with orders to commit a massacre. They never issued a warning, they did not even pause or break their stride: they marched up and opened fire in unison. This action was not the result of their interaction with the crowd: the Timorese were just standing there or trying to get away.”

"The army cannot be underestimated. Finally, we had to shoot them. Delinquents like these agitators must be shot, and they will be.”
Senior Indonesian officials justified the killing. Try Sutrisno, the ABRI commander at the time and later Vice-President, stated two days after the massacre, “The army cannot be underestimated. Finally, we had to shoot them. Delinquents like these agitators must be shot, and they will be.” Gen. Herman Mantiri, who became commander of the region that included Timor-Leste, said that the massacre was “quite proper” because “they were opposing us, demonstrating, even yelling things against the government.”

Twenty-one-year-old New Zealander Kamal Ahmed Bamadhaj was the only person killed on November 12 who was not Timorese. In 1994, the Center for Constitutional Rights sued Major-General Sintong Panjaitan, the regional commander at the time of the massacre, who was studying in the United States, on behalf of Bamadhaj’s mother Helen Todd.  After a hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Patti Saris ruled that the general should pay $4 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages to Todd for his role as regional commander at the time of the massacre. 

Ali Alatas, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, called the massacre a “turning point in our diplomacy over the Timor-Leste issue. Pictures were circulated abroad showing our soldiers shooting protesters and beating up reporters. Since then, international political support had been on the wane. Countries that formerly supported us were shocked.”

I also participated in the demonstration at the Santa Cruz place. When the Indonesian military tried to shoot the demonstrators, I got out from the Santa Cruz one minute before the shooting. So I survived, because I am — maybe this is my lucky.
--Prezado Ximenes

The Netherlands, Denmark, and Canada, suspended some aid to Indonesia following the Santa Cruz Massacre. The U.S. Congress voted to bar some U.S. military training for Indonesia. These restrictions were gradually expanded during the 1990s, culminating in a suspension of all military and police assistance in 1999.

The media coverage on the killings created an “unprecedented opportunity to create grassroots pressure.” “The Santa Cruz Massacre inspired many around the world to work for justice for the East Timorese people,” according to John M. Miller National Coordinator of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN).

Globally, action in support of the East Timorese greatly expanded in response to the massacre. In the U.S., ETAN was founded soon after the killings. Activists came together, believing that for change to happen in Timor-Leste, U.S. support for the Indonesian occupation would have to end.

“The Santa Cruz protesters inspired people around the world, including me,” said ETAN co-founder Charles Scheiner in 2011. “Although I already knew about Indonesia’s illegal occupation here, and about the criminal support my Government was giving to it, I hadn’t done much to stop it. A month after the Santa Cruz Massacre I and some other friends organized a peaceful protest at the Indonesian Mission to the UN. We didn’t risk being shot or tortured, but we knew we had to speak out in solidarity with the heroes of Santa Cruz who risked and lost their lives in the struggle for self-determination.”

Timor-Leste is now an independent nation, free from foreign occupation and brutalization. However, there has been no formal process to bring to justice those responsible for decades of human rights abuses by the Indonesian military. 

The Commission on Truth, Reception and Reconciliation (CAVR), several UN investigations and human rights activists in Timor-Leste, Indonesia, and elsewhere have called for justice for the victims of the Santa Cruz massacre and other crimes against humanity during Indonesia’s illegal occupation of Timor-Leste. While some deeply flawed processes have prosecuted some involved in crimes committed in 1999, those responsible for giving the orders to torture, rape and kill have yet to be brought to justice. Nor have those from countries such as the United States, Britain, and Australia, that actively aided in these crimes by providing weapons, training and political support.

On the 25th anniversary of the Santa Cruz Massacre, East Timor and Indonesia Action Network calls for the following:

1)      The United Nations, Indonesia, the government of Timor-Leste, and the international community must oppose impunity for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste by:

·         Ensuring that persons responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Timor-Leste are not allowed to continue profitable careers regardless of their crimes;

·         Linking security assistance to Indonesia to specific steps by Indonesia toward accountability;

·         Governments must declassify and release any information they have about human rights violations by Indonesian security forces in Timor-Leste, including the Santa Cruz massacre.

2)      The international community should address the lack of accountability for people accused of human rights violations by creating an international tribunal to credibly try those responsible for the Santa Cruz massacre and other crimes against humanity committed by Indonesia during its illegal occupation of Timor-Leste.

3)      President Jokowi must fulfill his campaign promise to address human rights violations committed during and after the Suharto dictatorship, including by establishing credible judicial processes to investigate and prosecute killings like the Santa Cruz Massacre.

4)      The Indonesian government should provide direct compensation to survivors and to families of those murdered during the Santa Cruz massacre.

5)      The U.S. should apologize to the Timorese people for its     support of the Indonesian military during the invasion and occupation of Timor-Leste. It should also re-evaluate its current security assistance to Indonesia, while so many military and political leaders have not been held accountable for their involvement in human rights abuses.  

Further Reading

ETAN Urges Justice for Victims of the Santa Cruz Massacre on 25th Anniversary

TLPres: Speech by President Taur Matan Ruak on the 25th Anniversary of the Santa Cruz massacre

Human Rights & Justice page

ETAN Links on Santa Cruz Massacre

Joint Statement by ANTI (The Timor-Leste National Alliance for an International Tribunal) and and Amnesty International to Commemorate 12 November 2012

ETAN on 22nd Anniversary of Santa Cruz massacre (November 2013)

ETAN: On 20th Anniversary of Timor Massacre, Rights Network Urges Justice (November 2011)

Excerpts from the Testimony of Allan Nairn before the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (February 27, 1992)

A Timorese View: Time to End Impunity for Suharto's Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste (June 2016)
Tetum: Agora mak tempu atu hapara impunidade ba krime sira Suharto nian iha Indonesia no Timor-Leste
Indonesian: Sekarang Saatnya Memutus Impunitas untuk Kejahatan Soeharto di Indonesia dan Timor-Leste

Story of Prezado Ximenes, Survivor and Broadcast Journalist

Prezado Ximenes survived the Santa Cruz massacre in 1991 when he was 15 years old.

“So, at the moment, I also participated in the demonstration at the Santa Cruz place. When the Indonesian military tried to shoot the demonstrators, I got out from the Santa Cruz one minute before the shooting. So I survived, because I am — maybe this is my lucky.”

Some of Prezado’s friends were killed in the massacre. At the time of the killings, he was very afraid of what was ahead for East Timor. But, he was optimistic that East Timor would one day become independent.

19 years later, he is back in East Timor, living in Los Palos and running a radio station. He believes that radio can help express feelings and what people are thinking.

from Democracy Now!, “East Timorese Journalist Marks 19th Anniversary of Santa Cruz Massacre” (November 12, 2010)

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The Story of Levi Corte-Real Bucar

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.
For Levi Corte-Real Bucar, November 12, 1991 is engraved in his memory. The image of Levi covered in blood became associated with the Santa Cruz Massacre.

Politically active at age 15, he was influenced by the ill-treatment of his parents by the Indonesians. He was not sure about going to the Santa Cruz demonstration but went at the last moment. Upon entering the cemetery, the Indonesians began shooting.

They shot at us straightaway,” he says. “I was in the front row and fell to the ground to avoid the bullets. I saw two of my friends bleeding profusely, dying. I thought, ‘I'm going to die too.’ A bullet had entered my back, and I lost consciousness.”

An Indonesian soldier came up to him and stabbed him five times with a bayonet. Levi then forced himself to lay on a gravestone in the cemetery.

“I saw so much blood coming from me ... I don't remember much else - I never knew I was being filmed. About midday ... Bishop Belo, Dona Maria Helena, the Governor's wife, and a priest came into the cemetery. The soldiers had been going around bayoneting survivors, but their presence saved us."

After being taken to the hospital, he recovered from his physical wounds after two weeks. However, the trauma did not end there. He was treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. Also, survivors of the Santa Cruz massacre were treated as the culprits by the Indonesians, and hunted down.

He eventually applied to the Australian Consulate for a visa, but was refused because they did not want “political” Timorese in Australia. Finally, in August 1995, he bought a false passport and travelled to Portugal via Macau.

Today, Levi appears to be a perfectly healthy and well-balanced 24-year-old, one of scores of survivors of the massacre who later fled East Timor and found refuge in Portugal.

“I've got over my traumas now,” he says. “I used to have nightmares and insomnia, but they're behind me.”

exerpted from Sydney Morning Herald, Timor: Back from the dead (June 19, 1999)


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