Fifteen Years Later
East Timor Massacre
Victims Still Waiting for Justice
By BEN TERRALL and JOHN M.
This November 12 marks the
fifteenth anniversary of the 1991 massacre at the Santa Cruz
cemetery in Dili, East Timor (also called Timor-Leste).
On that day, Indonesian soldiers
killed at least 271 East Timorese civilians nonviolently marching to
demand a UN-supervised referendum after years of illegal Indonesian
U.S. reporter Allan Nairn, who
joined the marchers and had his skull fractured by a soldier
wielding a U.S.-supplied M-16, wrote later: "The troops fired no
warning shots and did not tell the crowd to disperse. They . . .
raised their rifles to their shoulders all at once and opened fire."
By the time of the Santa Cruz
massacre, more than 100,000 East Timorese had died as a result of
the U.S.-backed occupation. But the testimony and documentation of
Nairn, Amy Goodman and other foreign journalists who survived Santa
Cruz exposed the brutality of Indonesian military occupation to the
outside world, and helped spark a campaign in the U.S. to block
military aid to Jakarta.
East Timor finally achieved
independence after a hard-won referendum in 1999, a process steeped
in yet more Indonesian military mass killings. Under intense U.S.
grassroots pressure, the Clinton administration suspended all
military assistance to Jakarta when the Indonesian military
responded to the pro-independence vote by laying waste to East Timor
in September 1999, and Congress subsequently legislated continuing
limits on aid. But after seven years and countless processes,
Indonesia, Timor-Leste and the United Nations have failed to achieve
accountability for crimes against humanity committed between 1975
and 1999. This impunity has led some in Timor-Leste to believe that
they will not be held accountable when they commit violent crimes.
Timor-Leste's people still live
with their memories of Indonesia's quarter-century of illegal
military occupation; the majority of them experienced this brutality
first-hand or have victims in their immediate families. This
unhealed mass trauma continues to strongly influence the reactions
of Dili residents, both in their decisions to flee en masse during
armed battles between police and military this past April and in the
fact that many still refuse to return home. The secrecy and
self-reliance essential to the independence struggle needs to be
transformed into transparency, accountability, and open debate.
The majority of East Timorese, and
their supporters internationally, continue to view an international
tribunal to pursue Indonesian generals and political leaders who
organized and ordered the worst atrocities during the occupation as
the only resolution for the current situation of impunity and
post-traumatic stress. A credible international tribunal can
demonstrate that impunity will not prevail, as indicated by a May
2005 UN Commission of
Experts report on 1999 human rights violations in East Timor.
That report concluded, "The Commission wishes to emphasize the
extreme cruelty with which these acts were committed, and that the
aftermath of these events still burdens the Timorese society. The
situation calls not only for sympathy and reparations, but also for
justice. While recognizing the virtue of forgiveness and that it may
be justified in individual cases, forgiveness without justice for
the untold privation and suffering inflicted would be an act of
weakness rather than of strength."
Timor-Leste's truth commission,
the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor
(known by its Portuguese initials, CAVR) came to equally strong
conclusions on the need for concrete justice. The product of three
years of extensive research by dozens of East Timorese and
international experts, the CAVR report
(called "Chega!", Portuguese for "Enough!") recommended reparations
to East Timorese victims from countries -- including the U.S. --
which backed the occupation, and from corporations which sold
weapons to Indonesia during that period.
An East Timorese involved in
disseminating the report throughout the country remarked, "It is
clear that many in the community who took part in seminars on Chega!
over the last two months saw a strong connection between the
findings and recommendations of Chega! and the re-emergence of
violence and instability. Many asked why East Timorese leaders have
failed to learn the lessons of the past."
|Crowd shouts "Viva" after Nov. 1998
the 1991 massacre to show their determination
for independence. Photo by Mark Rhomberg.
Unfortunately, the Bush
Administration refuses to learn past lessons. It is willing to give
the Indonesian military nearly anything, sacrificing justice in the
name of fighting terrorism. On November 22, 2005,
the State Department announced,
"it is in the national security interests of the United States to
waive conditionality pertaining to Foreign Military Financing (FMF)
and defense exports to Indonesia." Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT),
author of Congressional restrictions this maneuver overrode,
the move "an abuse of discretion and an affront to the Congress.
To waive on national security grounds a law that seeks justice for
crimes against humanity -- without even obtaining the Indonesian
government's assurance that it will address these concerns -- makes
a mockery of the process and sends a terrible message."
Given the US electorate's strong
rejection of Bush's politics of empire in the recent congressional
elections, there now exists the potential to change that message and
to once again move toward a process of justice for the many victim's
of U.S.-backed Indonesian military crimes in East Timor, including
those at Santa Cruz 15 years ago.
is a San Francisco-based writer. John M. Miller is National
Coordinator of the East Timor and
Indonesia Action Network in New York.
Counterpunch Weekend Edition,
November 11-12, 2006