"When film footage of the massacre at Santa Cruz*. was broadcast to audiences around the world it provoked a significant international outcry against the practices of the Indonesian military in Timor-Leste.... However, ... even in the face of strong international demands to bring those who had killed unarmed demonstrators to account, the institutional practices of ABRI/TNI provided the majority of perpetrators who were most responsible with effective impunity." -- Chega! Final Report of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor (CAVR)
Minister Xanana Gusmao and Fretilin leader Mari Alkatiri
at Santa Cruz cemetery, Nov. 12, 2013. Photo via
On November 12, 1991, Indonesian troops fired upon a peaceful memorial procession to a cemetery in Dili, East Timor that had turned into a pro-independence demonstration. More than 271 East Timorese were killed that day at the Santa Cruz cemetery or in hospitals soon after. An equal number were disappeared and are believed dead. This massacre, unlike many others which occurred during the course of Indonesia's U.S.-backed occupation, was filmed and photographed by international journalists. Amy Goodman and Allan Nairn, two U.S. reporters, were beaten during the massacre.
The Santa Cruz Massacre sparked the international solidarity movement for East Timor, including the founding of the East Timor Action Network, and was the catalyst for congressional action to stem the flow of U.S. weapons and other military assistance for Indonesia’s brutal security forces. Ali Alatas, former foreign minister of Indonesia, called the massacre a "turning point," which set in motion the events leading to East Timor's coming independence.
The people of East Timor now have their freedom and are an independent nation, but they have yet to see justice for decades human rights crimes inflicted on their people and country by the Indonesian military.
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.
Casualties of the November 12, 1991 Massacre at Santa Cruz Cemetery in Dili, East Timor
These lists were compiled by the Portuguese solidarity group "A Paz e Possivel em Timor-Leste" (Peace is Possible in East Timor). It was published in leading Portuguese newspapers in November, 1992. Jose Ramos-Horta described how the data was obtained:
"... has been compiled by 12 teams of East Timorese students, school teachers, priests, nuns, nurses, paramedics, hospital staff, workers a the morgues, totaling 72 researchers, working round the clock for three months, interviewing household members in each "bairro," immediately after 12 November 1991.
The preliminary report reached Lisbon in February and was handed over to two specialist groups in Portugal that have been investigating human rights abuses in East Timor for more than 10 years. A copy was channeled to Amnesty International for independent verification.
It took six months for mass of the detailed information sent from East Timor to be processed and analyzed. The researchers took extreme care in double-checking each piece of information."