Remembering the Santa Cruz massacre in Timor-Leste

It is a hot Monday morning and I am in Dili, Timor-Leste. It is 12 November and I am marching with thousands of Timorese through the town to the Santa Cruz cemetery where 21 years ago Indonesian security forces killed scores of peaceful protesters.

In 1991, they walked exactly the same way as we are walking today. They came to Santa Cruz cemetery to lay flowers on the graves of [those] killed by the Indonesian security forces two weeks earlier. As they walked the Indonesian security forces opened fire on them.

The event became known as the Santa Cruz massacre – a moment which changed the history of the Timorese struggle for independence.

The world could no longer pretend that everything was business as usual in Timor. Human rights violations by the Indonesian security forces became well known to the world. After a further eight years of struggle, a majority voted for independence in a UN-sponsored referendum in 1999. This became reality in 2002.

12 November is an important day in Timor-Leste. But this year it is particularly significant as the UN Security Council is set to debate the situation in the country.

They do so in the knowledge that by the end of this year all peacekeeping personnel will leave the country.This looks set to include members of the Serious Crimes Investigation Team, who have been working to complete investigations in to human rights violations committed in the context of the 1999 independence referendum.

To date there has been no comprehensive process to bring to justice those responsible for crimes against humanity and serious human rights violations committed in 1999 and during the Indonesian occupation that began in 1975.

More than 300 people indicted for crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations continue to evade justice in Indonesia.

The country’s authorities have refused to co-operate with the UN-sponsored justice system in Timor-Leste and to extradite their nationals suspected of crimes against humanity and serious human rights violations.

In Indonesia, all 18 defendants originally tried for crimes committed in Timor-Leste during 1999 by the ad hoc Human Rights Court in Jakarta were later acquitted by that court or later on appeal.

As we walk in the heat I wonder how many years must pass before the Timorese and Indonesian authorities – and the international community – take any meaningful action to bring justice to the victims? Are the victims going to see justice one day at all? Will the UN Security Council exercise its leadership later today by showing its commitment to justice?

Thousands of Timorese here today are shouting slogans demanding justice for those who perished in 1991 and the ones who were killed, tortured, raped and disappeared during the years of occupation of then East Timor by Indonesia between 1975 and 1999.

What I know for sure is that they will not stop until the justice has been served.

READ MORE:Timor-Leste: Victims of killings, rape and torture deserve justice (Press Release, 12 November 2012)
Timor-Leste: Tackling impunity in Timor-Leste and Indonesia: Justice is the only way, (Public Statement, 12 November 2012)