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Tenth Anniversary of Massacre Prompts Calls for Justice for East Timor

by CounterPunch Wire

On the tenth anniversary of the Santa Cruz Massacre in East Timor, the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) called for justice for its victims and the many others harmed by since Indonesia’s invasion and occupation of the territory in 1975. The 1991 massacre — witnessed and filmed by journalists –is considered a turning point in East Timor’s struggle for independence.

Grassroots activists in 20 U.S. cities will pay tribute to those killed with various actions throughout the week of November 12 to increase local and national awareness of the need for justice for East Timor and to urge a U.S. policy which supports an international tribunal for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in East Timor.

“East Timor will soon be independent, but its people have yet to see justice for 24 years of systematic rights abuses by the Indonesian military,” said John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN.

“We are urging the Bush administration to actively work for an international tribunal for East Timor. Such a policy would demonstrate a commitment to justice during the tenth anniversary of this notorious massacre and begin to redress the years of active U.S. support for Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor,” added Miller.

On November 12, 1991, Indonesian troops opened fire on a memorial procession to the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor’s capital, that had turned into a peaceful pro-independence demonstration. More than 270 East Timorese were murdered. This massacre, unlike many others committed during Indonesia’s 24-year occupation, was filmed and photographed by international journalists.

The Santa Cruz Massacre galvanized international support for East Timor and was the catalyst for congressional action to stem the flow of U.S. weapons and other assistance for Indonesia’s security forces.

“Almost two years ago, the UN Security Council called on Indonesia to bring the perpetrators of its 1999 scorched-earth campaign to justice ‘as soon as possible’ and ‘institute a swift, comprehensive, effective, and transparent legal process, in conformity with international standards of justice and due process of law.’ How much longer will this waiting game go on?” questioned Miller.

“The U.S. and other members of the Security Council can no longer pretend that Indonesia will bring senior or even mid-level military and civilian personnel responsible for crimes against humanity in East Timor to justice. Although the UN and Indonesia’s own human rights commission have documented a wealth of evidence strongly implicating the highest levels of Indonesia’s security forces, not one indictment, let alone a prosecution, has yet been filed against them, ” said Miller.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri recently amended the decree establishing the still-delayed Indonesian ad hoc human rights court on East Timor. The court’s scope remains limited to the months of April and September,1999, and to three of East Timor’s 13 districts, with no attention given to the many cases of violence against women. The court’s limited jurisdiction will effectively exclude the high-level planning of 1999’s scorched-earth campaign and the massive displacement of the population. Megawati’s newly appointed Attorney General M.A. Rahman has recommended prosecuting only low-ranking officers, ignoring those with the greatest responsibility.

ETAN activists across the U.S. will hold candlelight vigils, meet with congressional offices, and do local outreach to mark the Santa Cruz Massacre anniversary. A November 12 forum on “Justice for East Timor: 10 Years After the Santa Cruz Massacre” in New York City (7:30 p.m., 147 W. 70 St. nr. Columbus) will feature Constancio Pinto, East Timor’s representative to the U.S.; journalist Amy Goodman, an eyewitness to the Santa Cruz Massacre; and Michael Ratner, attorney with Center for Constitutional Rights, part of the legal team which has won substantial judgments in U.S. courts against Indonesian generals for crimes against humanity in East Timor, including the massacre.

In Congress Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) and Representatives Lane Evans (D-IL) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) are taking the lead to commemorate the Santa Cruz Massacre by circulating a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell urging the Bush administration to actively and publicly work for the establishment of an international tribunal on East Timor.

A UN International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor in January 2000 called for establishing an international tribunal. East Timor will become independent in May 2002 after two and one-half years of direct UN administration.

The East Timor Action Network/U.S. (ETAN) advocates democracy, sustainable development, social, legal, and economic justice and human rights, including women’s rights, for the people of East Timor. ETAN, which has 28 local chapters throughout the U.S., calls for an international tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity that took place in East Timor since 1975.

For more information on the massacre see or see ETAN’s web site:

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