12 November 2011
Index: ASA 57/004/2011
Timor-Leste: Santa Cruz massacre – still waiting for justice
20 years later
Amnesty International calls on the governments of
Timor-Leste and Indonesia to provide justice for
the victims of the Santa Cruz massacre which took
place 20 years ago in Dili, the capital. On the
morning of 12 November 1991 the Indonesian
security forces violently suppressed a peaceful
procession of some 3,000 Timorese people to the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili.
Both governments must investigate and bring to
justice all those responsible for unlawful
killings, enforced disappearances, excessive use
of force and other human rights violations during the peaceful demonstration.
The continued failure _ twenty years later _–
to hold all the perpetrators to account
highlights a wider problem of impunity for crimes
under international law and other human rights
violations committed during the Indonesian
occupation of Timor-Leste (then East Timor) between 1975 and 1999.
Many of the Timorese had attended an early
morning memorial for Sebastião Gomes Rangel, who
had reportedly been killed by Indonesian security
forces on 28 October 1991. As the procession made
its way to the cemetery, pro-independence banners
and flags were raised. Minutes after the crowd
arrived at the cemetery, the security forces
opened fire. No warning was given.
According to eyewitness accounts obtained by
Amnesty International immediately after the
massacre, some soldiers fired into the air but
others levelled their weapons at the crowd. The
cemetery walls and the large crowd made it
difficult to escape, but the shooting continued
even as people tried to flee. Some were believed
to have been shot in the back while running away.
Many of the demonstrators were shot and killed,
or otherwise injured. Hundreds of people were
said to have been badly injured during the incident.
In a report released in 1994, the UN Special
Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary
executions found that members of the Indonesian
military were responsible for killings during the
event and that the response was “a planned
military operation designed to deal with a public
expression of political dissent in a way not in
accordance with international human rights standards”.
The precise numbers of those killed, disappeared
and injured during the massacre and in the
immediate aftermath remains unknown, although it
is estimated that over 200 people were killed or
disappeared and around 400 wounded. Two decades
later, calls for justice have yet to be fulfilled
and attempts to hold the perpetrators to account have been weak.
In 2001, the Timorese government set up the
Commission for Reception, Truth and
Reconciliation in East Timor (Comissão de
Acolhimento, Verdade e Reconciliação, CAVR),
mandated to inquire into and establish the truth
regarding human rights violations which occurred
between 1974 and 1999. In 2005 the Commission
published its report, which recommended the
investigation and prosecution of those suspected
of serious crimes under international law
committed from 1975-1999, including the Santa
Cruz massacre. According to the Commission,
despite evidence of the direct involvement of 72
military officers, to date only 10 have been
tried and sentenced by military courts to between
eight and 18 months’ imprisonment. The Commission
further recommended steps to establish the
whereabouts and fate of the disappeared and reparation for victims.
Amnesty International urges the Timorese and
Indonesian authorities to initiate promptly an
independent, impartial and effective
investigation into the events at the Santa Cruz
cemetery on 12 November 1991. This investigation
should be within the framework of a wider
investigation into serious crimes committed
during 1975-1999. The Timorese and Indonesian
authorities should also bring the perpetrators to
justice in fair trials without the death penalty
and ensure that victims receive full reparation.
The vast majority of those accused of human
rights violations are believed to have been given
safe haven in Indonesia, and Amnesty
International urges the Indonesian authorities to
co-operate fully with investigations and
prosecutions of persons accused of crimes in
Timor-Leste between 1975 and 1999, including by
entering into extradition and mutual legal
assistance agreements with Timor-Leste.
Amnesty International also reiterates its call to
the United Nations Security Council to take
immediate steps to establish a long-term
comprehensive plan to end impunity for these
crimes. As part of that plan, the Security
Council should establish an international
criminal tribunal with jurisdiction over all
crimes under international law committed in Timor-Leste between 1975 and 1999.
In 2005, a UN Commission of Experts recommended
that the Security Council adopt a resolution
under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to create an
ad hoc international criminal tribunal for
Timor-Leste if genuine steps have not been taken
towards holding to account those responsible for
crimes against humanity and war crimes in
Timor-Leste. Six years later, such steps have still not been taken.
Amnesty International further calls on the
Government of Timor-Leste to implement the
recommendation of the CAVR to establish a public
register of missing persons and those killed
between 1975 and 1999 and to undertake jointly
with the Indonesian government a systematic
inquiry to establish the whereabouts and fate of those who went missing.
Amnesty International also calls on the
Timor-Leste and Indonesian governments to ratify
the International Convention for the Protection
of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance at the
earliest opportunity, incorporate its provisions
into domestic law, and implement it in policy and practice.