Saturday, November 12, 2011

East Timor’s Santa Cruz massacre - reflections 20 years on

An American social justice and development campaigner who has devoted much of his life to the East Timorese cause and lives in the independent nation, reflects on the struggles since the Santa Cruz massacre in Dili on 12 November 1991. Photo:La’o Hamutuk

By Charles Scheiner in Dili

TONIGHT, I’m honored to be with so many young Timorese people who believe in justice and independence. Twenty years ago, brave people just like you peacefully demonstrated against the Indonesian occupation of your country. Nobody paid them, or ordered them, or told them it would be safe or easy.

The Santa Cruz protesters inspired people around the world, including me. I was in New York, and I heard about the massacre on community radio. Although I already knew about Indonesia’s illegal occupation here, and about the criminal support my US government was giving to it, I hadn’t done much to stop it.

A month after the Santa Cruz massacre, I and some other friends organised a peaceful protest at the Indonesian Mission to the UN. We didn’t risk being shot or tortured, but we knew we had to speak out in solidarity with the heroes of Santa Cruz who risked and lost their lives in the struggle for self-determination.

It was much easier for us than it was for your parents – but it was also hard, because so many other Americans didn’t know or care that our government was complicit with Indonesia in committing crimes against humanity in Timor-Leste.

Our demonstration grew into a movement – the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) – that had more than 15,000 members and 25 chapters all across the United States by 1999.

Through public education, lobbying, demonstrations, outreach, coalition-building and every other kind of nonviolent action we could think of, we turned US policy around.

Washington had provided most of the weapons and training for the Indonesian military from 1975 until 1991, but pressure from American citizens cut it off.

Door opened
By 1998, the United States gtovernment had abandoned Suharto and was supporting self-determination – helping to open a door for the people of Timor-Leste to finally end Indonesia’s occupation.

It’s 12 years later now, 20 years after the Santa Cruz massacre and the founding of the East TimorAction Network.

East Timor has been independent for nine years. You have your own government, your own leaders, your own political debates, your own successes… and your own mistakes.

I feel privileged to live here during this period, traveling that journey with you. Building a peaceful, democratic nation, with economic and social justice for its entire population, may be even harder than throwing out the Indonesian army and police.

We are still far from some of our goals. In particular, the foreigners responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against the Timorese people have not been held accountable.

These were international crimes – the Indonesian invasion of Portuguese Timor (RDTL after 28 November 1975, but Indonesian aggression started before that) violated international law, as did the thousands of massacres, tortures, rapes, killings and other crimes that were part of the occupation.

When people are ordered or paid by one government to commit crimes against people in another country, those are international crimes. When other governments, including my own, give political, military, diplomatic or financial support to these crimes, they also become criminals.

Apology to Timorese
As a US citizen (I am not yet a Timorese citizen, but hope to become one), I have to apologise to the people of Timor-Leste because I and my fellow Americans took so long to stop our government from supporting crimes against you, while tens of thousands of Timorese people were killed.

As a human being, I join the Timorese people – including survivors and victims’ families – in calling for an end to impunity for crimes against humanity.

A hero of my country – ex-slave Frederick Douglass – once said that “Power never concedes anything without a demand.”

If we want justice, we have to demand it – it will not come by itself.

As you know, there was progress a few years ago. Between 1999 and 2005, Commissions of Inquiry established by the United Nations, Indonesia and Timor-Leste recognised the international nature of the huge crimes committed here and called for the prosecution of those who perpetrated them.

During UNTAET, the UN Serious Crimes Unit indicted nearly 400 people for crimes committed during 1999, bringing 87 to trial and convicting 84. But everyone brought to trial was Timorese, and none of them are still in prison.

None of the people who murdered Santa Cruz protesters 20 years ago were Timorese.

Larger problem
A larger problem is the 300 people indicted by the SCU who have never been arrested because Indonesia is sheltering them. And even more fundamental, no action has been taken against those who directed and executed the 99 percent of occupation-related crimes committed during its first 23 years.

Those perpetrators were carrying out criminal policies of the Suharto dictatorship, and most of them were soldiers following orders from Jakarta, shooting guns made in the United States, flying bombers from Britain or the US, getting political support from Australia or Malaysia or France.

The United Nations says there must never be impunity for Crimes Against Humanity. In 2002, nations from all over the world established the International Criminal Court to try such crimes when national processes are unwilling or unable to – but unfortunately it has no power to judge crimes committed before the court was set up.

In 2005, this global consensus was reflected by a UN Commission of Experts, who concluded that an international tribunal should be created if judicial processes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste fail to achieve justice for crimes committed during Indonesia’s occupation of Timor-Leste.

But today, the UN runs away – they and the other responsible governments and agencies say that Timor-Leste’s government has the responsibility but not the will to end impunity.

For some of us – Timorese and foreigners – the struggle is not over. We draw courage from people like Argentinian justice activist Patricia Isasa, who visited here last month. She campaigned for 33 years before her torturers and kidnappers were finally sent to prison.

Here, our justice campaign is only 12 years old. Although the UN, other governments, and some Timorese politicians prioritise diplomatic relations with formerly hostile nearby governments over justice, and although some say economic development is more important than accountability, there is no need to choose.

Criminal masterminds
Relations between democratic states can go well even while criminals are brought to justice. People’s economic lives – including victims of past crimes — can improve at the same time that masterminds of those crimes are brought to court. There is no need to choose among economic, social and criminal justice.

We, citizens of countries from around the world who support Timor-Leste’s people, will continue to demand that our governments and the United Nations keep their promises that impunity can never be accepted.

Today, ETAN issued a press release calling “for the US and other governments and the United Nations to commit to justice for the victims and their families. The 1991 massacre was a major turning point in Timor-Leste’s struggle for liberation.

“When we saw and heard about the Indonesian military shooting down hundreds of peaceful, unarmed student protesters, we knew we had to do something to stop the killing. The Santa Cruz massacre inspired many around the world to work for justice for the East Timorese people.”

Earlier this week, former General Taur Matan Ruak said: “Justisa sei iha” (there will be justice).

President Jose Ramos-Horta hopes that a courageous, young Indonesian prosecutor may bring high-level criminals to court five or ten years from now.

But it will never happen if we don’t continue to demand it. People in Timor-Leste, together with our friends in Indonesia, the United States and around the world, should see today’s anniversary as an opportunity – and a challenge – to renew our commitment to struggle for justice.

Since neither the Indonesian nor Timor-Leste governments are yet ready to end impunity, it is up to us.

Obrigado. A luta continua!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Papuan church no longer a safe haven

The Church has traditionally been seen as a non-partisan player in Papuan politics. In this statement, Father Neles Tebay tells of his fear that the Church is no longer respected as a safe haven for all Papuan citizens. Indonesian military and police shot directly at participants of the third Papuan People’s Congress as they tried to escape from a church property on the afternoon of 19 October 2011. Father Tebay, rector of the Fajar Timur School of Theology in Jayapura, tells how he heard Indonesian military (TNI) officers shouting, “We’ve got a runner … shoot!” as they ransacked the church property looking for congress participants. (Photo and story: Engage Media):

ON WEDNESDAY, 19 October, at around 9.00am, armed police officers, Mobile Brigade officers and TNI soldiers arrived to the Fajar Timur School of Theology in Pansers (army tanks), patrol cars and trucks.

They patrolled around the school…

They didn’t tell the campus that they were coming. It made us feel very uneasy and we suspected that trouble was looming. We didn’t want to get dragged in to the mess, so we decided to send home all staff at 10.00am.

At around 11.00am, a fully armed joint security team entered the theology campus. They went around at will without notifying anyone from the campus or the seminaries. They rested in a hut, but students and staff asked them not to disturb the study areas. After [a while], they retreated back to the mountains.

In the afternoon, around 3.30pm, several soldiers and officers entered the buildings that housed the theology students, saying that they were looking for the congress participants who had fled the scene. They broke doors, went inside the computer lab and ransacked the place.

A soldier said, "Bring those computers for evidence". Windows were smashed also. A student begged and said, "Please don’t, this is the house of the mission". Many other students were scared and hid in the back room. Several congress participants who had managed to take shelter at the campus hid in the bathrooms. When they tried to escape, I could hear the soldiers shouting, "We’ve got a runner … shoot!".

Standing in shock
When the soldiers were approaching the back room where students were hiding, there was a command: "There is boundary! There is boundary! Stop action! Retreat!". Then it went silent. After waiting a while, the students were brave enough to leave the room and headed for the house of the head teacher. One of the students was barely standing as he was in shock.

Meanwhile, also at 3.30pm, Father John Jehuru OSA, rector of the Inter-diocesan Seminary, was in his study room when a bullet came flying through his window. He had been watching the events unfold in Zakeus Field from afar. The bullet came close to him, barely a metre from his body.

The soldiers also went into other buildings. They went into the building that houses seminary students from the districts of Manokwari and Sorong. They yelled at the students: "Is this the house of the mission? Where are those priests? Those stupid priests! The priests who hid the fleeing participants!"

In the building that housed seminary students from Merauke, the soldiers apprehended a student by the name of Agus Alua who happened to be standing outside when the soldiers came. Windows were shattered with bullets. The soldiers that went into this house came in from the mountains. It is unclear whether these were the same soldiers who were at the house earlier, at 11.00am in the morning.

The soldiers chased the fleeing congress participants to the housing complex. They shot tear gas. One solider went inside one of the houses and found a lady hiding underneath the bed. The soldier asked: "Who are you?" She said: "I live here!", the soldier said: "Just get out, don’t be afraid", and the lady, as she got out, from under the bed said, "I’m not afraid of you, sir, but I’m afraid of your bullets and tear gas". The soldier left the house.

The Sang Surya Monastery gave refuge to many of the congress participants. Chair of the Papuan Customary Council (and congress-elected President) Forkorus Yaboisembut and Dominikus Surabut were resting there after the congress ended.

Father Gonsa Saur, head of the seminary housing, was awakened by the gunfire. He put on his Fransiscan robe and walked out. There uniformed soldiers and several plain-clothes officers were about to enter the house when he blocked them. They managed to go in anyway and the father saw the men were carrying rifles and pistols. Due to pressure, the father asked the guests of the house to leave the rooms, several did, but others were still hiding inside.

Violent assaults
Father Gonsa said to the soldiers: "you can take them, but please don’t hurt them". The soldiers kept their word … until they left the housing complex, where they began to punch and kick the congress participants.

President-elect Forkorus Yaboisembut was pulled violently and yelled at by armed plain-clothes officers. A woman was also pulled out from the seminary housing.

One soldier suddenly went up to the second floor. Father Gonsa asked him to come down. Around 10 unidentified persons came of the rooms and surrendered themselves. The soldier told them to squat. There were three women among the apprehended persons.

The Yohanes Maria Vianey Seminary was also used as a refuge for participants. Three soldiers in separate occasions pointed their guns to Father Yan You’s head as head of the seminary. They said: "You are hiding them!". Father Yan said: "Just kill me, shoot me, come on!".

The soldiers broke doors, entered rooms and violently pulled out those in hiding. Seminary students asked the soldiers not to hurt the apprehended congress participants. But a student who was trying to help a participant, who’d been shot, was hit with the butt of a rifle. The student fractured his arm, and his nose swelled after he was hit by a rubber stick. He was also detained for a night at the police station and hospitalised for his injuries.

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