Santa Cruz Massacre: The Day That Changed History of Timor-Leste
The Santa Cruz Massacre in Timor-Leste was a shootout of pro-independence demonstrators at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, November 12, 1991, during the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste.
Most of the victims were young, so after independence, it became a holiday, National Youth Day in East Timor.
On that day there had been a mass for the soul of Sebastião Gomes, a young member of the Timorese resistance (RENETIL), and there was a roughage to his grave in the cemetery.
The youths motivated by the revolt over this assassination have turned up against the Indonesian military in order to show their support for Indonesia’s independence.
After the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia in 1975 (then formally still Portuguese Timor), many Timorese felt oppressed and were killed for political reasons.
Since then, the Timorese resistance has fought the Indonesian army.
In October 1991 a delegation with members of the Portuguese Parliament and 12 journalists planned to visit the territory of East Timor during the visit of the UN Special Representative for Human Rights and Torture, Pieter Kooijmans.
The Indonesian government objected to the inclusion in the delegation of the Australian journalist Jill Jolliffe, who supported and helped the Fretilin independence movement, and Portugal consequently canceled the delegation’s departure.
The cancellation demoralized the pro-independence activists in East Timor who hoped to use the visit to improve the international visibility of their cause.
Tensions between the Indonesian authorities and Timorese youth have increased following the cancellation of the visit of the deputies of Portugal.
On 28 October, Indonesian troops located a group of resistance members at Motael Church in Dili.
The confrontation took place between the pro-integration activists and the pro-independence activists who were in the Church; when it was over, a man on either side was dead.
Sebastião Gomes, a supporter of East Timor’s independence, was withdrawn from the Church and shot down by the Indonesian troops and the integrationist Afonso Henriques was shot and killed during the fighting.
On November 12, more than two thousand people marched from the church where a mass was celebrated in memory of Sebastião Gomes until the cemetery of Santa Cruz, where he is buried, to pay him homage.
The Indonesian army opened fire on the population, killing 271 people on the spot and 127 on the wound, in the following days. The location of many bodies is still unknown.
Some demonstrators were arrested and released only in 1999, at the time of the referendum for independence.
Recording of the Santa Cruz Massacre by Max Stahl
The massacre was filmed by image reporter Max Stahl, who gave valuable help to make known to the world what had happened in Dili.
The events were condemned internationally and drew attention to the Timorese cause.
In 1992 Rui Veloso, a Portuguese musician, composed and performed the song Maubere in favor of the Timorese cause.
On November 12, 1991, Timor-Leste was experiencing this tragic moment in its history, but the impact it had on public opinion made this event one of the most important steps in the internationalization of the Timorese cause, as the suffering of a people.
After the Santa Cruz massacre, almost all countries began to support Timor-Leste and recognized the right of their population to determine whether or not Timor-Leste should be independent, which came to pass with the referendum eight years later, on 30 August 1999.
National Youth Day
The Massacre of Santa Cruz, on November 12, 1991, caused great suffering for Timorese youth.
Because of this massacre in which the youth wanted to manifest and demonstrate to the world that there were discrimination and violation of Human Rights in the territory, since the beginning of the invasion, this is considered the Day of Youth in East Timor.
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