Indonesia's Dili massacre inquiry condemed as a 'whitewash'

January 22, 1992

Human rights groups and spokespeople for the East Timorese resistance movement have condemned as a whitewash the Indonesian government-appointed inquiry's preliminary report into the November 12 Dili massacre. The positive response of the Australian government to the report has also been condemned.

The commission of inquiry, composed of government officials with military links and hand-picked by President Suharto, exonerated the government and the armed forces hierarchy of responsibility for the killings.

The commission's report largely accepted the military's version of events, differing only on the estimate of the death toll, which it placed at "around 50" with another 90 still "missing". The military had continued with the claim that only 19 people were killed when troops fired indiscriminately on mourners outside the Santa Cruz cemetery. The actual death toll was at least 180.

Two days after the report was released, Suharto replaced two senior military officers with authority over troops in East Timor. He ordered the army chief of staff, Edy Sudrajat, to establish another commission to determine if any military personnel should face charges for their role in the massacre.

Suharto also ordered that demonstrators who had broken laws be prosecuted. As many as 14 Timorese are likely to be charged with subversion, which carries the death penalty.

The report, released on December 26, accused the East Timorese resistance movement, Fretilin, of "provocation and incitement of the youth" by instigating the demonstration. The demonstrators were blamed for provoking the soldiers by "shouting anti-Indonesian slogans, glorifying Fretilin leader [Gusmao] Xanana and ridiculing the security apparatus" and creating "a disorderly, wild and unruly atmosphere". The report repeats the military's claim that an "armed forces officer" was stabbed.

In response, the report claims, the soldiers, acting on their own and faced with acts from the protesters "which could endanger their weapons and their lives", reacted "spontaneously in self-defence". It added that another small, unidentified group "acting outside of any command or control, also fired shots and beat demonstrators, adding to the casualty toll".

While the report admitted that the soldiers "exceeded acceptable norms", it concluded that the massacre "was clearly not an act ordered by the government ... or the armed forces".

The Indonesian regime's allies were quick to endorse the report and reassure Jakarta that its $4 billion annual monetary and military aid would not be interrupted. According to the Far Eastern Economic Review, "many Jakarta-based diplomats praised the report". A senior Japanese official said that the report was "reasonably good and at the moment we see no need to do anything drastic". A US person described the report as "serious and responsible".

Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans said the report was "positive and helpful". The death toll figure was within the range he thought probable. Evans added that the 90 Timorese still unaccounted for may have "simply gone bush". Prime Minister Paul Keating has confirmed that he will visit Indonesia in the near future.

The Indonesian Human Rights Campaign, TAPOL, condemned the report as "a political move by President Suharto to limit the damage already inflicted on his regime by the well-documented revelations about the massacre".

The report, TAPOL points out, "contradicts the testimony of a video shot while the massacre was in progress, which shows the soldiers acting under the command of an officer who has been identified as the intelligence assistant of the Dili military command; it contradicts all the testimonies circulated widely by foreign eyewitnesses as well as testimonies from Timorese who were present at the demonstration".

TAPOL called on governments around the world to press immediately for a United Nations mission to visit East Timor without delay, to undertake a full and impartial investigation into the massacre and also to provide protection to the people of occupied East Timor, in preparation for concrete moves to initiate peace talks without preconditions, under UN auspices.

"The Santa Cruz massacre is not an isolated event; it is only the latest in a long history of mass slaughter inflicted on the East Timorese people since their country was invaded by Indonesia in December 1975. Since then, an estimated 200,000 people have lost their lives, nearly a third of the population. East Timor will never be free from repression and fear until the forces of occupation withdraw and the people can express their wishes in a referendum held under UN supervision", TAPOL concluded.

Jose Ramos Horta, overseas representative of the East Timor National Council of Maubere Resistance, also condemned the report and the support the Australian government expressed for it. He described the report as "a gross cover-up".

"I was thoroughly disappointed at Gareth Evans, who is now using [the report] as an opportunity to get himself and Indonesia off the hook ... Gareth Evans knows many more were killed ... but he is too gutless to admit it and face the Indonesians ...

"The whole issue of self determination in East Timor is the root of the problem", Horta explained. "[The report] has covered up the responsibility of people all the way up to President Suharto himself. They are the ones who ordered the troops to be in East Timor to start with. The East Timorese did not invite them ... the troops did not fire against orders. Orders were given to them long before November 12."

Writing in the Melbourne Age on January 2, Horta slammed the indifference shown by the Australian and other governments to the human rights of the Timorese people. The massacre "was not an 'aberration' as suggested by ... Gareth Evans. Rather, it he behaviour of Indonesian troops in East Timor. The only difference was that foreign eyewitnesses, and especially video cameras, were not on location before ...

"The facts are that innocent people including women and children were killed. Should it matter that 'only' 50 were killed and not more than 100, as most observers believe?

"Should Indonesia now escape international sanctions only because President Suharto decided to 'demote' two officers who in all likelihood will remain on active duty elsewhere in Indonesia and even be promoted in a few months from now? ...

"Indonesia must be compelled by the international community to desist from the occupation of East Timor. Indonesia must be told firmly that it must disengage from East Timor through a step-by-step process beginning with direct dialogue with credible representatives of the East Timorese resistance movement, either under the auspices of the United Nations or an acceptable mediator."

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