Santa Cruz Massacre




History and

Santa Cruz

US Policy

East Timor Action
Network (ETAN)


In response to the UN sponsored delegation due to arrive in East Timor, the Indonesian military began threatening East Timorese. They threatened that whomever spoke out against Indonesia would be killed and massacres would be staged. Despite that the UN delegation never arrived in East Timor the Indonesian army staged a massacre anyway.

On November 12, 1991, over 270 East Timorese were massacred at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor, by Indonesian troops. The civilians were participating in a memorial precession honoring the death of Sebastio Gomez, a young man slain by the Indonesian military.

Sebastio Gomez was one of a number of young men who sought sanctuary in the church during the massacre that occured after the UN announced a delegation was to arrive in East Timor. At this point in the history of East Timor the Catholic Church was the only Timorese institution. There were no Timorese unions or press, political parties, peasant leagues, or student groups. All of the leaders of these groups had been executed. The Timorese people were put in jail for reading international newspapers or listening to international news on the radio. Public speech and right to assemble were also banned under the Indonesian army. Sebastio Gomez took refuge in the only institution left in East Timor and was seized and executed at point-blank range with a lethal pistol shot to his stomach. Upset by the attack on their church, over 1000 Timorese attended the funeral.

At the funeral procession many Timorese held signs and banners supporting the church and Timorese independence. As the procession made its way though the streets of Dili more Timorese joined. When the precession finally reached the cemetery there were about 3000-5000 protestors.

The procession was seen as a pro-independence demonstration protesting the atrocities committed by the Indonesian military. When the Indonesian soldiers got word of the procession they marched into the cemetery and opened fire into the crowd. After the massacre the Indonesian army sealed off the area. Religious people and aid workers were not allowed in. The wounded Timorese were left to bleed to death on the roads and in the cemetery.

The Indonesian troops participating in the massacre were backed by US support. The M-16 rifles used at Santa Cruz were provided by the US and the Indonesian military who led the attack were trained by the US. However, when the United States and the rest of the international community received news of the massacre at Santa Cruz the US and its allies doubled their military aid to Indonesia.

The massacre at Santa Cruz in 1991 sparked grassroots activists in the US to begin pushing Congress to cut off military training and support for Indonesia. Eventually the US Congress suspended defense training and military aid to Indonesia, however, many more Timorese were killed before this occured.