The Dili Massacre was the shooting of East Timorese protesters, in the Santa Cruz cemetery in the capital, Dili, on 12th November, 1991.
The protesters, mainly students, launched their protest against Indonesian rule at the funeral of a fellow student, Sebastião Gomes, who had been shot dead by Indonesian troops the month before. The students had been anticipating the arrival of a parliamentary delegation from Portugal, which was still legally recognised by the United Nations as the administering power. This had been cancelled after Jakarta objected to the inclusion in the delegation of Jill Joliffe , an Australian journalist who it regarded as supportive of the Fretilin independence movement.
At the funeral procession, students unfurled banners calling for self-determination and independence, displaying pictures of the independence leader Xanana Gusmão. As the procession entered the cemetery, Indonesian troops opened fire. Of the people demonstrating in the cemetery, 271 were killed, 382 wounded, and 250 disappeared. One of the dead was a New Zealander, Kamal Bamadhaj, a political science student and human rights activist based in Australia.
The massacre was eyewitnessed by two American journalists - Amy Goodman and Allan Nairn - and caught on videotape by Max Stahl, who was filming undercover for Yorkshire Television in the UK. The camera crew managed to smuggle the video footage to Australia. They gave it to a Dutch woman to avoid it being seized and confiscated by the Australian authorities, who had been tipped off by Indonesia and subjected the camera crew to a strip-search when they arrived in Darwin. The video footage was used in the First Tuesday documentary In Cold Blood: The Massacre of East Timor, shown on ITV in the UK in January, 1992.
The television pictures of the massacre were shown worldwide, causing the Indonesian government considerable embarrassment. In Portugal and Australia, both of which had sizeable East Timorese communities, there was a public outcry. Many Portuguese felt bad about their country's effective abandonment of their former colony in 1975, while many Australians felt ashamed at their government's support for the repressive Suharto regime in Indonesia. Although it prompted the Portuguese government to step up its diplomatic campaign, for the Australian government, the killings were, in the words of foreign minister Gareth Evans, 'an aberration'.
The massacre (also euphemistically called the Dili Incident by the Indonesian government) was likened to the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa in 1960, in which unarmed protesters were also shot dead, and which saw the apartheid regime subjected to international condemnation.
Now commemorated as a public holiday in an independent East Timor, 12th November is remembered by the East Timorese as one of the bloodiest days, which gained international attention to their fight for independence.
- Massacre: The Story of East Timor (http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=03/04/07/0328246) - Documentary broadcast by Democracy Now!.