Remembering the Santa Cruz Massacre

12 November 2011

To mark the 20th anniversary of the infamous Santa Cruz Massacre, we present here a guide to recent commentary and some archival resources on this landmark event.

Relatives hold photos of Santa Cruz massacre victims during a commemoration in Dili, 12 November 2009. (1)

The shooting by Indonesian troops of an unknown number of unarmed Timorese demonstrators at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili on 12 November 1991 was a watershed event in East Timor’s modern history.

While other massacres and much larger losses of life occurred in earlier years of Indonesian rule, the Santa Cruz Massacre became the iconic representation of the military occupation of East Timor.

The essential difference between this event and earlier crimes was that it was witnessed and recorded by independent (ie non-Timorese and non-Indonesian) reporters and other observers.

The impact of this event on East Timor’s future was decisive. In the words of former Indonesian foreign Minister Alatas, thereafter “international support for Indonesia’s position inexorably declined while that for the independence movement in East Timor markedly increased”. (2)

Long-term preservation of the documentary source materials is crucial to retaining for future generations a detailed knowledge and understanding of this event. Some of these documents may also serve justice if the perpetrators of the crimes on this day in 1991 ever face a proper and fair trial.


Centro Audiovisual Max Stahl – Timor-Leste (CAMS-TL)
British film maker Max Stahl’s dramatic video footage of the massacre was crucial to international knowledge of the event. Copies of the original footage and productions including key scenes are held at CAMS-TL in Dili.

The French National Audiovisual Institute (INA) houses copies of some Max Stahl Timor footage. INA provides sample sequences for viewing online – including the original Santa Cruz footage and subsequent interviews with survivors.

Some Stahl footage can be found on YouTube, including this low resolution sequence.

CHART recently published a guide to CAMS-TL video footage, including the 1991 material and a transcript of some massacre footage.

Resistance Archive & Museum (AMRT)
AMRT provides online access to vast numbers of digitised documents, including Santa Cruz material.

The 20th anniversary is commemorated by AMRT with a special website presentation which also includes a link to a catalogue search result on the term “Santa Cruz”.

Commission for Reception, Truth & Reconciliation (CAVR)
The library and archives of Timor’s CAVR (now managed by a Post-CAVR Secretariat) hold original records on Santa Cruz, including eye-witness accounts. An account of the event and a guide to sources can be found in CAVR’s monumental 2005 report Chega!. See especially Chapter 3 (p.115ff) and Chapter 7 (p.199ff).

ACFOA Human Rights Office
The Human Rights office of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid (now ACFID), headed by Pat Walsh, collected extensive materials on Santa Cruz during the course of its long-standing advocacy work for East Timorese justice and self-determination. CHART produces here for the first time a guide to the content of these files.

This collection of material remains in private hands but under CHART custody where it will be the focus of an extensive digitisation program in 2012 for easy access in Timor-Leste and elsewhere.

East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)
ETAN began in the USA in response to the Santa Cruz massacre and soon became a key reference point for international East Timor activism and advocacy.

ETAN marked the 20th anniversary with a feature page on the event and maintains a guide to Santa Cruz information and ongoing calls for justice on the matter.

Clinton Fernandes
Prominent Timor researcher and justice advocate Clinton Fernandes’ web-based Companion to East Timor includes some sample documents and a summary of Santa Cruz.

Jill Jolliffe
Microfiche copies of some Santa Cruz material may be found in Jill Jolliffe’s archival collection. See pages 35-36 of the guide to her collection – The East Timor Question, 1975-1996.

The Jolliffe collection is held by a number of academic and major libraries in Australia and elsewhere.

National Archives of Australia (NAA)
NAA holds large volumes of material on East Timor. However access to its holdings are generally covered by a standard ‘closed period‘ of twenty to thirty years after the events documented. Santa Cruz files will not be open for access until 2016-17.

With the exception of documentary fragments held in collections outside Indonesia, we have no knowledge of accessible official or unofficial Santa Cruz records in Indonesia.

Other sources and commentary?
Here is a list of other instances,  from disparate sources, of online Santa Cruz materials and commemorations of the 20th anniversary. More to be listed in coming days.

Forensic studies report (2010) by Soren Blau & Luis Fondbrider

Amnesty International Statement (2011-11-12)

Historical Justice & Memory Research Network

La’o Hamutuk reflection (2011-11-12) (Indonesian)

TSF Radio Noticias (Portugal) – includes some great still images of Santa Cruz events.

Sapo Noticias Timor-Leste  (Portuguese language feature)

If you know of other significant archival collections with Santa Cruz content, please advise us and we will add them to this guide.


(1) Martine Perret / UNMIT, 2008. See online source.

(2) Ali Alatas. The pebble in the shoe: the diplomatic struggle for East Timor. Aksara Karunia, Jakarta, 2006, p.64.

1992 Xanana capture: Indonesian records

23 May 2011

Xanana Gusmao moments after his capture. Dili, 20 November 1992

Indonesian video footage of the 1992 capture of East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao is the tip of an iceberg of still-secret Indonesian records about its military invasion and occupation of East Timor.

Aired on Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service program, Dateline, on 22 May 2011, the footage shows Indonesian preparations for the raid on a house in Dili where Xanana was known to be hiding, the armed raid and arrest and parts of a later exchange between Xanana and the head of the Indonesian military, General Try Sutrisno, who flew to Dili on news of the capture. The footage also shows Xanana’s belongings – including weapons and documents.

Questions arising
Several obvious questions arise from viewing this footage: What was the origin of the footage used by SBS and is other material available from that source; will this material be made available to East Timorese institutions for long-term preservation and access; given the relatively poor quality of the footage, does a better master exist; are the documents and weapons captured with Xanana still kept in Indonesia and if so, will they ever be repatriated to East Timor?

Xanana interrogation in Bali – more detail
A further pointer to Indonesian records of the Xanana capture can be found in a 2007 account of Xanana’s interrogation in Bali just days after his arrest in Dili.

Xanana with his interrogator, Lieut-Col. Nurhana, Bali, 1992

Nurhana Tirtaamijaya, an Indonesian military police commander in 1992 and Xanana’s principal interrogator, published in 2007 a personal account of his encounters with the prized political prisoner. Pak Nurhana’s account, while emphasising his claimed ‘victory’ over Xanana, also gives some insight into the sequence of events between the resistance leader’s arrest and his incarceration in Cipinang Prison.

Australian researcher Ernie Chamberlain has translated the Nurhana text. A small selection of images from the interrogation, including captions identifying participants, can be found on Nurhana’s website (scroll through images). See also:
Xanana & Nurhana : Xanana writing : Xanana with laughing interrogators : Xanana laughing

Tapping into Indonesian records
Pak Nurhana says the story he tells was once a State top secret. Hopefully, his preparedness to tell his story publicly means other knowledgeable Indonesians may be prepared to also release their Timor information.

The task of seeking, finding and securing primary records of Indonesia’s East Timor history is large and urgent. We hope this task will be taken up by the people who can best do this – interested and concerned Indonesians.

Thanks to Ernie Chamberlain for drawing my attention to the Nurhana article and, especially, for his translation.

Thanks to Sara Niner for the use of her Xanana capture image – taken from her blog item on the topic.

Nurhana Tirtaamijaya website

Vale Penny Tweedie

24 January 2011

Penny Tweedie, one of a select group of professional photographers who have contributed irreplaceable images to the documentary record of East Timor’s modern history, died tragically in England on 09 January 2011.

Her photographs of events and people in East Timor in the immediate aftermath of the dramatic 1975 civil war will be especially important to future generations of East Timorese. Her contribution to East Timor’s archival record will live on in these images.

Some details of her extraordinary working life can be found in an obituary in The Guardian (UK).

Timor images
A small number of Penny’s 1975 Timor images are well-known – though often circulated on the internet without any attribution to, or knowledge of, the original creator.

Penny was very protective of her professional copyright and was unhappy with unauthorised use of her work. For this reason, we have not reproduced any of those images here.

A number of agencies handle commercial distribution of Penny’s work and carry samples of her Timor photographs on their websites. The most comprehensive set of 1975 images can be found at Panos.

The Alamy agency also displays some of her 1975 images, along with work from a 2007 visit to Timor Leste. A subset of the Alamy images can be seen at Corbis.

Arriving in East Timor after 1975 civil war. (From left) Bob Hannan, Jose Ramos-Horta, Penny Tweedie, Clive Scollay

Many 1975 images still unseen
A much larger number of images from her 1975 visit to East Timor have yet to be seen publicly. In personal communications with CHART in 2009-10, Penny advised she had some 50 rolls of black and white film.

Penny agreed to a CHART request to place copies of all these images on this website;  the mechanics of achieving this must now await later discussions with her Estate.

Tweedie materials already in Timor Leste
Official copies of some of Penny Tweedie’s key images from 1975 are already held in Timor. Some are in the collection of the Commission for Reception, Truth & Reconciliation (CAVR). We know from correspondence with Penny that the office of President Jose Ramos-Horta was given high resolution scans of some 190 images in early 2010.

CHART hopes these images will one day be accessible to all Timorese. We will endeavour to ensure all the as-yet-unseen images from Penny Tweedie’s  Timor work eventually become accessible in Timor-Leste as a lasting testimonial to her part in recording the country’s troubled recent history.



Penny Tweedie image: Self-portrait taken from her own website.

1975 image: Courtesy of Bob Hannan.

More Penny Tweedie obituaries and reflections online

Panos Pictures. 21 January 2011

Lisa Hogben Blog. 23 January 2011

Editorial Photographers (UK). 24 January 2011

Australian Geographic. 25 January 2011

Funeral Eulogy – Duncan Campbell. 27 January 2011

BBC4 audio. “Last Word”. 28 January 2011. Speakers include John Pilger and her son, Ben Tweedie. Segment begins at 15 minutes into program.

The Australian. 31 January 2011

Sydney Memorial Event (20 February) – Media Release. 06 February 2011

Portuguese Timor Archives Online

14 April 2010

Front Page 06 Jan 1900

Portugal’s Tropical Research Institute (IICT – Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical) offers a surprising and welcome entry point into some records from East Timor’s long Portuguese colonial era.

In the Historical Archive section of the IICT website is a link to an online version of the colonial government’s official gazette (Boletim Oficial) for Timor.

The record begins in the 1838 (when Timor was managed from Macao) and ends on 5 July 1975 (a month before the civil war). The gazette reproduces relevant official statements from Lisbon, along with local colonial administrative directives, reports, statistics, civil servant appointments etc.

While items are largely brief and predictably bureaucratic in tone, the gazette as a whole offers a ready means to track the main political/administrative developments affecting Timor over that whole period.

1912 Revolt & 1974-75 decolonisation

During 1912, the final year of the great Manufahi/Boaventura uprising, the weekly publication contained many ‘military command’ reports from the regions, headed by notes on Politica Indigena. A report on a battle at Mt Cablac and a special brief statement on a major (perhaps final?) assault on a mountain stronghold at ‘Leolaco’ (10-11 August 1912) are rare examples of specific detail on the uprising.

For the years 1974-75, a random perusal of the gazette appears to show little of the drama and detail of what East Timorese were doing and thinking in Timor. The publication is, however, a very useful guide to Lisbon’s directives on Timor after the Carnation Revolution and, for example, includes the ground rules for the establishment of a formal decolonisation commission for Timor (April 1975).


Welcome as this resource is, there is room for improving its presentation. The search screen is limited to finding a particular issue (by date) and navigation within a given issue is limited to viewing page by page (which does become tedious). Some of the digitised pages are very difficult to read; many will be too faint for any future OCR process (Optical Character Recognition – which would allow text searching within the collection). For the future perhaps – create a rough index by rescanning the content-summary front pages of the gazettes and converting them to searchable text?


Films: 1950s Timorese culture

Also on the IICT website are short extracts of 23 films (16mm) taken in Timor during the 1953-54 anthropological mission headed by António de Almeida.

In addition to moving images of indigenous Timorese arts, crafts, building and cultural performance in various regions, the samples also include several (somewhat upbeat) sequences on Portuguese colonial reconstruction after World War II.

Links to this set of film samples can be found here.


Can you help?

I intend constructing a guide to other East Timor archival resources in Portugal – online or not. I would be grateful for any information on, or guides to, known public or private materials which I could include in the Collections section of this website.


Credits: Thanks to Susana Barnes (and her original informant) for drawing my attention to the 1950s film records and to Kevin Sherlock for background information on the Gazette.

Timor audiovisual archives in France

9 November 2009


France’s National Audiovisual Institute (INA) is now showing some Timor archival material on its website.

While the visible website documentation is not clear , some of this material probably comes from the Max Stahl Audiovisual Centre (CAMSTL) in Dili. CAMSTL recently concluded an arrangement with INA to house copies of historic Timor footage for long-term preservation and international access.

Click here for INA video listIn addition to several archived French television news bulletins about Timor, historic items include footage about the Santa Cruz and Suai Church massacres along with a less-widely known 1980 French documentary. A list of INA holdings, with links to the footage, can be accessed by clicking on the image at left.

Limits to access
Sadly, there appear to be limits to viewing this material online. All items of a few minutes duration can be seen in full. Longer items seem to be restricted to a few-minutes excerpt; you have to pay some Euros to see the whole item.

Audiovisual ‘professionals’ can apparently view (for possible purchase) all footage for free by registering with INA’s commercial arm Inamediapro. My attempt to register as a professional archivist with audiovisual interests was rejected by INA.

Access issues aside for the moment, it is a promising sign to see this material being preserved at such a prestigious institution.