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Networked Governance of Freedom and Tyranny

6. Santa Cruz Massacre, 1991

The Santa Cruz massacre was a turning point in the Timorese struggle. In October 1991, a Portuguese parliamentary delegation, working with the resistance and accompanied by media observers, was due in Dili to see the situation on the ground as part of the tripartite process towards a permanent settlement between Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations. The Indonesian military set themselves the objective of deterring the kind of demonstrations that had occurred with the Pope’s visit in 1989 in front of international media. A campaign of intimidation and harassment was directed at pro-independence groups.

Independence advocates who the military suspected might talk to the delegation were rounded up. Meetings were held all over Timor warning people that if they spoke to the delegation, they would be killed. Bishop Belo told Allan Nairn (1992) of The New Yorker that the army was saying that anyone who spoke up or demonstrated in front of the delegation would be hunted down and killed ‘to the seventh generation’. On 27 October 1991, the visit was cancelled over a dispute between Indonesia and Portugal as to whether Australian Jill Jolliffe and Portuguese Rui Araujo and Mario Robalo could be among the journalists approved to travel with the parliamentarians. The next day a pro-independence youth, Sebastião Gomes, was hunted by a government agent and killed with a shot in the stomach while he was seeking sanctuary with other young people in the Motael Church in Dili. During the encounter, an Indonesian intelligence agent also suffered fatal injuries inflicted with a sharp instrument.

The plan of Xanana Gusmão and the Executive Committee of the Resistance (CAVR 2006:Ch. 7, p. 28) for the clandestine youth to organise a huge demonstration in front of the Portuguese delegation was then switched to a march after mass from the Motael Church to Sebastião’s grave in the Santa Cruz Cemetery. Clandestine youth distributed tapes of Xanana urging people to stand up against the Indonesian military; the tapes were passed on and then the message came that people were to mass for a demonstration at Sebastião’s grave on 12 November (Rei 2007:50). We interviewed a member of the clandestine network whose job it was to go to Bali and persuade international journalists to come to Dili for 12 November even though the Portuguese delegation was not visiting, and to help the journalists get in and get out. Key members of the diplomacy front also worked to persuade journalists to attend the Santa Cruz act of defiance.

Indonesian spokesmen claimed two Indonesian soldiers were stabbed during the march that swelled to 3000 or more mostly young people including many children in school uniforms. Journalists present saw a scuffle with a major and another soldier in civilian clothes during the march but doubted there was a stabbing (Nairn 1992). Like others, we have not found any eyewitness accounts of the alleged stabbing (Asia Watch 1991:6). This scuffle occurred half an hour before the massacre. The young people unfurled pro-independence banners and images of Xanana after the march was under way. Banners were pitched at the international media. Their messages included ‘Indonesia, Why You Shoot Our Church?’ and pleas to ‘President Busch’ (Nairn 1992). Another banner, filmed by Max Stahl, said: ‘Independent Is What We Inspire.’ Inspire they did. Jill Jolliffe (2001) argues that Santa Cruz involved a daring new level of defiance never risked before: ‘for the first time, they would show the world their support for the guerilla resistance.’

Acting on orders,1 and without warning the crowd to disperse, troops opened fire on the crowd, driving them into the walled cemetery. They then moved about the cemetery shooting and bayoneting protestors inside. Bodies piled up at the gate to the cemetery as marchers sought to flee back out. There is no doubt from the huge amount of eyewitness evidence collected by the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) and other investigations independent of Indonesia that this was an intentional, premeditated massacre, as opposed to a panicked reaction to crowd violence. Shooting continued for about 15 minutes on many accounts before there were orders to cease firing and pile the wounded and dead into trucks. On the highest systematic count of the time, 271 East Timorese were killed,2 382 wounded and 250 were missing afterwards (ABC News 2006). In April 2009, Australian and Argentine forensic scientists found 16 bodies that they concluded were gunshot victims of Santa Cruz (ABC News 2009). Anatomy of a Massacre, an Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) documentary on this forensic work first shown in 2010, interprets it as consistent with the ‘second massacre’ theory promoted by John Pilger (1994), Bishop Belo, Max Stahl and Matthew Jardine (1995:16) among others, and vigorously denied by Indonesia. This was that many who were arrested at the cemetery—some wounded—were taken to a military hospital and other locations and later shot or killed by driving trucks over piles of wounded bodies. The Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine found there were ‘horrific crushing injuries on bones’ and bullet wounds to sculls consistent with shooting after the massacre. Eyewitnesses of both the shooting of arrestees and the driving of trucks over them spoke on the documentary, as had other eyewitnesses on the documentary John Pilger made soon after the massacre, Death of a Nation.

Some of the 10 foreign journalists who witnessed the massacre were beaten and had their cameras taken. One young New Zealand journalist/student was shot and killed (Severino 2006:124). British cameraman Max Stahl managed to bury a tape at a gravesite before his camera was seized. A Dutch journalist, Saskia Kouwenberg, cut her finger before she went through airport security with the tape. She ‘smeared the blood on her underwear, and placed the tape inside. The future history of East Timor was critically influenced by the fact that the Indonesian inspector who made her undress did not insist on checking below her bloodstained underpants’ (Federer 2005:36).

The Impact of Santa Cruz

At no point in the history of its struggle was Falintil as desperate and decimated as it was on the eve of Santa Cruz. Gusmão has stated that he was down to fewer than 100 troops, which might have been the case since about 1987 (Smith with Dee 2003:40), and perhaps 45 rifles (CAVR 2006:Part 5, p. 39). After the massacre, Falintil strength is reported by CAVR (2006:Part V, p. 39) to have grown to 245 guerillas with 130 rifles. Santa Cruz also fuelled a huge surge of support for the clandestine movement, notwithstanding increased terror directed against it that drove it further underground at first. The military was ‘prepared to kill anyone they had seen at the rally’ (Rei 2007:55) in the months after the massacre. Figure 4.7 from the CAVR shows that detention, torture and ill treatment reduced after the level of resistance went down between 1985 and 1990, moving up from 1991 to begin a U-curve of atrocities in Timor. The same CAVR (2006:Part 7, Ch. 4) data also suggest that the struggle became more feminised after Santa Cruz, with the percentage of detention, torture and ill-treatment cases of women increasing markedly from 1991, though never reaching the level they had been between 1975 and the early 1980s.

Notwithstanding the crushing of media coverage of the massacre inside Indonesia, educated public opinion began to know the truth. One way was by reading international newspapers. Underground copies of Stahl’s video were widely circulated by the democracy and human rights movements in Indonesia. Informed Indonesian public opinion from this point began to turn against the occupation and the government that was lying about it. Ties between the wider Indonesian democracy and human rights movements and the East Timor clandestine movement strengthened. Indonesian support groups for self-determination for East Timor formed in a number of cities across Java after Santa Cruz. A number of NGOs joined to form the Joint Committee for the Defence of East Timor, among other solidarity groups of Indonesians (CAVR 2006:Ch. 3, p. 119).

The first of many demonstrations of Timorese students in Jakarta occurred a week after Santa Cruz (19 November 1991) to honour the sacrifice of the fallen. Seventy brave Timorese students studying in Jakarta were arrested. They carried banners with slogans such as ‘The Mass Murder on November 12 was only a Small Part of the Mass Murder Carried Out for the Last 16 Years’; ‘Independence is the Right of all Peoples, Where Are Our Rights?’; ‘Better Death than Integration’ and ‘Where are the Corpses?’ (Asia Watch 1991:14). These and the subsequent fence-jumping demonstrations at foreign embassies required young people to take enormous risks. Our interviews reveal that they realised that they were placing their lives and their university enrolments at risk. They worried and discussed among themselves whether their leaders might be putting them in situations where they might be mown down by the military like the young victims of Santa Cruz.

Figure 6.1: The young man filmed by Max Stahl at Santa Cruz who prayed in Portuguese before the life drained from him

Photo: ITV Studios Global Entertainment

The massacre footage galvanised international civil society. As a result, the UN Commission on Human Rights was able to pass a resolution critical of Indonesian practices in East Timor in 1993 (Jardine 2000:58). The US Congress and the European Parliament carried resolutions condemning Indonesia, and Canada, the Netherlands and Denmark suspended aid (Jardine 1995:17). Heads of state of many other countries publicly expressed concern. The impact was especially emotional in Portugal where a national day of mourning was held 19 November. Santa Cruz was an identifiably Portuguese cemetery. One piece of tape showed ‘a young man, his profusely bleeding stomach ripped open by bullets and a bayonet, making what appeared to be his last prayer, for which he used the Portuguese language’ (Federer 2005:36).

After Santa Cruz, the international media began to seek more images to feed the new interest in East Timor with follow-up stories. The clandestine network was able to supply them. One that was widely distributed (see Aubrey 1998) through the international solidarity movement was a photo of a young girl’s corpse, lying naked in her torture cell,

covered in cuts and horrific wounds. Various profanities written in Bahasa Indonesia are written on her body, and a crucifix has been drawn on her stomach. Stuck to the wall just above her head is a picture of Jesus Christ, and at her feet is a sign in Bahasa, paralleling the death of Christ on the Cross, which translates as ‘If you really are God, come down and bring her back to life’. (Wise 2006:110–11)

Solidarity movement web sites later in the 1990s began to distribute a large gallery of images of atrocities. Self-censorship by the media prevented most horrific photographs from being published. Then the international solidarity movement published them in books, and Ramos-Horta presented them to the press in Geneva while appearing before the UN Commission on Human Rights. The forced closure by the police of an exhibition of images that included nails driven through the bodies of raped women created an opportunity for the solidarity movement to ride a censorship/obscenity, ‘spectatorial complicity’ debate that was covered on prominent Australian current affairs programs such as the 7.30 Report (McCosker 2004:68).

Santa Cruz gave the Timor lobby a decisive upper hand over the Indonesia lobby for the first time internationally. Attempts by Indonesia’s closest friends to defend it were ridiculed. As discussed earlier, critics such as John Pilger (1994:312) excoriated Australian Foreign Minister Evans for saying that the Indonesian human rights record had improved and later that Santa Cruz was ‘an aberration, not an act of state policy’. Evans also said the victims who were unaccounted for ‘might simply have gone bush’ (Pilger 1994:312) when we know today at least some of them turned up in the bush years later with bullet holes in their skulls. While Evans’ latter comments are hard to defend, Figure 4.7 suggests that, speaking early in 1991, he was right to say there had been some improvement. Bishop Belo alleged survivors of the massacre were later killed in the military hospital and other places—the ‘second massacre’ that Pilger referred to in his documentary Death of a Nation. In casting doubt on Pilger’s evidence, Prime Minister Paul Keating of Australia even cast doubt on the original massacre, saying ‘it isn’t clear what happened’ (Pilger 1994:314). Pilger and the solidarity movement won this contest for Western public opinion resoundingly, and Australian leaders were again seen as apologists for a crime against humanity.

The Indonesian Government attempted to show it disapproved of what happened at Santa Cruz by establishing a National Investigation Commission. While Jakarta blamed the demonstrators for provocation by acting belligerently, the two senior regional military commanders were relieved of their posts as a result of the commission’s recommendation. Six senior officers down to battalion commander level were dismissed or demoted (Singh 1996:166). Nine more junior members of the military were court-martialled for disobeying or exceeding orders and sentenced to 8–18 months’ prison. This contrasted with the much longer prison terms (nine years to life) given to 13 demonstrators (Singh 1996:167) and the summary death sentence inflicted on uncounted others after they had been interrogated about their involvement in the demonstration. That this was not the work of some rogue junior officers was evident when the commander of the Indonesian military at the time of the massacre, Try Sutrisno (soon to become Vice-President), told graduates at the Indonesian Military Academy that the Timorese ‘disrupters’ ‘must be crushed’. He said: ‘Delinquents like these have to be shot, and we will shoot them.’ His regional commander for East Timor added: ‘We don’t regret anything’ (CAVR 2006:Part 3, p. 117; Jardine 1995:17). The new commander installed in Dili, Brigadier Theo Sjafei, said: ‘If something similar to the 12 November event were to happen under my leadership, the number of victims would probably be higher’ (Taylor 1999:xiii).

Damien Kingsbury (2009:60–3) conceives Santa Cruz as perhaps ‘the biggest tactical mistake’ of the Indonesian military. He tentatively interprets it in terms of anti-Suharto leaders in the Indonesian military wanting to assert a tougher line on military control of Timor and at the same time seeking to embarrass pro-Suharto military leaders by setting them up for culpability.

Was Santa Cruz Intentional Provocation?

Bishop Belo was a strong critic of the murderous behaviour of the Indonesian military before, during and after Santa Cruz and one of the people who argued for the need for an investigation into the possibility of a second massacre of the wounded and the arrested. But he also construed the demonstration as ‘a provocative action and uncalled for at that’ (Singh 1996:285). Bishop Belo accepted that an Indonesian major had been stabbed during the march—a conclusion that many of the independent observers were uncertain about. Major-General Sintong Panjaitan, the regional military commander based in Bali, in his first military report on the incident also alleged that a grenade had been thrown near the cemetery and that someone fired a pistol in the direction of the soldiers at the cemetery immediately before they fired (Singh 1996:160)—something not reported by any of the Timorese or international observers. A report of the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, however, says: ‘A grenade was thrown in the direction of the troops but it didn’t explode’ (Asia Watch 1991:24). Of course, if it did not explode no-one would have heard it. This report says that at the same time there was the shot ‘from a source that could not be determined together with movements and shouts to advance and attack and grab the guns of security forces’ (Asia Watch 1991:24). None of the independent observers saw any of this. According to the Associated Press, a Bishop Belo letter six days later said someone had lobbed a grenade at the nearby police station, not in the midst of the troops at the cemetery (Asia Watch 1991:7).

Evidence of violent provocation by the youth in the march is therefore thin and inconsistent. There is overwhelming evidence of efforts by the youth marshals of the march to ensure disciplined nonviolent protest and there is evidence that such discipline was what was ordered by Xanana Gusmão. Views in Timor-Leste differ on whether the intent of the leaders of the resistance in 1991 was to use nonviolent protest to provoke an extremely violent reaction from the military. If the intent was to use the presence of 10 international journalists in Dili—some with an extraordinary level of courage and commitment to getting their tapes out—to get the waning East Timor cause back on the international agenda by provoking violence then it was remarkably successful in achieving that. On balance, we think that probably was the intent of some leaders. This was not a normal context of demonstrating in a way that takes a risk with the patience of the security forces. It was a context where the military had been going from village to village all over the province to get the message across in the clearest possible terms that anyone who demonstrated or spoke out of line while the international media (and the parliamentary delegation) was in town would be killed. And the military was backing this up with violence in advance of 12 November that proved how deadly serious it was.

In this context, pro-independence banners, chants of ‘Long live Xanana’ and display of Fretilin flags were kinds of nonviolence that were almost certain to provoke violence. Even in the more democratic, more rights-sensitive Indonesia of today, the military in West Papua remains inclined to respond to pro-independence chants in demonstrations and independence flag raisings with deadly force (Braithwaite et al. 2010a:Ch. 2). The military leadership in East Timor promised death to demonstrators; they delivered on that promise; afterwards they said they had no regrets about it and would do it again in the same circumstances. None of this was a great surprise to the planners of the Santa Cruz demonstration. Nor was it to the filmmaker Max Stahl, who said in the documentary Anatomy of a Massacre that ‘[t]hey were prepared to walk into the bullets peacefully’. On Stahl’s tape, several young people said as they were filmed preparing banners in the days before the march that they were prepared to die, or were not afraid to die (see Yorkshire Television’s Cold Blood: The massacre of East Timor). In his interview with us, one senior Falintil commander who remains a major figure in Timor-Leste today described Santa Cruz as an ‘intentional sacrifice’ to provoke a turning point externally and internally, though he had not expected the violent response would be so extreme. The extent of killing was much greater than in Sharpeville in South Africa 30 years earlier, and the turning point that it delivered was much more decisive.

A youth leader in the clandestine network who was involved in organising the Santa Cruz march told us that leaders of different youth groups were instructed to gather their members together and ask them if they were willing to die or to be tortured or raped for their country; ‘If not, go’. Xanana Gusmão’s deputy Falintil commander, Mauhudo who was later killed, was said to have been the leader who instructed this and other youth leaders to go to their groups with those fateful questions. Many high school children did leave and declined to participate when they were told this was what they were being asked to risk. On Max Stahl’s tape, we see a group of girls in school uniforms looking very afraid and hanging back from joining the march. Later, we see that some did join. And some of these brave and frightened girls were killed. The youth leader said ‘[i]t was the intention to create an incident in which many would be killed’. He admitted to feeling bad about this in retrospect and acknowledged that it was a human rights violation to sacrifice young peoples’ lives. Yet he said the resistance had ‘no options’ at that time. He felt more stringent criticism should be directed at the West for leaving them in this position, for failing to speak out against the loss of tens of thousands of children’s lives in the mountains.

According to a key organiser of the Santa Cruz demonstration, Constâncio Pinto (2009):

There was [a] strong push from the clandestine youth to carry out the demonstration. The youth even threatened the leadership that if they did not authorize and organize the demonstration, they the youth would organise it by themselves without any coordination from resistance leaders. The demands of the youth to some extent affected the decision of the resistance leadership to decide on the Santa Cruz demonstration…We did not envisage at all that the Indonesian military would launch an attack, going on a rampage and shooting at the peaceful demonstration in Santa Cruz, killing hundreds. What we envisaged was that some youth leaders would be arrested, tortured, and interrogated.

Other senior people we interviewed said it was not the intention for anyone to die, while yet others said it was. It is possible of course that some leaders promoted intentional provocation of loss of life and others believed, or wishfully believed, that the military would not shoot live rounds while they were being watched by the world. Constâncio Pinto said in his memoirs:

I sent a letter to Xanana, who was still hiding in Dili, asking him if he thought we should go ahead with a demonstration [once the Portuguese delegation had decided not to proceed with their visit]. But before the members of the executive committee made any decision, we received news from Jakarta that the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Pieter Kooijmans, was going to arrive in Dili on November 11, 1991. So we decided along with Xanana to take advantage of his visit and hold a peaceful demonstration. We didn’t think that Indonesia would take any violent actions against the demonstrators in Kooijmans’ presence. (Pinto and Jardine 1997:189)

In the event, Kooijmans was not present. The intent had been to march to his hotel after visiting the cemetery. He was in meetings elsewhere in Dili at the time.

In the Santa Cruz march, as in other demonstrations, schoolchildren whose parents were supportive of Indonesia, in many cases because they were public servants in good jobs, were enticed into the front ranks, sometimes by girlfriends or boyfriends. The idea was that this way they would be most likely to experience the violence of the security forces and this would turn pro-Indonesia families back to the resistance movement. We were told that the way Santa Cruz unfolded, however, as an attack in effect on the rear of the crowd, meant that only 10 to 20 such youth from pro-integration families were killed. A number of key members of the clandestine network were forbidden from attending the march, partly because they were too important to lose, but also for reasons such as not wanting couriers to come under surveillance after being photographed at the march, thereby compromising their effectiveness.

In the months after Santa Cruz, Xanana Gusmão did not grasp at first how effective a turning point this had been. His biographer, Sara Niner (2009:142), says he began to worry that their fight was a ‘collective suicide’:

He began to doubt the struggle and all the sacrifices he had overseen as leader. He suffered guilt and depression, displaying an emotional neediness that when met with indifference or rejection, quickly bubbled over into outrage, anger and sarcasm, resulting in further recklessness. Black ironic barbs signaled his frustration.

Constâncio Pinto (1997:195) worried about how he would deal with parents who alleged ‘[y]ou were the one who gave the order to demonstrate’, when he had not participated himself. No Timorese as far as Pinto or we can tell did blame the leaders. Parents blamed the Indonesian military and were proud of their children as martyrs for their country. Their pride was understandable. Without their sacrifice, the torture, rape and disappearances of Timorese might still continue. Of course, the decision to go ahead with this demonstration was putting young people at risk. There might have been different shades of intent to risk but avert death or to actually provoke murder in front of the cameras. For the most part, there was informed consent, although that was imperfect, especially in the case of children.

Xanana Gusmão led his people from violent resistance to the morally preferable path of nonviolent resistance. Yet Santa Cruz shows there is no moral purity to nonviolence. As in war, young people are put in the firing line; some never see their families and parents again. It is worth reflecting that no-one in the United States, not even the parents of white student activists who were murdered in the civil rights campaign of the 1960s, blame Martin Luther King jr (or the Kennedys who supported his reform program in the Capitol) for leading young activists to their death. We might think this is because these leaders, who knew that there were people committed to killing them, sacrificed their own lives as well, rather than retiring from the fight in the face of threats. Perhaps no-one blames Gandhi for the lives lost in the nonviolence against colonialism because he himself was murdered for his nonviolence. Yet equally no-one blames Mandela or the other black South African leaders for the Sharpeville massacre. And no-one—except of course the leadership of the Indonesian army—blamed Xanana Gusmão or his leadership group for Santa Cruz. But Xanana Gusmão was tormented by guilt after Santa Cruz, fuelled by the erroneous belief that Santa Cruz had failed. He wrote, in what Sara Niner (2009:142) described as a ‘warm, loving tone’, to supporters: ‘As a Commander leading an armed struggle I transcend ethics and morals when I encourage my men to face death’ (Niner 2009:142).

Nonviolence is a morally preferable path of resistance than violence for consequentialist reasons, particularly because it results in fewer deaths. It is not that it is morally superior because no-one dies in nonviolent struggles. The Indonesian invasion of East Timor was illegal and immoral, and at first armed resistance was somewhat effective in the circumstances. Armed resistance would not be morally justified if it sacrificed young lives with no prospect of forcing the invader into a peace process. The shift Xanana Gusmão led away from violence and towards nonviolence as the primary strategy of resistance was even more morally justified. This was because it achieved more in pursuit of a morally just result at a cost of fewer lives than persisting with fighting a war.

So we do not discuss the shades of moral grey in encouraging children to participate in demonstrations that put them in grave risk to point a finger of blame at Xanana Gusmão or anyone else. He never imagined he would be in a position to reflect for decades on this question. There is plenty of evidence that he imagined he would be killed (probably during one of his visits to Dili) like all his predecessors and his immediate successors in the leadership of the insurgency.

We discuss the shades of moral grey in the complex judgments leaders made at Santa Cruz because, if tactics of nonviolence are to become more decent and effective, we must learn from the decision-making dilemmas they throw up at critical junctures in human history. We must seek to face the truth of what happened and to improve nonviolent strategy in light of cold analysis with warm values. We were particularly struck by the importance of this during our interviews in West Papua in 2007 when West Papuan youth leaders said to us that their strategy was at the right time to trigger a ‘super Santa Cruz’ to gain the independence of West Papua from Indonesia (Braithwaite et al. 2010a:Ch. 2).

While Santa Cruz was the decisive turning point towards liberty and peace for Timor-Leste, we doubt that the context of media exclusion that was transcended by Santa Cruz could ever be quite the same in the second decade of the twenty-first century, in West Papua or anywhere else. One difference is that modern security forces have learnt lessons from Sharpeville and Santa Cruz. Another is that violence in response to nonviolent resistance can no longer be kept away from the international media by keeping journalists out of conflict zones, as the Indonesians had successfully done for so many years until 1991. As the 2009 demonstrations in Iran and the 2011 demonstrations across the Arab world showed, in contemporary conditions at any large demonstration there are thousands of movie cameras present on young people’s mobile phones. They do not need to bury the tape in a grave and then spirit it through airport security. It is much easier to steer the images around the inept Internet security censorship authoritarian regimes seek to impose.

This means there is today less imperative to provoke something special in circumstances where representatives of the international media are physically present. In a place like West Papua, rather than smuggling in foreign journalists and then creating special confrontations for them to film, it is easier for Papuan activists to learn to train all their supporters to become more furtive and efficient at recording on their phones daily acts of violence in response to nonviolence, as well as larger acts of violence in response to mass demonstrations. As cases like Rodney King’s beating by the Los Angeles police in 1991, and the 2009 death by heart attack of an innocent passer-by at a demonstration who was assaulted by a British police officer, show, it is not how widespread the scale of violence is that grips the international imagination. It is the narrative of a specific victim, and the momentary grab of violence that changes his or her life, that engages a global audience.

Just as the scale of killing is not the main issue, nor is the horror of the violence. The most horrifying images of state violence in East Timor, such as those of raped women with nails driven through their naked bodies, received little exposure in the international media. Max Stahl’s images were widely used because they left something to the imagination. The image of the boy shot and bayoneted in the stomach is awful as he approaches death in the arms of his relative who bravely stays to comfort him. We imagine the relative will also be killed because he does not flee. We never see the horror of the gaping bayonet wound that is draining the boy’s life away. They lift the bloodstained shirt to peek at it, but the television audience does not see it. Stahl’s other master image was of people, some wounded, running free after clambering over a growing pile of bodies at the entrance to the cemetery. This also only communicates horrific death in our imagination. We do not see any of those piled bodies actually suffer the final crush that kills them. We must imagine that in our engagement with suffering that is not so gross as to cause us to switch to another channel. So the modus operandi of modern nonviolence could be to film furtively many instances of violent response to nonviolence that routinely occur in circumstances of repression. These need to be culled to images that offer the most evocative and personalised narratives, which need to be connected with a structural narrative of oppression for those who wish to engage with root causes and pathways to resistance. This was written before the Arab Spring spread from the narrative of the petrol-doused suicide of vegetable vendor Mohammed Bouazizi, after he could not afford a bribe demanded by a Tunisian police officer. This became the most dramatic illustration in recent history that it is the video-narrative that counts—in this case, assisted by the victim’s last Facebook post to his mother asking forgiveness for the suicide, not the horror of the picture.

In other words, West Papua probably does not need the ‘super Santa Cruz’ the young Free Papua Movement leaders aspire to. Credible insiders like Xanana Gusmão and José Ramos-Horta, reflecting openly on the moral agony involved in putting young people at risk at Santa Cruz, have an important role here. Their reflections on which elements of Santa Cruz would, and would not, translate to a context like West Papua would be a great service to the longsuffering indigenous people of West Papua and also to their Indonesian masters. And such reflection would be a service to learning the lessons of effective nonviolence that pushes the risk of confronting tyranny to its morally acceptable limits. The moral philosophers have special contributions to make to this debate. But first we need richer, more nuanced truth telling about the contested tactics of nonviolence at Santa Cruz that changed the course of history.


1 One defence offered by the Indonesian military is that the order ‘Don’t fire’ was misunderstood. This is implausible as an explanation because it does not explain why the firing then continued for 15 minutes or more, followed by bayoneting and smashing the heads of the wounded with rifle butts (as recorded on Max Stahl’s video).

2 The most thorough investigation, the CAVR (2006:Part 3, p. 117), opted for 271 killed and 250 missing as the number—or, that because of the uncertain basis of the evidence, a figure of 200 ‘is not an unreasonable estimate’. The official Indonesian figure was 19 killed, later increased to 50 (CAVR 2006:Part 3, p. 117).


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