EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Re-opening the case of the Balibo Five
, October 3, 2009
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) inquiry into the deaths of five Australian-based journalists at Balibo in East Timor in 1975 will not bring their killers to justice, and will merely prolong the anguish of the journalists' families by raising unrealistic expectations that those responsible will be brought to justice.
|Oscar Isaac as José Ramos Horta (left),|
with Anthony LaPaglia as Roger East.
There is strong evidence, given to a NSW coronial inquiry into the deaths in 2007, that they were deliberately killed during a military incursion; but both the present democratically-elected Indonesian government and its predecessors have refused to co-operate in assisting to bring those responsible to justice.
The Indonesian position is the same in regard to the huge number of deaths of East Timorese people - probably between 100,000 and 200,000 - which occurred during the 24 years of Indonesian occupation from late 1975 to 1999.
The East Timorese government has accepted this fact, and refuses to consider re-opening the cases of East Timorese killed during the Indonesian occupation. East Timor's President José Ramos Horta said recently that Timorese must forgive Indonesians who "committed heinous crimes against us".
In 2007, the NSW Coroner conducted an inquest into the deaths of the five journalists, and took public evidence from Australian, Indonesian and East Timorese witnesses, as well as from the families of the journalists.
The 132-page report showed that there was strong circumstantial evidence that the journalists were killed on October 16, 1975, as a result of the deliberate policy of the Indonesian Government to disguise its involvement in the occupation of East Timor.
The report added, "Prior to going to Balibo, each team of journalists had been warned that they were heading into a risky and unstable situation from which neither the Australian Government nor Fretilin [which then controlled East Timor] would be able to protect or rescue them.
"They were told personally of the experience of the ABC journalists who left Balibo hurriedly on 11 October because they had come under fire. In particular, they were aware of Tony Maniaty's opinion that the ABC team had been targeted by the Indonesians because they were journalists. ...
"On the basis of the evidence before me, the journalists themselves bear the responsibility for being alone in Balibo at the time the Indonesian and Partisan military forces entered."
The coroner called for a national industry-wide safety code of practice for journalists to be developed in conjunction with, and endorsed by, Australia's media organisations, to assist journalists to recognise when they enter dangerous situations.Investigation
In November 2007, the NSW Coroner requested the federal Attorney-General to initiate an investigation into the killings, because of a possible breach of the Commonwealth Criminal Code.
The federal Attorney-General referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in January last year, and about 18 months later the AFP commenced their investigation.
In their media statement, the AFP highlighted the difficulty of pursuing the matter. Their statement said, "The investigation of war crime allegations can be problematic where witnesses and evidence are located offshore, or where a significant period of time has elapsed since the commission of the offence.
"If the investigation reveals sufficient material to compile a brief of evidence of criminality or a real possibility of criminality, then the AFP will refer that information to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP). It is then a matter for the CDPP to consider, in accordance with the Prosecution Policy of the Commonwealth.
"The standard of proof in a criminal proceeding is high, and differs from that of a coronial inquiry."
In light of the refusal of Indonesian authorities to co-operate in this investigation, as in every other similar case, there is no prospect of extradition to Australia and prosecution of those responsible for the journalists' deaths.
Despite our differences, Australia (like East Timor) must work with Indonesia on issues of mutual concern, including anti-terrorism co-operation, the interception of illegal boat-people off Western Australia, oil and gas exploration in the Timor Sea, the safe transit of Australia's mineral exports to north Asia, and airline flights to Asia and Europe.
There are powerful figures in Indonesia who want to murder Australians, as happened in the Bali and Jakarta bombings, and to wage war on Australia. We rely on the democratically-elected Indonesian government, and its security and military forces, to keep these forces in check.
While Australia must uphold the principles which underpin our own society, of which freedom of speech and the rule of law are crucial, attacks on the Indonesian Government will rebound on Australia, and unwittingly play into the hands of the extremists.Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.