November 16th, 2007 02:44 EST
Australian Inquest into Balibo Journalists Killings in East Timor Shows Ongoing Need to Pursue Justice
The current coroner's inquest into the death of an Australian-based journalist killed by Indonesian troops in October 1975 highlights "the need to pursue justice for the many tens of thousands killed during Indonesia's illegal invasion and occupation of East Timor," said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN).
On Friday, the New South Wales coroner's office will announce the results of its investigation into the death of Brian Peters, one of five journalists shot in Balibo, East Timor, on October 16, 1975, during the lead-up to Indonesia's full scale invasion of the territory.
"Whatever the coroner's conclusion, the inquest reminds us that the killers of more than 100,000 Timorese who died as a result of Indonesia's illegal invasion and occupation of East Timor have yet to face justice," said Miller. "It is never too late to pursue justice and accountability."
"With the exception of this inquest, no formal investigations or proceedings are currently underway into the many serious crimes and massacres committed prior to 1999 in occupied East Timor; a de facto impunity exists for horrendous crimes against humanity," he added.
"Crimes committed by the Indonesian military (TNI) against their own citizens are rarely addressed, let alone punished judicially," said Shirley Shackleton. "Why would anyone expect TNI officers suspected of murdering British, New Zealand and Australian citizens to be brought to justice?" Shackleton's husband, Greg, was another of the journalists killed 31 years ago while investigating Indonesian military cross-border attacks.
"The Australian and Indonesian national government's ongoing refusal to acknowledge these crimes or to fully cooperate with the inquest have shown that both governments are, at best, only willing to pay lip service to human rights accountability," said Miller.
"Where was the official Australian protest about Indonesia's lack of co-operation with the coronial inquiry?" asks Shackleton, who has long advocated for justice for the East Timorese people.
"Regrettably, the struggle against impunity can take years," said Miller. "But it is necessary to ensure support for human rights and democracy not only in East Timor, but Indonesia as well. In recent weeks, perpetrators of serious crimes in Peru and Cambodia are being called to account. It is time for those responsible for the brutal crimes related to Indonesia's invasion and occupation to be held accountable."
"Prior to the slayings in Balibo, deliberate targeting of journalists was unusual. Allowing the Indonesian military to get away with these murders and that of Roger East, has resulted in journalists all over the word being killed with impunity," said Shackleton. East was murdered in front of more than 100 witnesses, the day after Indonesia launched its full scale invasion on December 7, 1975.
The five journalists -- Brian Peters, Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham, Malcolm Rennie, and Tony Stewart -- were of British, New Zealand and Australian nationalities. They were working for Australian television networks while in East Timor. The inquest focuses on Peters, a New South Wales resident at the time of his death.
The Australian and Indonesian governments have claimed that the journalists were caught in the crossfire during the attack on Balibo. But evidence presented to the coronial inquiry demonstrates that the journalists were captured and then killed in an effort to cover up evidence that Indonesian troops were violating East Timorese territory. Lawyers for the family have said that the deaths were premeditated murder and that those responsible should be tried for war crimes.
Evidence also shows that Australian officials were complicit with Indonesia in covering up the crimes at the time. The overt lack of concern by the Australian government over the deaths continues to the present. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer advised the Indonesian government not to worry about the Balibo inquest.
Retired-General and Jakarta mayor Sutiyoso -- a captain in Team Susi, the Indonesian military unit, that assaulted Balibo -- was served with an invitation from the coroner to appear at the inquest while in Sydney. He quickly fled back to Jakarta, loudly protesting the perceived insult. Australian officials, including its ambassador to Indonesia, were quick to take Sutiyoso's side.
Indonesia has said that the Balibo Five case is closed. "Basically, for the Indonesian Government, it is a closed case, as simple as that," an Indonesian foreign affairs ministry spokesman recently told the media.
Recently, top-level perpetrators of human rights violations were arrested in Peru and Cambodia. Peru's ex-President Alberto Fujimori and several top Khmer Rouge leaders are now in prison awaiting trial, decades after brutalities they oversaw were committed.
ETAN advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for East Timor and Indonesia. ETAN calls for an international tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity committed in East Timor from 1975 to 1999. For additional background, see <www.etan.org">http://www.etan.org/>www.etan.org.
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Contact: John M. Miller, +1/718-596-7668; +1/917-690-4391 Shirley Shackleton, +61/3-9699-1002