Subject: The Killing of Sander Thoenes: Slaughter And Hiding in Plain Sight

Tempo Magazine September 18-24, 2001

Slaughter And Hiding in Plain Sight

Is it true that the murder case of Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes has been put on ice by the AGO?

On this coming Friday, two years ago, Sander Thoenes lost his life in East Timor. That day, 21 September 1999, an ill-fated day for Becora, a small village in Dili, the Dutch journalist who had just turned 31, was murdered in cold blood. His throat was cut, one of his ears was cut off, the skin on his face was peeled away and a gaping hole yawned from his left breast. Battalion 745 of the Indonesian Military (TNI), which included many troops of East Timorese origin, is the prime suspect for this atrocious murder.

The name of Sander Thoenes rightly echoes throughout the world. Alongside other human rights crimes committed immediately after the referendum for the independence of Timor Loro Sa'e, this particular case has evoked heavy international criticism of Indonesia. To avoid the threat of an international trial, the Commission for Investigating Human Rights Abuses in East Timor was eventually formed, investigations were made and a case was presented to the Attorney General's Office (AGO).

One year later on 1 September 2000, the names of 19 suspects were announced by the head of the investigating team M.A. Rachman, who is--coincidentally--Indonesia's present Attorney General. The murder of Thoenes was one of the five cases presented to the AGO, together with an attack upon a Dili diocese, and attacks on the house of Manuel Carrascalao, a church in Liquica and the Ave Maria Church in Suai. After this, things became quiet. In fact, practically speaking there have been no further developments at all.

Then all of a sudden, some very surprising news was announced last week: The Thoenes case has been closed by the AGO. This was announced separately to TEMPO by two people who have long followed the case: Munir, a former member of the Investigating Committee, and Lucia Withers, a senior investigator from Amnesty International (AI), a renowned international institute for the surveillance of human rights abuses. The reasons for the closure, according to the information that they have obtained, are that the attorney general has judged there to be insufficient evidence and a lack of witnesses available to take the case any further.

Is this true? Munir does not think so. During the planning phase of the Investigating Committee, the case was considered a straightforward one based on the criteria for human rights abuse. However, a problem emerged just after the case was received by the AGO. It turns out the AGO was using a different measuring stick. The AGO considered the Thoenes case a standard criminal one that required direct evidence implicating the murderer. If the case was viewed in terms of a crime against humanity, details of the actual culprit are unnecessary. Those who should be sought out within such a framework are those responsible for making the policy that facilitated such a murder.

So far, the Thoenes case continues to gain hostile publicity and pressure from the international community. Meanwhile, Munir suggests there appears to be a planned maneuver on behalf of the AG to freeze the East Timor case and to release, one by one, the generals listed for trial. "As such, it would not surprise me if all the cases were dropped like this--one by one," said Munir, clearly irritated by these recent happenings.

A similar complaint was voiced by AI. According to Withers, her organization has witnessed a successful process of military pressure applied upon the AGO. She says that all evidence points to the involvement of Battalion 745, the force responsible for the area where Thoenes was killed. But there have been absolutely no efforts on behalf of the AG to investigate this further.

Quite predictably, the AGO denies all accusations it has pulled out of investigating the case. Former Attorney General Marzuki Darusman stated--during his term in office--that the case was not yet closed. Cooperating with the Dutch police, evidence and witnesses were still being collected by the investigating team set up under the AGO. Accusations have also targeted the Head of the Information Center for the Attorney General's Office, Muljohardjo. "If it has been stopped this means there would be a letter ordering a freeze of investigations. And as of yet there is no such letter whatsoever," said Muljohardjo. Nevertheless, he said that the Thoenes case is definitely difficult to complete. Muljohardjo says that up until now not enough material evidence has been uncovered, the perpetrator of the deed remains a mystery, and there are no witnesses.

What actually happened, says Adrianus Meliala, a former member of the team of experts tasked with investigating the case, is that in a formal sense the Thoenes case has not yet been annulled, but in practice it has already been frozen. This decision was taken in July and August 2000 after the prosecuting team conducted field research and were unable to obtain satisfactory evidence or witnesses. So, as explained by Munir, when these results were announced September 1, the Thoenes case had simply become a cosmetic investigation.

Following this, said Adrianus, the Dutch government reacted harshly. "They state that they are not willing to let this go because the Thoenes case connects up with their own nationalism." When he met with AG Rachman last August in Jakarta, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Affairs Jozias van Aartsen stated that he would produce key witnesses for this murder. Only, Rachman did not respond to this positively. "Rachman said it was already too late because the investigations had finished and it would not be reopened," said Adrianus, repeating what he had heard from the Dutch.

Minister Van Aartsen himself informed TEMPO last August that he had lobbied Jakarta so that the case could be taken to the next level. "The settlement of this case will establish Indonesia's position in the international community. I hope that there will be some further developments into these investigations so that the culprit, whoever that might be, can be brought to trial," he said.

The path for finishing this case, a case being closely scrutinized by the international community, remains open. According to Marzuki, it is not true that there are no key witnesses. Indeed, someone is known to have witnessed the murder. The problem is, when the attorney general's team conducted the fieldwork, this important witness could not be found. He had already moved to West Timor and was heavily protected by pro-Jakarta militias. The AG became increasingly idle after April 2000, when the TNI and the House of Representatives (DPR) opposed the involvement of the United Nations Transitional Government in East Timor (UNTAET) into investigations of such crimes in East Timor.

From secret reports released by the Investigating Committee and passed on to the AGO, various indications of Battalion 745's involvement have been uncovered. On 21 September 1999, between 16:30 and 17:45 local time, Thoenes, who was riding an ojek (rented motorcycle with driver), is known to have been ambushed and shot by a number of people wearing TNI uniforms equipped with automatic weapons, three motorcycles, a truck and a car.

At that time, Battalion 745 was crossing the area on its way from Los Palos to Kupang. There are also other indications. The Commander of Battalion 745, Lieutenant Colonel (then still a major) Inf. Jacob Djoko Sarosa, acknowledged during investigations that prior to Thoenes' murder, his troops had seized the cameras of two foreign journalists nearby the location of the murder. Jacob described this act as a release of frustration after his troops had heard the results of the referendum.

The results of the autopsy conducted at the Royal Darwin Hospital in Australia confirmed that Thoenes had been killed by a bullet that had entered through his back, tore his heart and pierced his throat. Because of these factors, the Investigating Committee recommended that Lieutenant Colonel Jacob be announced, "A suspect responsible for the murder of the Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes."

But Jacob has persistently denied accusations of his involvement. According to him, it is true that his troops passed through the location where Thoenes was murdered, but that this took place before the murder. Furthermore, Jacob also points to the results of an autopsy conducted by a military doctor that suggests that death was not caused by a bullet, but rather by a sharp weapon.

Two years after Sander Thoenes's mutilated remains were discovered in Becora, this country's legal system has still not been able to handle the case. In fact, as stated by Lucia Withers, this case is more than just the death of a Dutch citizen.

Karaniya Dharmasaputra, Andari Karina Anom, Tomi Lebang

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