Subject: No case of haste in East Timor probes
No case of haste in East Timor probes
By Philip Dorling
The Canberra Times
19 September 2009
The Australian Federal Police quietly closed a war crimes file this week. The voluminous collection of reports, witness statements and other evidence collected in the course of what was codenamed Operation Steadfast will be sent off to the archives, probably to remain there until an academic researcher seeks access under the 30-years rule to find out how the Australian Government handled grave allegations of torture and human rights violations. The target of Operation Steadfast was Guy Campos, a 55-year-old East Timorese man accused of high-level collaboration with Indonesian military intelligence involving kidnapping and torture of East Timorese citizens during Indonesia's occupation of the former Portuguese colony. According to East Timorese court documents, Campos was convicted of ''maltreatment leading to death'' of an 11-year-old boy, Francisco Ximenes, in 1979. However, that conviction was subsequently overturned by an Indonesian superior court in Kupang, in West Timor.
More recently Campos was accused of involvement in the torture of pro- independence East Timorese activists at the Indonesian military intelligence headquarters in Dili in the early to mid 1990s. Campos arrived in Australia on June 30 last year on a World Youth Day visa. He took up residence in Sydney little more than 2km from the family of Francisco Ximenes. Campos kept a low profile after his arrival but was quickly spotted by members of Sydney's East Timorese community. Following an expose by the Seven Network's Today Tonight, the AFP began an investigation into whether there was a basis to prosecute him under Australia's anti- torture and war crimes legislation.
Led by federal agent Bruce Pegg, members of the AFP's war crimes unit began gathering evidence from Australia's East Timorese community and East Timorese visitors to Australia. On January 27, for example, federal agents Michael Walloscheck and Darryl Parrish took an 18-page statement from prominent East Timorese journalist Jose Belo about his detention and torture at the hands of the Indonesian military and its notorious intelligence task force, Satuan Tugas Intelijen, commonly known as the SGI. In the early 1990s Belo was studying English at the University of East Timor in Dili. He had repeatedly attracted the attention of the Indonesian military as a consequence of his involvement in the clandestine East Timorese resistance youth movement. He gave the AFP a detailed account of interrogation and torture by the SGI, including repeated beatings and electric shocks. Belo alleged that Campos worked closely with the SGI and was directly involved in interrogations aimed at identifying the organisers of student demonstrations and implicating Nobel prizewinning East Timorese bishop Carlos Belo (no relation) in pro-independence activity. In part Jose Belo's statement reads: ''Whenever I did not answer a question the way they wanted, the SGI operating the device that looked like a black military phone started winding the device and I received a feeling of burning through my body from the electricity. My chest was tight, my heart was pounding and my head was going round in circles. ''During the electrocution I was hit in the forehead with what I believe was a pistol on my left side. My head was cut and blood went into my eyes. I could feel it wet on my face. I could not see who hit me because of the electricity but in the room was the SGI in front of me seated at the typewriter, another SGI winding the device that was shocking me was on my right and standing to my left was Guy Campos.'' Belo was later put on trial and sentenced to 18 months jail for ''crimes against the state''.
The AFP war crimes unit visited Dili in February-March this year and conducted interviews with people who alleged they had been tortured by Campos in the early to mid-1990s. These included activist and author Naldo Rei who, like Belo, alleged Campos took part in his torture involving electric shocks and beatings with truncheons. The AFP also made broader inquiries into the operations of Indonesian military units engaged in efforts to suppress the resistance, including drawing on the expertise of Australian Defence Force Academy lecturer Dr Clinton Fernandes. According to Fernandes, who developed a detailed knowledge of the Indonesian military in East Timor while serving as principal analyst, East Timor, for the Australian Army's intelligence corps in 1998-99, Guy Campos's alleged role was to identify East Timorese for arrest and interrogation by the SGI and in that he was among ''the upper echelons of collaborators'' during the Indonesian occupation. A brief of evidence concerning Campos was forwarded by the AFP to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions in the middle of this year. The DPP subsequently asked the AFP to gather further evidence to build ''as robust a brief as possible''.
Meanwhile, however, Campos had overstayed his entry visa. He applied for a temporary protection visa but this was rejected by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Following a Refugee Review Tribunal decision to uphold the decision not to issue a protection visa to Campos, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, determined he would not intervene in the case. In response to public concerns, Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor ''acknowledge[d] that the recent presence of Mr Campos in Australia has understandably caused significant distress to the family of Francisco Ximenes''. However, the Government was quick to emphasise the challenges involved in the AFP investigation. ''Allegations of crimes committed overseas, including in East Timor some time ago, give rise to complex legal and evidentiary issues that Australian Federal Police and Commonwealth prosecutors need to consider and address carefully,'' O'Connor wrote. And in the end, the AFP's work came to nothing. Last Monday Campos flew out of Australia for Indonesia, shortly before the expiry of his bridging visa. Despite a year-long investigation and an array of witness statements, the Director of Public Prosecutions took the view that ''at this stage'' there was not enough material to charge Campos with an offence under Australia's anti-torture legislation. And with Campos's departure, the AFP investigation lapsed.
Australian Greens leader Senator Bob Brown, who took a close interest in the case, described the Federal Government's handling of the case as ''shameful, downright shameful''. ''Political considerations clearly won out over international law,'' Senator Brown said. ''The message this sends to the world is that Australia is a safe haven for war criminals.'' However, Evans said Campos had no choice but to leave the country, and was entitled to the presumption of innocence. ''My understanding is the AFP were not in a position to be able to charge him,'' he said on Thursday. ''Therefore he was legally entitled to leave, and in fact, in terms of his migration status, was required to leave. ''A lot of the allegations made by people accusing him of being a war criminal are quite frankly flying in the face of the normal presumption of innocence in Australia.'' Evans was quite right. But it also remains most unsatisfactory that the AFP and the Director of Public Prosecutions were unable, in the course of a year, to complete their investigation and assessment of what were very serious allegations supported by witness accounts. Australia's diplomats are no doubt relieved that the case has not developed into another irritant in Australia's relations with Indonesia. And against this background it would be optimistic to expect there to be any substantive outcome from the AFP's new investigation in the deaths of the Balibo Five in October 1975. According to the 2007 findings of NSW deputy coroner Dorelle Pinch, newsmen Greg Shackleton, Malcolm Rennie, Gary Cunningham, Brian Peters and Tony Stewart were murdered by Indonesian special forces as they tried to film an Indonesian incursion. The AFP certainly hasn't treated the matter with great urgency, taking nearly 22 months to begin an investigation after the matter was referred to the Commonwealth Government. And once again the authorities are very keen to emphasise the difficulties involved in a war crimes investigation, in this case into events that took place overseas nearly 34 years ago. ''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,'' the AFP said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been on the phone to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to try to head off any negative impact on the relationship. A spokesman for Rudd said later that the leaders had ''agreed to find ways to manage the question in a way that least affected the bilateral relationship''.Shortly before Guy Campos's departure from Australia, Francisco Ximenes's sister, Joanna Ximenes Da Luz, expressed the hope that the allegations surrounding him would be resolved one way or the other. ''We were denied justice by an oppressive regime for so many years ... If there was an opportunity for a prosecution, this would be a most favourable development,'' she said. The families of the Balibo Five can only hope.
Philip Dorling is National Affairs Correspondent.