Subject: Justice long overdue for murdered Balibo Five
The Sunday Times (Australia)
Justice long overdue for murdered Balibo Five
Liam Bartlett, 60 Minutes
October 31, 2009 06:00pm
IT'S amazing what a difference ``power'' makes. This time two years ago, New South Wales deputy coroner Dorelle Pinch handed down a finding that confirmed what many had suspected; essentially that Indonesia had lied about the deaths of five Australians in Balibo, East Timor, in 1975.
Magistrate Pinch decided that Channel 9 reporter Malcolm Rennie and cameraman Brian Peters and the Channel 7 crew of Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart had not been ``caught in crossfire'' as the lie had been pedalled, but rather were deliberately killed on the orders of Indonesian field commander Capt Yunus Yosfiah.
What's more, the deputy coroner found there was enough evidence to prosecute Yosfiah and a Kopassus (Special Forces) sergeant, Christoforus da Silva.
The delivery of that bombshell came precisely at the time Australia was gripped in a hot-air vacuum; the huff and puff of a federal election campaign with, even more tantalising, the sniff of political change. In that heady mix, with just one week to go to polling day, then opposition leader Kevin Rudd decided to lash out at the obvious injustice of these murders...``those responsible should be held to account. You can't just sweep this to one side. I know it's a long time ago''.
So, why has the Prime Minister failed to lift a finger in the two years since?
He could instruct his Attorney-General to make a formal request to Jakarta, under the 1995 extradition treaty that we have with Indonesia. But now that he has the power to do so, he does nothing.
He could appeal to his opposite number, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to call Yosfiah and da Silva to account. But no, like successive leaders before him, all the way back to Gough Whitlam, it remains a haven for political cowards.
I recall some years ago being on the receiving end, off-air, of an expletive-ridden spray from then foreign minister Alexander Downer.
He had taken great umbrage at being questioned over the cover-up, which he considered ought to be deflected entirely to the Labor Party.
As he so eloquently shouted in the middle of an ABC radio studio: ``You f...kng journos are all the same. You wouldn't give a f... about these blokes if they weren't journalists.''
I replied that nothing could be further from the truth and reminded him that had five Australians, any five, been murdered in a house in Perth, the relevant authorities would move heaven and earth to find those responsible.
In fact, can you imagine the public outcry if the police knew the names of the killers and had all the collateral evidence and yet, after 34 years, had still taken no action?
In this case, the Australian Federal Police, despite having a full brief delivered to them 18 months ago, have only just launched a formal war-crimes investigation. The sceptics will be pleased to note the investigation was announced exactly a week after the new movie that details the atrocities, Balibo, was released.
Having just returned from East Timor, I know how easy it is to track down witnesses who are still prepared to describe what happened.
One, Alberto, was a young porter who was working for the Indonesian military and was standing in the doorway of the house where three of the newsmen were gunned down. He was less than 3m away when Cunningham, Shackleton and Rennie were mercilessly shot dead.
Alberto's description of the cruel way they met their deaths is fairly harrowing, but there is knowledge in East Timor about what really happened that goes all the way up to the President's office.
Jose Ramos Horta told me: ``I don't believe in the AFP (investigation) because I think evidence is there already.''
Horta was a leader in the Fretilin resistance against the Indonesians in 1975, trying to warn the world about their invasion plans and even picking up the Channel 9 crew from Dili airport and driving them to Balibo to help them get the story. Of his 11 siblings, no fewer than four were killed by Indonesian military, but when he talks about the Balibo five, it makes your blood run cold.
``The execution was cruel enough,'' he said. ``But from my sources ... at least one or two were desecrated. They cut off their penis, stuff (them) in their mouth, which are typical of behaviour of some of these people at that time.''
Ramos Horta is also a Nobel Peace prizewinner. He is not a man who talks idly of barbaric acts. But such was the savagery of this mass murder, he is still moved by it, 34 years later.
Meantime, the clinical response from Australian politicians, elected by Australians to represent Australians, is to curl up into a small target, lest anyone make waves that could damage our``relationship'' with Indonesia.
Supposedly, this is the same ``relationship'' that allows us to donate hundreds of millions of dollars for tsunami relief, build modern hospital facilities and mobilise scores of rescue workers to their earthquake disaster zones. In return, we are not to be openly critical or demand any form of mutual respect. Nor are we to expect any special help in controlling people smugglers and the flow of illegal migrants from their borders to ours.
Most recently this ``special relationship'' required the payment of some $50 million to use Indonesia's decrepit detention centres. And even then, the Indonesians was happy to take the high moral ground.
On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa put on his happy face for the cameras and argued his country could not possibly consider using force to remove 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers from the Oceanic Viking because ``it would breach international law''.
Natalegawa really should be the Minister for Comedy. What his countrymen did 34 years ago was to break the most serious of international laws; the Geneva Convention. The execution of five civilians in cold blood demands action, and if Indonesia really wants a relationship it should do everything possible to bring the killers to justice.
There is no reason not to act. Yosfiah is now leader of an Indonesian political party and lives almost three hours from Jakarta. Da Silva lives in West Timor, not far from the border. These men are easy to find and the leaders, Suharto and Whitlam, who turned a blind eye, are long gone. It's time to put it right.
Liam Bartlett is a reporter on 60 Minutes, which screens Sundays at 7.30pm on Channel 9. His Balibo report will be shown tonight.