18 May 2008

The Balibo Five -- Now That He Is PM...

Now that Kevin Rudd has graduated from Opposition Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, to leader of the Opposition, and now to Prime Minister is the Prime Minister going to follow through to its logical conclusion his previous statements relating to the Balibo Five.

The Prime Minister is on the record making statements with respect to the findings of the NSW Deputy Coroner, Dorelle Pinch, late in 2007. The Deputy State Coroner had found that the Balibo Five had been intentionally murdered and not killed in the cross-fire as claimed by Indonesian officials. Pinch then went on to forward the file to the Attorney General with a recommendation that at least two individuals, Christoforus Da Silva and Captain Yunus Yosfiah, be indicted and prosecuted for the commission of war crimes.

Yosfiah was a Captain at the time, but he went on to make the rank of Major General and became the Minister of Communication in the Habibe Government. He stands accused of being the man responsible for issuing the kill orders and he was the ranking officer on the scene at the time.

So, what did the now PM say when he was not PM?

"This is a very disturbing conclusion by the Coroner concerning the fate of the Balibo Five back in 1975." And "I believe this has to be taken through to its logical conclusion. I also believe those responsible should be held to account." Well, with the findings of the Deputy State Coroner in the hands of the Attorney General do you think that the PM has come out and made a public pronouncement that the Attorney General has been instructed to draw up the indictments, issue the arrest warrants, liaise with Interpol, and contact the Indonesian government about arresting the alleged perpetrators for prosecution. No way!

However, this may change if the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) makes a recommendation that an indictment must be issued. The ball will then be firmly in the court of the Attorney General and the PM to ante up and bite the bullet one way or the other.

The reason this never became huge news in Indonesia is that the Indonesian government does not believe that Australia has the courage of its convictions to pursue this and risk good bilateral relations with Indonesia. This is at a time where the rumor and innuendo is that the PM as a result of his past as a Diplomat in China and his Mandarin skills is promoting Australia's relationship with China in preference to any ongoing relationship with Indonesia. This was not entirely unexpected and in any event even the PM would have to acknowledge that the relationship with Indonesia is an important one.

The PM has allegedly been a staunch supporter of maintaining ties with the Indonesian military even when almost every one else was moving away from any kind of relationship. This has some negative implications as to whether the PM will have the testicular fortitude to follow through on his earlier statements that the Balibo Five case should be followed through to its logical conclusion, which to my mind is prosecution!

The Lombok Security Treaty of 2006 covers issues of law enforcement and the Extradition Treaty covers the matter of moving a person or persons for prosecution. The recent discussion on prisoner transfer are likely to bear fruit in the future and allow for the transfer of prisoners between Indonesia and Australia for the purposes of those prisoners serving out their respective sentences in their own land! The point here though is to highlight that any agreement imposes rights and obligations on both parties to the agreement. These rights and obligations must be lived up to if the agreements are to ever be truly effective.

The real test comes when an indictment is handed down and arrest warrants are issued. These issues will only intensify once an extradition request is lodged. Indonesia, as could Australia if the circumstances were reversed, refuse the extradition application. However, there would be a requirement that the Indonesian court system prosecute the matter. If the final and binding outcomes of the trials that resulted from the violence in Timor Leste in 1999 is any precursor to the outcome, then the trials will be a whitewash and no convictions are likely. This would be a very unsavoury end to a very unsavoury incident.

The reality is that two nation States, both democracies, must be able to overcome their differences on this matter and prosecute the alleged perpetrators. If the defendants are not guilty then let the process determine that. Equally, if they are then let the process determine that as well. If Australia does move down this path then it is likely to see considerable support come from other States seeking a resolution to this.

Indonesia should not see this as offering up some sacrificial lamb to the west, although this is how it will be portrayed, but rather as a means of showing to the world that Indonesia is serious about redressing the wrongs of the past, that it is a maturing democracy, and that it is prepared to deal with these matters as a member of the international community. This admittedly would be considerably easier if the States making the claims that Indonesia step up to the plate had spotless records themselves (but that is another post for another time)!

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