10 September 2009
A Test Of The Australian and Indonesian Relationship...
The latest development in the Balibo Five case is sure to be a tester of the relationship between Australia and Indonesia. The latest development is that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) have decided to launch a war crimes investigation into the events surrounding the deaths of five journalists in the East Timorese township of Balibo. To be fair the enquiry must also include the execution of Roger East as well who was ultimately captured and executed on the foreshore of Dili.
It goes without saying that when the investigation became public knowledge that the Indonesian Department of Foreign Affairs did not respond positively. The Indonesians have considered this case a closed one pretty much from the time it happened. The response went along the lines of case closed and we will not be cooperating in any investigation.
Nevertheless, the AFP were between a rock and a hard place considering the findings of the 2007 NSW Coronial Inquest into the deaths which in essence concluded that there was a case to answer, at least for Yunus Yosfiah, and referred the matter to the AFP for investigation.
For Indonesia, and for many in Australia as well, the idea of letting bygones be bygones and focusing on developing a mutually beneficial relationship going forward is more important. Bygones can never truly be bygones until there is at least a sense that justice has prevailed. The Balibo Five and Roger East have not had any justice and neither have their families. In the end justice might in fact reveal that the Balibo Five were the unfortunate victims of an incident where they were caught in the crossfire between Indonesian and Fretilin troops. If that is the case, then so be it. However, if it turns out that the Balibo Five were the victims of an execution that was aimed at preventing them from getting the story of Indonesia's invasion of East Timor out to the world, then justice would entail that the perpetrators of the execution who remain alive must be brought to trial.
For me, there is no reason why a mature bilateral relationship between Australia and Indonesia cannot survive this investigation. The idea that the era of Soeharto has passed, which would seem pretty obvious now the man is dead, and that Indonesia is a different place to what it was in 1975, albeit true, does not hold water when it comes to justice. What happened in East Timor and the Balibo Five needs to be known, just because Soeharto is dead and Indonesia is a different place does not mean that the truth of these events should be swept under the carpet. The tribunals in Cambodia are testament to the need for justice to be given a chance.
In many ways there are arguments beyond just the Balibo Five that what occurred in East Timor, the now independent Timor Leste, were crimes of such a magnitude that an international tribunal is warranted. There are arguments to be made for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, Even though the genocide of the East Timorese might be debatable and may not be on the scale of the holocaust of the Jews during the second world war, a genocide is a genocide on whatever scale.
The allegations must be pursued until the truth is determined.
I will undoubtedly write on this subject again as it contains all the issues that are important to me both personally and professionally; Australia, Indonesia, and the pursuit of justice.