Numerous Indonesian civil society groups have opposed amnesties and called for prosecutions for what their military did in East Timor. They recognize that most of the important pro-democracy initiatives that occurred in Indonesia during the 1990s occurred precisely because of the aftermath of events in East Timor such as the Santa Cruz massacre of 1991. They take the view that self-described 'supporters' of Indonesia who oppose justice may be more accurately described as supporters of Indonesia's moral and political decay.
The willful killing of the Balibo Five was a war crime. War crimes can be prosecuted wherever they occur and regardless of the nationality of the victims or perpetrators. There is no statute of limitations. This means that the alleged killers of the Balibo Five can be prosecuted in Australia following extradition from Indonesia.
Since the killings were associated with, and occurred in the context of, an international armed conflict, the case was referred to federal authorities for possible war crime prosecutions in 2007. Section 1.4 of the Prosecution Policy of the Commonwealth speaks of "openness" and "accountability", and says that "those who make the decisions to prosecute or not can be called publicly to explain and justify their policies and actions..."1
A week before the 2007 election, Mr Kevin Rudd responded to the Balibo coronial inquest by saying, "This is a very disturbing conclusion by the coroner concerning the fate of the Balibo Five back in 1975. I believe this has to be taken through to its logical conclusion. I also believe those responsible should be held to account."2 He also said, "My attitude to this is dead set hardline. I've read a bit about what happened in Balibo, I've been to Balibo, walked up there, I've seen the fort, I've seen where these blokes lost their lives. You can't just sweep this to one side. I know it's a long time ago."3
On 27th May 2008, the Assistant Secretary of the Criminal Law Branch of the Attorney-General's department, Karl Alderson, confirmed to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs that the Attorney-General's Department had liaised with the AFP to ensure that they had all the documents. He said, "The process of ensuring all of the documents and information were in the hands of the AFP and that the matter had formally been referred to the AFP was completed in the third week of January ".
The Attorney-General can make an extradition request under the 1995 extradition treaty with Indonesia. Indonesia may refuse to extradite, but must then submit the case to its prosecutors. If you write to the Attorney-General and do not specifically ask for a reply, you won't get one.
I dedicate this website to East Timor's "National Alliance for an International Tribunal" and Indonesia's "Justice Coalition for East Timor". I support East Timor Women Australia and invite you to do so too.
Please click on the link to view the relevant pdf
- Ben Saul, 'Prosecuting War Crimes at Balibo Under Australian Law: The Killing of Five Australian Journalists in East Timor by Indonesia' (2009) 31 Sydney Law Review 83. Saul SLR (236 kb)
2 H. McDonald, Killing of newsmen in Timor rules a war crime, Sydney Morning Herald, 17 November 2007.
3 AAP, Labor pledges to refer Balibo Five case, 17 November 2007.