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NZ should support Balibo war crimes investigation

Indonesia Human Rights Committee,
Box 68-419,
Auckland, 1125

9 September, 2009

Media Release: Australia’s Balibo war crimes investigation welcomed and NZ Government urged to support it and challenge Indonesia to come to the party.

The Indonesia Human Rights Committee has written to the Attorney General and the Minister of Foreign Affairs to urge that the New Zealand Government lends its full support to the just announced Australian investigation into the war crimes committed at Balibo in East Timor in 1975.

Spokesperson, Maire Leadbeater, said ‘It is now time for New Zealand to come out from the shadows on this one. For too long we have left the running to Australia even though a New Zealand citizen, Gary Cunningham, was one of the five murdered.

‘We should offer our practical help, and we should take a challenge to Indonesia to cooperate with this investigation. In the past the ANZAC allies tried to cover up the truth about the events at Balibo to protect Indonesia. But now it is time to balance the ledger, and as Sydney Coroner Dorelle Pinch expressed it at the end of her exhaustive hearing into this matter: “ The truth is never too young to be told, nor too old.” ’

Letter follows.

Attorney General Christopher Finlayson,
Parliament Buildings,

Hon Murray McCully,
Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Parliament Buildings,

Dear Attorney General Christopher Finlayson and Minister McCully,

The Indonesia Human Rights Committee is very pleased to note that the Australian Federal Police will now launch a new investigation into the 1975 deaths of the Balibo Five. As you know one of the five was New Zealander, Gary Cunningham. The five were murdered as they were attempting to alert the outside world to Indonesia’s covert incursions into East Timor.

In 2007, Sydney Coroner, Dorelle Pinch concluded her hearing into the matter, by recommending that a prosecution proceed under the terms of the Geneva Conventions. Although there was no official Indonesian contribution to the Coroner’s inquest, many new witnesses came forward to testify, including some who had fought on the Indonesian side. Ms Pinch concluded that the Balibo Five were deliberately killed on the orders of Commander Yunus Yosfiah. He and his accomplice, Special Forces soldier Christoforus da Silva were almost certainly acting on orders from the highest levels of the Indonesian military.

After 34 years we hope that this new Australian war crimes probe will lead to prosecutions so that those responsible for the tragic deaths of the young journalists will be held to account in a court of law. Although the Australian Federal Police have expressed caution about obtaining ‘offshore’ evidence and witness testimony, we believe that the time has come to challenge Indonesia to cooperate with this legal process. Indonesia is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions and has a responsibility under international law to cooperate with the investigation and prosecution of alleged war crimes.

We understand that New Zealand Government officials have recently been maintaining contact over this issue with the family of Gary Cunningham, and we are aware that the family are appreciative of this support.

However, we are concerned that New Zealand has so far taken a background role. We believe that New Zealand should now commit to giving Australia both practical and moral support to ensure the success of this vital legal process.

We understand from previous correspondence that New Zealand official documents from this period contain limited information about the Balibo episode and the death of Gary Cunningham. However, any Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Defence documentation of possible relevance should now be made available to the Australian Federal Police.

New Zealand should also urge Indonesia to take responsibility for its past and participate in this crucial war crimes probe.

Australia and New Zealand were complicit in the cover-up of the Balibo crime for many years. But now the truth is within grasp and New Zealand owes it to the family of its own citizen, Gary Cunningham, and to the people of Timor-Leste to make sure this new legal process is successful.

Yours sincerely,

Maire Leadbeater
For the Indonesia Human Rights Committee


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