Sunday 10 Oct 2021 | 01:14 | SYDNEY
Sunday 10 Oct 2021 | 01:14 | SYDNEY

Justice hostage to 'relations'


Alex Oliver


11 September 2009 09:33

The AFP is to conduct a war crimes investigation into the 1975 killing of the Balibo Five. This follows the NSW Coroner's finding late last year that the five were 'tracked and targeted by the Indonesian military before being killed by the invading force in Balibo'. According to the Coroner, the Indonesian military attempted to pass them off as combatants – trussing them up in military uniform with guns, photographing and then incinerating them.

These are serious allegations against former high-ranking officials, which deserve to be tested in a court of law. As with pursuits by various international criminal tribunals for atrocities in WWII, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, to name a few, it is open to aggrieved nations to seek justice. My colleague, Fergus Hanson, has researched in-depth the issue of war criminals living in Australia and has urged the Federal Government to act to fill legislative gaps and to adequately resource the task of bringing war criminals to justice, no matter the passage of time.

A spokesperson for the Indonesian Foreign Ministry is reported as saying that a pursuing this matter 'is not conducive to the bilateral relationship'. I feel compelled to ask: is there to be a different rule applied where the 'bilateral relationship' is in fragile health or only recently recuperated? Should alleged war criminals be pursued only where there is a robust bilateral relationship (and/or insignificant trade ties) between Australia and the nation potentially hosting them?

The International Criminal Court cannot assume jurisdiction in a case like this, which arose well before its inception in 2002. It is left to Australia, with the cooperation of Indonesia, to act. That cooperation seems unlikely, despite the fact that the events at Balibo happened nearly 30 years ago, under a completely different regime and potentially involving military personnel who have long since retired or died.