From: Pacific Media Watch nius <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [Pacific_media_watch] 6545 EAST TIMOR: Comment - The role of
journalists in the freedom struggle
To: Pacific Media Watch <email@example.com>
Title – 6545 EAST TIMOR: Comment - The role of journalists in the freedom
Date – 18 November 2009
Byline – None
Origin – Pacific Media Watch
Source – Tapol 26/10/09
Copyright – T
Status – Unabridged
* Pacific Media Watch Online - check the website for archive and links:
CLINTION FERNANDES: THE ROLE OF JOURNALISTS IN THE FREEDOM STRUGGLE
Speech at the Sander Thoenes memorial event, Frontline Club, London.
LONDON (Tapol/Pacific Media Watch):
The struggle for justice is not a contest between Indonesians and
non-Indonesians. Rather, it is a contest between those around the world
who want to justice to prevail and those who want to see impunity
In 1975, Indonesia illegally invaded East Timor. This triggered an
international armed conflict to which the 1949 Geneva Conventions
applied. During the 24-year occupation, there were numerous reports of
killings, famine, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The minimum
conflict-related death toll was 102,800. A conservative estimate for the
maximum conflict-related death toll is 204,000. Whichever figure is
relied on, the fact remains that East Timor suffered perhaps the largest
loss of life relative to total population since the Holocaust.
In these circumstances, why commemorate one man - Sander Thoenes? After
all, journalists enjoy no greater protection from attack than other
civilians. One answer to this question must be that journalists played a
crucial role in the independence struggle. Another answer is that in
East Timor itself, Sander Thoenes is remembered with respect. There is a
memorial for him in Becora, in the east of Dili, and commemorations are
held for him every 21st September - the anniversary of his murder. As
Manuel da Silva, an East Timorese man, stated at the NSW coronial
inquest into the murders of British, Australian and New Zealand
journalists at Balibo: "The reason why I came to be a witness was that I
believe that the journalists are martyrs for East Timor and I believe
they are East Timorese as well."
Journalists played a crucial role in Indonesia's independence struggle
too. Most Indonesians know about Jusuf Ronodipuro. When Japan, which had
been occupying Indonesia, surrendered, the Foreign Service section of
the radio station had been left unguarded. Jusuf Ronodipuro entered the
recording booth of the foreign section, and with the help of the radio's
technical officers, read the Indonesian proclamation of independence to
the world in August 1945. Later, Jusuf and his friends managed to steal
enough equipment to set up Suara Indonesia Merdeka (The Voice of Free
Indonesia). Jusuf and his colleagues founded Radio Republik Indonesia
(RRI). It had a famous slogan, 'Sekali di udara, tetap di udara' ('Once
on the air, always on the air').
Raden Mas Tirto Adhisuryo was a pioneer of Indonesian journalism. He was
the first indigenous Indonesian to publish a daily newspaper, using it
to promote the struggle for independence.
Ernest Douwes Dekker published many articles advocating Indies
nationalism and Indonesian independence. His activities were declared
illegal, and he spent three months in prison. He was exiled from the
Netherlands East Indies during World War II. After independence he
returned to Indonesia and was appointed a member of the provisional
Parliament. He changed his name to 'Danudirja Setiabudi' which means
'powerful substance, faithful spirit'. A district and a main street in
Jakarta are named Setiabudi in his honour.
Siti Latifah Herawati Diah, or Ibu Hera, as she is better known, was a
stringer for the United Press International (UPI) newswire. She was a
founding member of Merdeka newspaper and The Indonesian Observer.
Abdul Muis was an Indonesian writer and journalist who was famous for
his stirring articles in favour of independence. Many Indonesian cities
have streets named after him.
These Indonesian journalists were honourable, courageous people, and
journalists reporting on East Timor during the Indonesian military
occupation were following in their footsteps. In fact, Sander was not
the last journalist to be killed by the Indonesian military. He was the
last "foreign" journalist to be killed. The last journalist to be killed
was in fact an Indonesian - Agus Muliawan, a 26-year-old man who worked
for the Tokyo-based Asia Press International. The leader of the unit
that killed him had trained alongside Australian troops in the early
In East Timor's independence struggle, Sander Thoenes and Agus Muliawan
were at the tail end of a long and honourable tradition of journalists
who covered the territory during the war. These include the Portuguese
journalist Adelino Gomes, who obtained evidence in 1975 that Indonesia
had massed troops in West Timor and crossed into Portuguese Timor.
British journalists Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters were murdered at
Balibo, near the western border of East Timor, along with their
Australian colleagues Greg Shackleton and Tony Stewart, and their New
Zealand colleague Gary Cunningham. Later in 1975 the Indonesian military
murdered another Australian journalist named Roger East.
The silence of the British, Australian and New Zealand governments after
these murders sent a powerful signal to the Indonesian military - that
they could treat the Timorese as they wished, and there would be no
objection from the West. That was the real green light. After all, if
the British government took no action over the deaths of British
subjects, the Indonesian military could expect similar inaction over
anything else it did to the East Timorese.
It was the work of journalists and members of civil society that
contributed to the growing public awareness of East Timor. In September
1990 Robert Domm conducted a secret interview with the resistance leader
Xanana Gusmao in East Timor. It was broadcast to the outside world,
resulting in greater awareness of East Timor's independence struggle.
English journalist Max Stahl captured vital footage of the Santa Cruz
massacre, changing forever the world's perceptions of Indonesia's
occupation of East Timor. US journalists Alan Nairn and Amy Goodman, who
narrowly survived the Santa Cruz massacre, campaigned for East Timor in
the United States. Indonesian journalists such as Tossy Santoso and Yoss
Wibisono broadcast stories and interviews whilst working for Radio
Netherlands. John Pilger and David Munro entered occupied East Timor in
1993, resulting in Death of a Nation, a powerful film that contributed
to the world's knowledge of the Indonesian occupation.
Some East Timorese members of the resistance have themselves become
journalists in a free East Timor. They recognise the importance of
journalism, and the care and protection that society should afford to
members of this laudable profession.
During the campaign for independence, the East Timorese and their
supporters were constantly told that the Indonesian occupation was
"irreversible". That word - "irreversible" - was repeated with numbing
regularity for almost 24 years. Yet - thanks to the important work of
journalists and members of civil society - the irreversible was
reversed. As East Timor's Commission for Reception, Truth and
Reconciliation noted, 'in the face of extraordinary challenges including
significant disunity, resource constraints, isolation and overwhelming
odds', the campaign for independence 'focused on internationally agreed
principles, eschewed ideology and violence, was open to the contribution
of all East Timorese, and made maximum use of the international system,
media and civil society networks'.
This is an important lesson in the campaign for justice - for an
international tribunal. The campaign is important precisely because it
is difficult. It will face resistance, but the process of overcoming
resistance will educate people, shame perpetrators, contribute to
Indonesia's democratic transition, and make new friendships among
campaigners. Just like climbing a high mountain, those who are committed
to justice don't expect to get to the top in one climb. They recognise
the need to establish a base camp and then a series of more advanced
camps before the final push.
I suggest that it is important to call things by their correct names.
It's important to say the words "International Tribunal". There is an
hierarchy of phrases:
* Reconciliation (a term best avoided until perpetrators have
* Honouring the Memory (an ambiguous phrase that is often used to
get around meaningful justice)
* Justice (a good term, although there is a better one)
* International Tribunal (Correct!)
However, there are intermediate camps that must be established on the
way to the top. Just as a historical novel gains a narrative focus by
discussing history through the life of an individual, so also we need to
focus on individuals in order to inform the public. For instance, those
who are committed to justice here can take steps to ensure that Yakob
Sarosa becomes the best-known Indonesian in the UK.
Yacob Sarosa, the commander of Battalion 745, was criminally responsible
for the murder of Sander Thoenes. He was a major at the time, and was
later promoted from major to lieutenant-colonel. Sarosa attended
Indonesia's military academy and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in
1984. The military selected him for special training in the US, and he
spent six months at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1990. He held the rank of
major during the events of September 1999, but was later promoted. On 6
November 2002, Sarosa was indicted before the Dili Special Panel with
crimes against humanity over the same events.
Lt Camilo dos Santos, a platoon commander within D Company, is also
criminally responsible for the murder of Sander Thoenes. Dos Santos was
indicted in Dili with Sarosa.
Neither Sarosa nor Dos Santos have paid for their crimes because they
remain in Indonesia, which has refused to cooperate with the East
Timorese legal process. The British government has so far done little
that is discernible to ensure that the killers of its own citizens are
brought to justice. It appears that the British government is doing
little or nothing to give effect to Security Council Resolutions 1264
and 1272 (both from 1999), which demanded that those responsible for
serious crimes be brought to justice.
Prosecutions would enable the Indonesian people to better respect the
rule of law as part of Indonesia's democratic transition. They would
send a message that no one is able ..... ? the law, thereby deepening
Indonesia's own democratic culture. This is why 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. Self-described
'supporters' of Indonesia who call for amnesties may be more accurately
described as supporters of Indonesia's moral and political decay.
Page 74 of the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee's Human
Rights Annual Report 2008 states:
"We recommend that the government works to strengthen international
support for the ICC, and for the principle of bringing to justice those
who commit war crimes or crimes against humanity."
That is to say, a committee from all sides of UK politics has called for
justice for those who commit war crimes or crimes against humanity it.
What is the British government doing about it? Perhaps British citizens
might lobby their local MP to raise this matter with the Foreign and
For those who support justice for East Timor, education and organisation
remain the watchwords. There is no statute of limitations on crimes as
serious as those perpetrated against the East Timorese. Under UK and
international law, it is entirely possible for the perpetrators of this
crime to be brought to justice. Whether the UK has the political will to
do that remains the 34-year-old question. It was activists who shaped
public opinion and confronted official policy throughout the Indonesian
occupation of East Timor. In this case, as in the past, public opinion
will continue to influence political will. How strong that opinion is,
is up to us.
* Dr Clinton Fernandes is the author of Reluctant Indonesians: Australia,
Indonesia and the Future of West Papua and a spokesperson for the
Australian Coalition for Transitional Justice in East Timor.
* Comment on this item www.pacific.scoop.co.nz
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