IPI Resolution on the "Balibo Five" and other Journalists Murdered in East Timor
Meeting at its Annual General Assembly on 29 May 2006 in Edinburgh, Scotland, the IPI membership unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the governments of Australia, East Timor, Indonesia and the United Kingdom, as well as the United Nations, to undertake all necessary measures to bring to justice the murderers of five journalists, known as the "Balibo Five," killed in October 1975.
In doing so, the IPI membership recognises its own special relationship to these cases because May 2006 marks the 30th Anniversary of a statement made at the IPI General Assembly in Philadelphia, United States, condemning countries for failing to take "...positive action to determine facts concerning the fate of the five Australian-based journalists in East Timor."
The journalists killed were: Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart and Gary Cunningham of Melbourne's Channel Seven network, and Brian Peters and Malcom Rennie of the Sydney-based Channel Nine network. All of them died in the town of Balibo when the Indonesian army attacked the Fretilin forces, which were in control of East Timor at the time.
Despite numerous attempts by relatives and concerned organisations to discover the truth, all such attempts have been blocked by an absence of political will, inconclusive investigations lacking access to witnesses and forensic evidence, and delaying tactics by the authorities.
The IPI membership also notes that, in February of this year, the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor ("CAVR"), an independent statutory body investigating all human rights violations in East Timor between April 1974 and 1999, stated there should be "...further investigation of the elusive truth of this matter." However, so far, there appears to be no willingness on the part of the countries involved to follow the Commission's recommendation.
Aside from the "Balibo Five," the IPI membership calls on the countries concerned and the United Nations also to investigate the murders of Roger East, a print journalist killed on 8 December 1975; Bernardino Guterres, an East Timorese radio journalist apparently killed by the Indonesian police on 26 August 1999 and Sander Thoenes, a Dutch free-lance reporter, killed on 21 September 1999, allegedly by the Indonesian Army.
In a period where journalists are targeted for practicing their profession, the IPI membership feels it is essential for the international community to ensure that the perpetrators of such murders do not act with impunity. Failure to prosecute increases the risk of the murder of other journalists and self-censorship to the detriment of societies everywhere.