NZ must act on Balibo deaths: activists
February 12, 2010 – 6:04PM
The New Zealand government has been criticised for its “appalling”
failure to hold Indonesia to account over the Balibo Five killings in
New Zealander Gary Cunningham and other Australian-based newsmen
Brian Peters, Malcolm Rennie, Greg Shackleton and Tony Stewart were
shot dead at Balibo, East Timor, in October 1975.
A memorial to Cunningham was announced at a ceremony in Wellington on
The Australian Federal Police launched a war crimes investigation
into the killings last year, following a 2007 coronial inquest which
found Indonesian forces deliberately killed the Australian-based
journalists to cover up their 1975 invasion of East Timor.
Retired Indonesian army colonel Gatot Purwanto appeared to back the
coroner’s findings in December last year, becoming the first senior
Indonesian figure to contradict the official explanation the newsmen
were killed in crossfire.
The planned memorial in Wellington, organised by the Indonesia Human
Rights Committee with support from the Media Freedom Committee and
Wellington City Council, would be the first official commemoration in
Maire Leadbeater, of the Indonesia Human Rights Committee, said
Cunningham was a “true hero”.
“As far as East Timor is concerned he’s a martyr. I think he’s the
truest and best sort of hero, because he was someone who took his
life in his own hands, potentially to save the lives of others.”
It was “appalling” the New Zealand government had not been more
outspoken, she said.
“It’s now nearly 35 years since Gary died, but this is the story that
won’t die until justice and accountability is really achieved for the
Leadbeater was among those gathered for the memorial announcement on
Wellington’s Mt Victoria, the planned site for the memorial
overlooking views across the city where Cunningham grew up.
Many were to attend Friday night’s Wellington premiere of Balibo, the
Australian film about the killings that has been banned in Indonesia.
Leadbeater said she hoped the Balibo film would raise public
awareness of the killings.
“I think there’s going to be a groundswell of public pressure here,
as there has been in Indonesia and Australia, for action for the Balibo
Cunningham’s aunt, Pat McGregor, said the memorial was a “very
important” step towards the New Zealand government taking action over
“At the time it all happened we couldn’t even get the government to
look for them, so yes, this is a little bit of completing the circle
for us,” she told NZPA.
She called on the New Zealand government to become involved in the
Australian war crimes probe.
“I would like to think that the government would at least, whatever
the findings, acknowledge that it did all happen.”
Tim Pankhurst, chief executive of the Newspaper Publishers’
Association, which is the secretariat for the Media Freedom
Committee, said it was “shameful” that successive New Zealand
governments had refused to engage on the issue.
“This government recognises that a fundamental tenet of a democracy
is freedom of speech. Well, you need to back that up with supporting
your citizens,” he said.
“Gary was a Kiwi, and I think it’s marvellous that he’s being
remembered in this way, and more power to the mayor for supporting
it. But you notice who was absent from that ceremony? Any government
The government should “at the very least” pursue justice over the
killings, Pankhurst said.
“The outcome needs to be that the Indonesians responsible should be
held to account, and that there should be recompense for the families.”
NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully said in December the government
was watching developments in the Australian war crimes investigation,
but New Zealand would not hold its own inquiry.
He had raised the matter with the Indonesian government on a visit
last year but had not sought an apology and admission.
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John M. Miller, National Coordinator
East Timor& Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)
PO Box 21873, Brooklyn, NY 11202-1873 USA
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