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Panel discussion Balibo about the case of Sander Thoenes

March 29, 2010

During the panel discussion after the film Balibo the case of the Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes was discussed. In September 1999 he was killed when he recorded the departure of the Indonesian army out of East Timor for The Financial Times and Vrij Nederland. Despite an extensive UN investigation concerning the murder and the relentless efforts of the Dutch government to prosecute the killers, the Indonesian public prosecutor refuses to start a case.

Balibo tells the story of the murder on the Balibo Five. Five journalists who reported the Indonesian invasion in East Timor in 1975, were shot by Indonesian soldiers. Indonesia expert Nico Schulte Nordholt, journalist Tsjitske Lingsma and Thijs Berman, member of the European Parliament, discussed the possibilities of using European Union’s political power to put pressure on the Indonesian government in Jakarta to prosecute the killers of Sander Thoenes and investigate the assassination of the Balibo Five.

The Indonesian authorities claim they are not accountable for the killing of the Balibo Five. Due to the enormous diplomatic power Indonesia has over East Timor, the small government is not in a position to demand proper investigations for the war crimes committed by the Indonesian army. The brother of Sander Thoenes, Peter Thoenes, who was in the audience, added something really important to this. According to an email from president José Ramos-Horta to The Financial Times, one of Sander’s old employers, the government of East Timor indeed wants to “forgive and forget” the killings of civilians, but not the assassinations of foreigners in East Timor.

This strengthens the position of the European Union to put political pressure on Jakarta. According to Thijs Berman the use political pressure, for instance before signing important trade agreements, can really make a difference. The Netherlands alone does not have enough power to put real pressure on a country like Indonesia, but with the power of the EU, The Netherlands could force Indonesia into a diplomatic corner.

“At the moment there’s no legal acknowledgement for what happened in East Timor, but there is an increasing moral acknowledgement”, said Tsjitske Lingsma. Nico Schulte Nordholt agrees that Jakarta is key. “Indonesia will eventually be forced to change their stance about their own past. This is becoming a dynamic process.“

Screening dates Balibo:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - 19:15
Filmhuis Den Haag zaal 1

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