Monday, January 27, 2014

Australia tries to keep East Timor war crimes secret

Federal Attorney-General George Brandis has moved to block the release of secret archives that would reveal the Australian government's knowledge of Indonesian war crimes in East Timor

Senator Brandis has issued a public interest certificate that will prevent University of NSW Associate Professor Clinton Fernandes from attending the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on Tuesday when the government argues that Justice Duncan Kerr should reject his application for access to Australian diplomatic papers and intelligence on Indonesian military operations in East Timor more than 32 years ago.

Consequently Dr Fernandes will be unable to read, hear or directly challenge the government's arguments for continuing secrecy.

In the latest round in a six-year bureaucratic and legal struggle to secure declassification of records about Indonesia's invasion and occupation of East Timor, Dr Fernandes is seeking full access to two Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade files that contain reports about a major military offensive across the island in late 1981 and early 1982.

Known as the "fence of legs", the Indonesian military operation involved more than 60,000 conscripted East Timorese civilians being forced to form human chains that moved across large areas of land with the military behind them to flush out pro-independence guerillas. The operation ended with a massacre of several hundred East Timorese civilians.

The use of civilians as human shields is also a war crime.

The documents sought by Dr Fernandes include records of discussions between Australian diplomats in Jakarta and a senior officer of Indonesia's state intelligence co-ordination agency, Australian diplomatic cables and intelligence reports, as well as assessments by Australia's peak intelligence agency, the Office of National Assessments.

The Defence Department has previously acknowledged that the Defence Signals Directorate, now the Australian Signals Directorate, closely monitored radio communications of the Indonesian military in East Timor.

The National Archives of Australia has argued that release of some information sought by Dr Fernandes would be contrary to Australia's agreements with the US for the protection of classified information.

It also says disclosure of other documents would "reveal information about Australia's intelligence sources, methods, operations and capabilities, including the nature and extent of the intelligence Australia collects from foreign countries".

Justice Kerr begins hearing the case in Canberra on Tuesday. By Philip Dorling  “The Moyne Gazette”

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