Ten years after Dutch Financial Times correspondent Sander Thoenes was murdered in East Timor, participants at a commemoration held at the ‘Frontline Club’ in London demanded that the Indonesian authorities bring to justice those responsible for his killing.
In September 1999, Thoenes went to East Timor to report on the aftermath of a referendum vote for independence from Indonesia and the landing of Indonesian troops on the island. UN and Indonesian investigations found that he was shot at point blank range by Indonesian troops on 21 September after falling off his motorcycle.
IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills, who attended the commemoration event, said: “Both UN and Indonesian investigations into the murder of Sander Thoenes have identified members of the Indonesian military as being responsible for the crime. The fact that these individuals have not been prosecuted shows a disturbing lack of will by Indonesia to end the impunity connected with the killing of Sander Thoenes and other journalists. This seriously undermines the country’s ability to fulfil its commitment to democracy – in which respect for the rule of law is of paramount importance.”
In a statement Mills made at the event, he said: “For 10 years now, the call for justice in the murder of Sander Thoenes in East Timor has gone unanswered. How long will his family and those of other journalists brutally murdered around the world have to wait until justice is served?”
A statement by Sander’s brother, Peter, read out at the event said: “The Indonesian government has consistently delayed, obstructed and ridiculed any prosecutions of these criminals on their payroll. In doing so, that government has made it clear to the international community that it happily condones all kind of atrocities committed by its military up to this day.”
Thoenes, who was 30 years old at the time of his death, had been working as the Financial Times’ Indonesia correspondent since September 1997, after the Asian financial crisis had started to spread in the region. Before that, he had reported from Russia and Kazakhstan.
On the day Thoenes was murdered, the Financial Times had published an article by him titled “Military’s Power Undimmed by Humiliations,” in which Thoenes analysed the Indonesian military’s grip on power in spite of the humiliation of having been ousted from East Timor and political reforms that challenged their role in politics.
It was never clear whether Thoenes was “murdered to prevent truth being revealed,” thus becoming “the first victim of a deliberate wave of atrocities against the foreign press by East Timor’s militias,” as The Independent reported two days after his murder; or whether his death was “at the hands of drunken and undisciplined Indonesian soldiers running amok as they withdrew from East Timor,” as the Financial Times reported.
The Indonesian National Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights Violations in East Timor (Komisi Penyelidik Pelanggaran HAM di Timor Timur, or KPP-HAM), a body established as Indonesian forces were leaving East Timor and composed of leading Indonesian figures, investigated Thoenes’ murder, among other crimes allegedly committed by the Indonesian military.
In its final report, KPP HAM recommended Maj Jacob Djoko Sarosa and Lt Camilo dos Santos “be investigated further by the Attorney General’s office for their involvement in the killing of Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes.”
On 6 November 2002, Sarosa and dos Santos were indicted before the Dili Special Panel with crimes against humanity, but neither Sarosa nor Dos Santos ended up in prison as Indonesia, where they were at the time of the indictment, refused to cooperate with the East Timorese legal process. The Dili indictment stated that Sarosa and dos Santos held command responsibility for Thoenes murder. Furthermore, according to the indictment, “Two soldiers including Lt. Camilo Dos SANTOS pointed their guns at Sander Robert Thoenes as he lay on the ground. Sander Robert Thoenes was then shot once in the chest and as a result of that gunshot, he died.”
According to the Financial Times, Lt dos Santos is now a captain serving in West Timor, Indonesia, and Maj Sarosa’s whereabouts are unknown but it is thought he is still in the Indonesian army. Neither of them has been prosecuted.