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Aceh province: Dirty war uncovered

Kontras Aceh - September 30, 2003

By Teuku Samsul Bahri

A. Grassroots economic situation

After observing more than 100 days of the implementation of the Military Emergency in Aceh, no significant results have been achieved since martial law began, except a humanitarian crisis. Hundreds of members and sympathizers of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) were killed by Indonesian Army and most of them were unlawfully killed. Military publications [on the killings] were not verified independently and their validity has to be doubted. In regard to the humanitarian situation, the economy at the grassroots community level is collapsing. Below are three examples of the difficulties facing villagers.

1. Villagers who want to go to their embankments [farms] have been obligated to present themselves at the Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) post in Kuala Simpang Ulim, East Aceh regency. They have to hand over their red and white ID cards (1) before they are allowed to go to the embankments.

2. Villagers have only been allowed to carry out their work from 10am to 1pm. After that, they have to go back to the TNI post to take back their ID cards and then go home. If this rule is violated, TNI will take arbitrary actions against the villagers, such as beatings, etc. Therefore only a few people have been brave enough to carry out their work, because three hours is not enough to do their kind of work. The villagers (workers and owners of the embankments) are being attacked with this kind of rule.

3. Since the Military Emergency came into effect on May 19, Lokop district in East Aceh has been cut off by a TNI blockade. Lokop is a remote district in the mountains of East Aceh regency. All vehicles and people heading for Lokop are strictly searched by TNI, particularly those carrying basic foodstuffs. TNI is applying the following rules:

(a) shop-owners and traders may only carry three sacks of rice and one sack of sugar; and

(b) families may only buy 1 liter of rice and 500 grams of sugar per day.

If people breach these rules they are accused of being GAM members. However, there are around 30 villages in Lokop district, so the people of Lokop have suffered greatly from malnutrition since the beginning of the Military Emergency. The prices of basic needs, such as kerosene and sugar, have skyrocketed. Besides this, it is very hard for the people to work their fields and rice paddies. Crops such as rice, cocoa and coffee are left to rot because of the difficulty of transporting them anywhere. TNI also forces farmers to sell their rice and other crops at low prices to middlemen named by TNI, to avoid the crops being sold to GAM. After three months of the military emergency, the condition of the people of Lokop is a cause of great concern. Their food supplies are increasingly limited, leading to malnutrition. The same rules are applied to fishermen who want to carry out their work at sea. Troops of TNI/Police give them only three hours to work from 10am to 1pm. According to local fishermen, this rule is impossible to accept, because the average fisherman with a small boat needs a day at sea to catch fish. Those with bigger boats need two or three days at sea for fishing. And now, none of the fishermen are able to carry out their work. Subsequently, the families of fishermen are facing a growing economic crisis in their ability to obtain their daily food needs (2).

The above examples are clear evidence of how grassroots communities are facing economic collapse as a result of the martial law and the implementation of military rule in Aceh.

Another sorrowful development that has emerged as an impact of the war and the humanitarian and economic crises, is that Acehnese female refugees are being forced into sex slavery, At least 1000 female Acehnese refugees, who fled to neighboring North Sumatra because of the war in their homeland, have been forced to become sex workers. The women, allegedly being trafficked as prostitutes, are generally aged between 16 and 26. The economic factor is one reason that the Acehnese refugees were easily exploited by the commercial sex syndicates (3). In Aceh, other numbers of women have also become involved in prostitution because of economic reasons.

B. Violence against human rights defenders in Aceh & Indonesia

Since martial law began, a number of non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations that used to operate in Aceh have been pronounced illegal by the Martial Law Administration and their activists threatened with arrest. Major General Endang [Suwarya], as the martial law administrator in Aceh, on May 20 said he had received a number of names from military intelligence, which he would use as the basis for making arrests. Most of them are human rights defenders and political activists who seek to achieve their goals through non-violence.

Monitoring activities have come to a halt because human rights defenders, including the many activists and volunteers spread across Aceh working for Kontras, have gone into hiding. The number of activists already arrested is not known. The first person known to be detained was Cut Nur Asikin, a prominent women's rights activist of the Srikandi Aceh women's organization. She was denied the right to be accompanied by lawyers because under the terms of the martial law, she was initially accused of terrorism. However, after strong pressure from the national and international community, she is now trial and accused of sedition. Not only local NGOs and activists [are facing difficulties]. Indonesia's Coordinator Minister for Social Affairs, Yusuf Kalla, has said that foreign NGOs will be prohibited from operating any longer in Aceh.

In North Aceh on June 17, 2003, one of Kontras Aceh's volunteers, 21-year-old Muzakkir Abdullah, became one of the victims of summary execution. When his dead body was found, his hands were tied to a palm tree, his mouth was gagged, his neck was scratched, and there were other signs of torture before he was killed. He had been abducted from his house on June 16.

Another case occurred when Nuraini (27), the field coordinator of Kontras Aceh in Pidie district, was arrested in her house in Delima village, along with her father and a neighbour. She was released after a week in detention, but received various kinds of threats and intimidation.

Because of the increasing level of violence against human rights defenders since the imposition of martial law, several have either gone into hiding or left Aceh to save their lives and avoid being added to the death toll.

The two aforementioned examples signal the new pattern of violence against human rights defenders in Aceh. And we do believe, those examples are a form of psychological [warfare] against other human rights activists in Aceh. The new patterns are:

1. An activist is killed and his/her body is left for other people to find. The impact is that other activists will become silent to avoid joining the death toll.

2. An activist is arrested together with his/her father or family members. The impact is that he/she must stop his/her activities to save his/her family members.

This martial law has not only affected human rights defenders in Aceh, but has also affected outspoken human rights defenders in Indonesia. For example, in Jakarta, the offices of Kontras and PBHI (the Indonesian Legal Aid Association) were attacked by militias known as Pemuda Panca Marga (military youth wing). On this point, it can be concluded that the state, including the military and police, is using civilians to perpetrate acts of intimidation against human rights defenders; while there is no mechanism to guarantee the right of human rights defenders to work in Indonesia.

Several conclusions can be made from the aforementioned events:

1. Martial law in Aceh is being used as a tool to marginalize Aceh from the international community, as inferred from the statement from the Coordinating Minister for Social Affairs and Presidential Decree No.43/2003.

2. Martial law is being used a tool to bring about the collapse of civil society in Aceh, despite civil society organizations urging the government to allow freedom for expression without any hindrances.

Aceh has the greatest record in terms of violence against human rights defenders in Indonesia. Since the downfall of the Suharto regime in 1998 to August 2003, about 129 human rights defenders were victims of various forms of violations, including arbitrary detention, summary killings/executions, forced disappearance, etc. Since martial law was declared on May 19, the Indonesian security authorities and the Free Aceh Movement have violated the human rights of 21 activists. Two cases were perpetrated by GAM (when two journalists were detained by them), and 19 cases were perpetrated by the Indonesian military and police. Unfortunately, none of the cases of gross violations against human rights defenders in Aceh have been investigated or brought to court.

C. Women in Aceh: Dual agenda & a tool to enervate the enemy

Specifically, women in Aceh can be described as heroes, who are also being used by TNI to enervate the enemy. When Aceh was classified as a Military Operations Zone (DOM) from 1989 to 1998, women who were identified as the wives of guerrillas were arrested and detained in military camps. A few testimonies have proved they were tortured and/or raped by the Indonesian Armed Forces. The reason they were arrested is because they were the wives of guerrillas and could be used as a tool to force their husbands to surrender to the Indonesian military.

Since martial law was declared in Aceh, women are again being used as a tool to enervate the enemy. Not only wives, but also children, have been detained. Such as the wife of a GAM officer in East Aceh, Cut Roslina, who was arrested by TNI along with her 2-year-old child and 9-month-old baby on September 23, 2003.

Since the imposition of martial law, arbitrary arrests/detention of the wives of GAM members have increased in difference parts of Aceh province, such as East Aceh, North Aceh, Greater Aceh and others districts. The wives of GAM members are in a dangerous situation because they have been arrested on the basis of their relationship with GAM. In regard to these kinds of cases, TNI has put aside humanitarian law. And in the field, the Army does not seem to recognize the Geneva Convention as a legal instrument for the protection of civilians (non-combatants) in armed conflict. These kinds of violations have been going on systematically.

The armed conflict has forced women in Aceh take on multiple roles as part of a dual daily agenda. In rural areas, most of the population works as poor farmers. Normally this kind of work has been done by men. But when TNI began targeting Acehnese men -- either as members or suspected members of GAM -- women in Aceh have taken the initiative to take over their work. Therefore, on the one hand, women have become protectors of their families. On the other hand, they have also become the main income earner of the family.

D. Data on violence against civilians

During Martial Law On September 5, Polda (the Aceh provincial police) published a dossier on 544 civilians who have become victims of violence in Aceh since martial law was declared on May 19 until September 3, 2003. [The dossier showed that] 319 civilians have been killed, 117 civilians have been injured, and 108 civilians have disappeared (3).

According to Kontras Aceh's own dossier, from May 19 to August 18, 329 civilians have been killed (summary killings/executions), 315 civilians have been tortured/ill-treated, there have been 213 cases of arbitrary arrests/detention, and 78 cases of forced disappearances. Kontras Aceh's document also indicates that most of these civilians were targeted during searches by the military and police for guerrillas.

Kontras Aceh believes the real number of civilian victims is much higher, but the military is preventing NGOs from carrying out their monitoring work, and villagers are reluctant to report any violations they have suffered because there is no guarantee for the protection of victims and witnesses. Therefore, villagers have been willing to keep silent as long as their safety will be guaranteed, even though they have faced many military brutalities.

According to TNI data announced by military spokesman Colonel Ditya Sudharsono, from May 19 to September 5, 816 GAM members have been killed, 607 have been arrested and 466 have surrendered (4). Although a plan to set up a prison on Aceh's Pulau Nasi has been cancelled (5), hundreds of suspected GAM members have been transferred to one of the major prisons in Banda Aceh city, where they are being unlawfully held.

E. Burning schools, neglecting children

In the first month following the imposition of martial law, 507 school buildings were burnt down, comprising 4 kindergartens, 361 elementary schools, 60 Madrasah Ibtidaiyah (Islamic primary schools), 52 secondary schools (SLTP), 12 Madrasah Tsanawiyah (Islamic junior high schools), 12 senior high schools (SMU), 5 Madrasah Aliyah (Islamic senior high schools) and 1 district learning center (SKB).

Entering the second month, more school buildings were burnt down. The perpetrators of these arson attacks are unclear or unidentified. However, the burning of the schools has been one of the biggest impacts of the war and sends children to a dangerous future as they have lost their access to education.

F. Martial law and classified areas

When martial law came into effect, the province of Aceh was classified into different areas determined by the martial law administration:

1. White Area: This indicates an area where there is no GAM influence. Most of these areas are towns close to military bases.

2. Grey Area: This indicates an area where there are a few people who give financial support to GAM. However, there are no GAM members in these areas.

3. Red Area: This indicates an area where people support GAM. There are also GAM members in these areas, but no GAM barracks.

4. Black Area: This indicates an area that is a stronghold of GAM and the people fully support GAM. There are also GAM barracks in these areas. Since August 2003, the black areas have been fully under military control, and subdistrict heads have been appointed from military officers. There are 13 subdistricts that have been classified as black areas.


In regard to the brief descriptions above, Kontras Aceh would like to therefore make the following recommendations:

1. We urge the Indonesian government, especially TNI, to stop using women as a tool to enervate GAM members, because the wives of guerrillas cannot be classified as part of the armed group. On the contrary, they are civilians who have rights to equality and protection during armed conflict.

2. We urge both sides, the Indonesian government (especially TNI) and GAM, to recognize the rights of non-combatants during armed conflict, and that public facilities cannot be targeted during armed conflict.

3. We urge the Indonesian government to allow civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations in Aceh to carry out monitoring work without any hindrances.

4. We urge Indonesian government to lift Presidential Decree No.43/2003 on the control of the activities of foreign citizens, non-governmental organizations and journalists in the province of Aceh.

5. We urge the Indonesian government to reopen access for international humanitarian assistance in regard to the humanitarian catastrophes that have been occurring since the declaration of martial law in Aceh on May 19, 2003.

6. We urge the Indonesian government to lift Presidential Decree No.28/2003 on the declaration of martial law in Aceh province, because the decree contains a number of articles that have allowed human rights abuses to take place with impunity. 7. We urge the Indonesian government and GAM to return to negotiating table for the sake of the civilian population.

8. We urge the Indonesian government to invite a special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading forms of treatment or punishment; a special rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against women; a special representative on human rights defenders; a special representative on internally displaced peoples/mass exoduses; and others to Indonesia, especially to Aceh province, to examine the situation via different mandates through a joint visit.

9. We urge the Indonesian government to provide a mechanism to guarantee the right of human rights defenders to work in Indonesia, and to stop any kinds of actions against human rights defenders, as well as to stop supporting the use of non-state perpetrators [in attacks] against human rights defenders.

10. We urge the Indonesian government, especially TNI, not to hinder economic activities in Aceh, especially at the grassroots level.

For further information, please contact:

Teuku Samsul Bahri
Email: acehyouth@yahoo.co.uk
Mobile: +41-78-884-3498
or Kontras Aceh
Email: kontrasaceh@yahoo.co.uk
Phone :+62-21-3901978

1: The red and white ID card is a new model of ID card being introduced in Aceh during the martial law period. It is different to the standard ID cards carried by other Indonesian citizens.

2: www.acheh-eye.org.

3: http://www.thejakartapost.com/yesterdaydetail.asp?fileid=20030923.D01, published on September 23, 2003.

3: www.tempointeraktif.com, published on September 5, 2003, 21:44:14 WI, 544 "Warga Sipil Menjadi Korban selama Darurat Militer".

4: www.tempointeraktif.com, published on September 5, 2003, 21:44:14 WI, 544 "Warga Sipil Menjadi Korban selama Darurat Militer".

5: www.tempointeratif.com. The government has cancelled its plan to transform Nasi island into a prison for suspected GAM members and will instead renovate an existing prison in the mainland.