Comments on the Human Rights Watch Report on Aceh


No. 072/PR/XII/2003

Human Rights Watch, a New York based non-governmental organization, issued today, 18 December 2003, a report entitled “Aceh Under Martial Law: Inside the Secret War”. In this regard, the Government of the Republic of Indonesia wishes to state the following:

1. The report lacks credibility. It claims that it is based on “interviews conducted in Malaysia with 85 individuals who fled Aceh because of the fighting; and that most of them had arrived since martial law started and some had arrived only days or weeks prior to being interviewed”. This claim is baseless. Because most of the 232 (219 men and 13 women) Indonesians from the Province of Aceh who have sought refuge in Malaysia had arrived before the Combined Operation started on 19 May 2003. There has not been any report on a new wave of refugees from Aceh to Malaysia. Moreover, 85 individuals clearly do not represent 4.1 million men, women, and children who are living, day-in and day-out, in the Province of Aceh.

2. The title of the report is misleading. The armed conflict in Aceh is not a war, which means an armed conflict between states. Free Aceh Movement (or GAM) is an armed group, not a state. It is a counter insurgency measure, legitimately taken by a sovereign state against an armed separatist group. And it is not a “secret” because the Government had publicly announced the Combined Operation on 19 May 2003 before it was launched. Indonesia is simply restoring its sovereignty. Indonesia does not trample on the sovereignty of any other country.

3. The Martial Law is a necessary legal framework under which the Combined Operation can be carried out effectively. Under the democratic system, the application of the martial law was possible with the approval of the Indonesian Parliament. However, the Combined Operation does not refer only to military operation. Instead, it refers to a concerted efforts of humanitarian operation, law enforcement operation, empowerment of local governments, and military operation to restore security and order. Naturally, media coverage has been more on the military aspect of the Combined Operation. But it does not mean that the other aspects can be ignored.

4. By humanitarian operation, out of 608 schools that were burned down by the separatist group, as many as 596 schools have been reconstructed to house the education of 94 thousand children. By 18 November 2003 the remaining number of internally displaced persons is 7,140 people --- a much better situation in comparison to 48,262 internally displaced persons by the end of June 2003. More than 200 billion Rupiah (around US$ 25 million) has been budgeted by the Government to fund its humanitarian aid and social rehabilitation program. Out of this budget, more than 100 billion Rupiah has been disbursed for, among others, assisting internally displaced persons, education aid for children, medical supplies and services, rebuilding facilities for religious activities, and micro credits for farmers and fishermen. As far as the daily livelihood of the population in Aceh is concerned, even during the month of Ramadan and Idul Fitri festivities, there has not been any shortage of food or any other basic necessities. The Government is confident in its capabilities and the availability of sufficient resources, made available by the central Government and the rich Province of Aceh, to attend to humanitarian needs in the Province. While offers for humanitarian assistance are welcomed, Indonesia has every right to remain vigilant over potential abuses of humanitarian access for ulterior motives as it has experienced in the past. Still on the question of access, a group representing independent NGOs did make a visit to the Province just a few days ago.

5. On the alleged human rights abuses in Aceh, it is important to bear in mind that one side in the armed conflict is a separatist group which does not have regular armed forces. Ever since the Combined Operation was launched, there has not been any open military exchange. As in any other conflict situation involving irregular forces, armed members of the separatist group disperse themselves and disguise as civilians. When there is an armed confrontation and these armed people get killed, it does not fall into the terms of extrajudicial nor summary killings. Moreover, observation about human rights situation in an armed conflict tends to ignore the fact that the other side does commit serious crimes such as mass killings, extortion, burning of schools and public facilities, and hostage taking (GAM even takes hostage journalists).

6. The Report deliberately ignores the fact that the Combined Operation takes place in the new political setting of democratic Indonesia. Human Rights Watch and many others use the yardstick of the past in their report on Aceh. First and foremost, the decision to launch the Combined Operation was taken after the Government’s efforts to settle the problem of Aceh through peaceful means failed. The three and a half year dialogue process, initiated by the Government, came to a disappointing conclusion after the separatist group (GAM) made it clear during the last dialogue in Tokyo on 18 May 2003 that it refused to accept the special autonomy as the final solution. It maintains its baseless and unrealistic demand for independence of Aceh. After all, the Government has granted special autonomy within which more power and authority are delegated to the Special Province of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam; accompanied by a generous revenue sharing (some 70% of revenue from oil and gas). Secondly, in this era of Reformasi in Indonesia, the Government simply cannot monopolize the “truth”. The Parliament is actively monitoring the implementation of the Combined Operation. The media is actively reporting the situation on the ground. There is no shortage of news on Aceh, including on human rights violations. At the same time, there is no shortage of news on the efforts taken by the Armed Forces to defeat the armed separatist group.

7. It is also very important to note that the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), a very independent organization, has been actively publishing critical reports on the misconducts committed by some individuals within the Armed Forces. Any international NGO surely cannot claim as being better informed about the human rights situation in Aceh than the Komnas HAM, which maintains its presence in the field.

8. Also, in this era of reform and in the face of public scrutiny, the Indonesian military has strong interest to come out clean of this Combined Operation in Aceh. Military tribunals were held and sentences delivered to discipline military personnel who committed misconducts. Because the Indonesian people themselves demand no less than that. And, as a sovereign state, Indonesia has its own mechanisms which are capable of managing its domestic problems.

9. The first six months of the Combined Operation has successfully brought about normalcy in Aceh. Security situation has been much improved. Freedom of movement has been restored and people can now travel from village to village freely. During the last six months, the number of GAM members has decreased substantially. Around 2 thousand GAM members, who either surrendered voluntarily or were captured, have undergone due process of law. The local economy has recovered and there is no shortage of goods in the market. Activities to create jobs are currently being carried out, especially in the field of agriculture, plantation, fishery, husbandry, and handicrafts. Nonetheless, as reflected by petitions of numerous groups of Acehnese societies, the people of Aceh themselves demanded the Government to extend the Combined Operation for another six months.

10. Lastly, the report contains familiar jargons and ideas that reflect similar motives coming out of a number of groups which have been supporting separatist groups in Indonesia. These are the groups which did the same things during the campaign for separation of East Timor from the Republic of Indonesia. These are the groups which do not want to see a united, peaceful, and prosperous Indonesia.

Jakarta, 18 December 2003