Response on the Human Rights Watch Report on Aceh


No : 73/PR/XII/2003

(Updated on 24 December 2003)

Human Rights Watch, a New York based non-governmental organization, on 18 December 2003, issued 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

  The report 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.

  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.  In fact, some 95 people have returned to Aceh since the Combined Operation was launched.  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.There is no “secret war” in Aceh

  The title of the report is misleading.  The armed conflict is by no means so intensive that it should be called a war.  Free Aceh Movement (or GAM) is an armed separatist group.  The Combined Operation being carried out in Aceh is a counter insurgency measure, legitimately taken by a sovereign state against an armed separatist group.  Indonesia is simply defending its sovereignty from an internal threat.  Indonesia is not trampling on sovereignty of any other country.

  And it is not at all “secret” because the Government publicly announced its decision to carry out the Combined Operation on 19 May 2003 before it was launched.  Today the Combined Operation is being covered by international and local mass media.  Of course, military field commanders take reasonable measures so that reporters cannot be all over the areas of conflict, endangering themselves and possibly disrupting operations.  But the operations continue to be fully covered and to call them “secret” would make no sense at all.

3.Legal Grounds for the Combined Operation
  Martial law is a necessary legal framework in which the Combined Operation can be carried out effectively.  In our democratic system, in accordance with Law No.23/1959 on the State of Emergency, the application of martial law is legitimate when carried out with the approval of the Parliament.  Indeed, there is no doubt about the legal grounds of the Combined Operation as the Presidential Decree No.28/2003, declaring the state of emergency at the level of martial law in the Province of Aceh, was issued on 18 May 2003 with the approval and support of the Parliament.

  It is important to bear in mind that the Government did not take this decision lightly.  However, the armed separatist group in Aceh has posed a clear and present danger that threatens the life of the Indonesian nation.  It is the responsibility of the Government to protect the overwhelming majority of the population in Aceh, whose very rights and freedoms have been undermined and threatened by the armed separatist group.  It is the responsibility of the Government to preserve the just requirements of morality as well as to ensure public order and the general welfare of the overwhelming majority in a democratic society of the Province of Aceh.

  Hence, the Combined Operation is more than just a military operation.  It is a concerted effort to bring humanitarian aid to the province, to enforce the law, to enable local governments to carry out their work, and to restore security and order in the Province.  We can understand why media coverage has focused on the security and order aspect of the Combined Operation.  But the other aspects, which are just as important, should not be ignored.

4.Humanitarian situation is improving

  There has been substantive progress in the humanitarian operation.  Almost 200 billion Rupiah (around US$ 25 million) has been allocated to fund the humanitarian aid and social rehabilitation programme for Aceh.  Of this amount, more than 50.6 billion Rupiah came from the budget of the central government, while around 133.5 billion Rupiah came from the budget of the Province and around 8.5 billion Rupiah came from the World Food Programme.  Of this amount, as of 18 December 2003, almost 165 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 credit for farmers and fishermen.

  Out of 609 schools that were burned down by the separatists, 597 have been reconstructed so that the education of 94,865 children can be resumed.  By 20 December 2003, there remained only 5,263 internally displaced persons in Aceh, in contrast to the 48,262 at the end of June 2003.  As to food security in Aceh, even during the month of Ramadan and the Idul Fitri festivities, there has not been any shortage of food or any other basic necessities.

  The Government is confident that the nation’s resources and those of the Province of Aceh are sufficient to cover all the needs of the Acehnese people for humanitarian aid.  Nevertheless, Indonesia welcomes offers of humanitarian assistance.  At the same time, we must be vigilant against possible misuse of humanitarian access by groups with ulterior motives, which happened many times in the past.  Yet, Indonesia has nothing against humanitarian access per se: a group representing independent NGOs did make a visit to the Province.  And five international bodies (the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UNESCO, the UNICEF,UNDP and the World Food Programme) have been given humanitarian access to the Province.

5.The truth about human rights situation in Aceh

  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 that has adopted irregular tactics, even the tactics of terrorists.  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 often find it expedient to disguise themselves as civilians.  When there is an armed confrontation and these armed people get killed, reports circulate that the military has committed extrajudicial or summary killings.

  Moreover, observations about the human rights situation in the areas of conflict tend to ignore the fact that the other side does commit atrocities such as mass killings, extortion, burning of schools and public facilities, and hostage taking.  It is a well-known fact that the GAM has taken hostage a number of journalists and deliberately involved itself in terrorist attacks outside the Province of Aceh.

6.Old yardstick won’t measure new Indonesia
  The report deliberately ignores the fact that the Combined Operation is taking place in the new political setting of a democratic Indonesia.  Human Rights Watch and many others use the yardstick of the past in their reporting on Aceh.  One important fact that they ignore is that the decision to launch the Combined Operation was taken after all the Government’s efforts to settle the problem of Aceh through peaceful means had 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 Law on Special Autonomy for Aceh as the basis for a final political solution.  It insisted on its baseless and unrealistic demand for independence of Aceh, in spite of the fact that the Government had granted special autonomy within which more power and authority were devolved to the Special Province of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam.  That special autonomy ensured that the Province of Aceh would get a more than fair share of revenues, specifically some 70 percent of revenues from the oil and gas resources of the province.

  It should also be borne in mind that in this era of Reformasi in Indonesia, the Government has no way of whitewashing the truth.  Parliament is actively monitoring the implementation of the Combined Operation.  The media are constantly reporting the situation on the ground.  There is no shortage of news on Aceh, including on human rights violations when they occur, and they do occur, although infrequently, as a breach of discipline on the part of individual soldiers, for which they are invariably brought to justice.  The Government has even established a combined monitoring team, to be headed by the Chairman of the Indonesian Red Cross.

  It is also very important to note that the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), an independent organization, has been publishing critical reports on instances of misconduct committed by some individuals in the Armed Forces.  No international NGO can claim to being better informed about the human rights situation in Aceh than the Komnas HAM, which maintains its presence in the field.

  Also, in this era of reform and in the harsh light of public scrutiny, it is to the interest of the Indonesian military to carry out the Combined Operation without the blemish of human rights violations.  That is why Military tribunals have tried and meted out stern disciplinary measures on erring military personnel.  The Indonesian people themselves demand no less than the most scrupulous behaviour of its military personnel and Indonesia has the mechanism to ensure that misconduct will not go unpunished.

7.As Combined Operation progresses, situation improves

  The first six months of the Combined Operation have resulted in such an improvement in the situation that there is now a state of normalcy in Aceh.  In all but a few areas, freedom of movement has been restored: people can now travel from village to village without fearing for their safety.  During the last seven months, the number of GAM members has decreased substantially.  Around 3,700 GAM members, who either surrendered voluntarily or were captured, have undergone due process of law.  Of that number, 838 have stood before the court of law where 706 have been sentenced and 19 have appealed.  Around 1,000 ex-members of GAM are now undergoing vocational trainings in order to prepare them reintegrating into society.

  The local economy has recovered and there is no shortage of goods in the market.  Efforts to promote economic activities and job creation are being carried out, especially in the fields of agriculture, plantation operations, fishery, husbandry, and handicraft.  Nonetheless, as reflected in the petitions of various Acehnese circles, the people of Aceh themselves demanded that the Government extend the Combined Operation for another six months.  The Government acceded to that demand.

8.We simply want a united, peaceful and prosperous Indonesia

  The report is riddled with buzzwords that are much used in circles that have been supporting separatist groups in Indonesia. These circles have been very active in the previous international campaign of separatist movements in Indonesia.  Obviously, these circles do not want to see a united, peaceful, and prosperous Indonesia.

Jakarta, 24 December 2003