Table Of ContentsNext Page


The conflict in Aceh, on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, is an increasingly brutal war in which both sides have violated human rights with impunity. The two sides are the Indonesian security forces and the armed insurgency known as GAM, an acronym for the Free Aceh Movement. Popular support for the insurgency has grown over the last two years, in part as a direct result of the failure of Indonesia's post-Soeharto governments to respond to Acehnese demands that the perpetrators of past abuses be punished.

As of early August 2001, it was too soon to tell how the situation would change under the new government of Megawati Soekarnoputri, but initial signs were not good. Violence intensified after research for the report was conducted in May 2001, with major massacres, apparently on the part of both sides, taking place in Central Aceh in June and July. Indonesian police obstructed fact-finding missions to the area by local human rights groups. Dialogue between the two sides had all but collapsed with the government's arrest of key members of GAM's negotiating team in Banda Aceh in late July and early August. By the time President Megawati was sworn in, a military offensive appeared to have inflicted heavy blows on GAM, and the army and police were moving to target suspected supporters of the rebels, arresting and detaining many non-violent political activists and human rights monitors in the process. This report examines the Indonesian security forces' role in extrajudical executions, "disappearances," torture, and collective punishment, as well as its efforts to restrict fundamental rights of expression, assembly, and association, particularly with regard to a student-led organization called SIRA (an acronym for Sentral Informasi Referendum Aceh or the Aceh Referendum Information Center.) It also looks at GAM's role in killings, unlawful detentions, and forced expulsions of Javanese, and examines its dubious "justice" system. Finally, the report examines the lack of remedies available to victims of human rights violations.

The nature of the conflict is exemplified by a series of killings in Samalanga, Bireun district. A series of clashes between GAM and the Indonesian forces had heightened tensions in April and May 2001. In mid-May, the wife of an Indonesian military officer was abducted in one village, after villagers reported to GAM that she was engaged in suspicious activities. As search operations were being conducted, she was found murdered. The army then executed two men from the village from which she disappeared and mutilated their bodies, then burned more than one hundred shops and houses. Neither side was willing to acknowledge its responsibility for the human rights violations it had committed. The report examines one particular case that has had a major impact in Aceh in terms of assistance to victims, redress for abuses, and political space for work by local human rights organizations. The case involves five women from the district of South Aceh reported in February 2001 to have been sexually abused by members of the paramilitary police, known as Brimob. Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) brought the women to Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, where the case was widely publicized. The women were later taken into police custody whereupon they changed their stories, saying it was GAM who had abducted them and forced them to say that they had been assaulted by Brimob. 

One of those summoned as a suspect was a respected religious leader named Teungku Kamal. On March 29, 2001, after giving a deposition to the South Aceh police, he was shot and killed, together with his lawyer, a human rights advocate named Suprin Sulaiman, and their driver. By early August 2001, Indonesian authorities had not mounted any serious investigation into these killings. They were, however, aggressively pursuing the defamation case against the NGOs. Finally, the report examines the failure of Indonesian courts to move forward with prosecutions in any serious human rights cases, using the case of three humanitarian workers killed in December 2000 as a case study.

The report is based on a visit to Indonesia by Human Rights Watch in May 2001 that involved two trips to Aceh and a series of meetings in Jakarta. Human Rights Watch interviewed military and civilian officials of the Indonesian government as well as GAM leaders and dozens of NGO representatives. Security considerations and a transport strike prevented Human Rights Watch from traveling in Aceh outside Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, but staff were able to meet there with villagers from five districts.

Recommendations The Indonesian government and GAM are obligated under international humanitarian law to ensure the safety of civilians and non-combatants. The Indonesian government is obligated under international human rights law to protect the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association. As a party to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, the Indonesian government has an obligation to ensure that law enforcement personnel and others involved in any form of arrest or detention are trained in the prevention of torture; to investigate any allegation of torture; and to ensure that victims of torture can seek and obtain redress. To both parties to the conflict:
1. The Indonesian government and GAM should publicly state their commitment to abide by international humanitarian law. They should ensure that all commanders, at every level, receive basic training in the fundamental principles of humanitarian law, particularly the protection of civilians and non-combatants. All combatants should be trained and drilled in the proper treatment of civilians and non-combatants, including captured fighters.

2. The Indonesian government should take steps immediately to sign and ratify Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions relating to the protection of civilians in a non-international conflict. 

3. Both the Indonesian government and GAM should take measures to ensure that enforceable mechanisms are put in place to hold members of their respective forces individually accountable for violations of human rights, including extrajudicial executions, torture, rape and other forms of sexual assault.

4. Both sides should immediately cease all forms of collective punishment. This includes the Indonesian forces' practice of burning homes and marketplaces of villages suspected of harboring GAM, and GAM's practice of forcibly expelling ethnic Javanese from their homes.

5. Both sides should refrain from any threats, intimidation, or harassment of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The Indonesian government should cease its persecution of members of the SIRA organization and other activist groups as well as members of NGO fact-finding delegations. It should refrain from prosecuting NGOs and activists under provisions of the Indonesian penal code prohibiting "spreading hatred." GAM should cease harassment of NGOs that refuse to use unverified GAM information as the basis of advocacy efforts.

6. Building on the March 18, 2001 agreement between GAM and the Republic of Indonesia, both sides should reiterate their commitment to the reopening of Indonesian courts to reestablish judicial institutions in furtherance of the rule of law. 

7. Both sides should cease the practice of extortion, either for personal or organizational gain.

8. The Indonesian government should move quickly, based on Law No.26/2000 passed in November 2000, to establish a human rights court in Medan to try cases involving serious human rights violations committed by Indonesian forces in Aceh.

9. Even before such a court is established, the Indonesian government should move quickly to bring to trial outstanding human rights cases, such as the RATA killings of December 2000. 

To the International Community
1. Any provision of military training or assistance to the Indonesian armed forces should be made conditional on the Indonesian government achieving clear progress in bringing to justice military and police responsible for human rights violations.

2. Indonesia's donors should maintain the pressure on the Indonesian government to ensure that those responsible for human rights violations are brought to justice. Those that have contact with the GAM leadership should also make clear that they expect GAM to observe international humanitarian law.

3. The diplomatic community in Jakarta should hold intensive discussions with representatives of Acehnese civil society, including NGOs, religious leaders, and academics, to ensure that views are adequately reflected in efforts to resolve the conflict and end human rights and humanitarian law violations in Aceh. 

4. International aid and humanitarian agencies should examine ways to assist and protect those who have been internally displaced.

5. International humanitarian agencies should address the special pressures and problems facing women in Aceh as a result of the conflict. This could include training in Banda Aceh for local organizations working on violence against women, assistance to women to manage centers for displaced people, and income-generating projects for women in conflict-affected areas.

6. Governments should urge Indonesia to invite the U.N. Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders and other appropriate U.N. Special Rapporteurs to Aceh to meet with both sides and make recommendations based on their field of expertise.

6. Governments should support initiatives to establish an impartial court system in Aceh as well as a human rights court in Medan as mandated by Law No.26 of November 2000.

Table Of ContentsNext Page