Even as eyewitnesses, municipal officials, and even the government's own
investigators deliver current information about the location of paramilitary bases, license plates, colors and types of vehicles, cellular telephones numbers, and even the names of paramilitaries, the government's response is usually only a letter acknowledging receipt. Military troops arrive after paramilitaries have gone, and register bodies and damages. Indeed, high ranking officers against whom there is
credible evidence of ties to paramilitary groups not only remain in command, but have been promoted. These cases are not the exception, but the rule.
In only the first seventeen days of 2001, the Colombian government recorded twenty-three massacres. The worst took place in Chengue, Sucre. An estimated fifty paramilitaries pulled men from their homes and killed them by crushing their heads with heavy stones and a sledgehammer. The military, according to credible accounts, provided safe passage to the paramilitary column and effectively sealed off the area while the killing took place.
Guerrillas also committed violations of international humanitarian law, among them killings, the taking of hostages, and the recruitment of children. In dozens of attacks, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia used indiscriminate
weapons like gas cylinder bombs that caused avoidable civilian casualties. For their part, Camilist Union-National Liberation Army guerrillas continued attacks on oil pipelines and power pylons, and for prolonged periods prevented transit on vital roads, converting thousands of detained travelers into human shields.
HRW believes the Commission must take strong action on Indonesia. In particular, like many of our Indonesian colleagues, we call on the Commission to address continuing military impunity in Indonesia.
Indonesia's democratically elected government has taken important steps to bring its laws into line with international rights standards. Many of the new laws, however, are untested: the courts are still weak and slow to act, and hardliners in the military and government continue to impede efforts to do justice for past atrocities. Meanwhile, reports of new atrocities continue to emerge, particularly against civilians in conflict zones.
In Aceh and Irian Jaya (Papua), rights defenders and political activists continue to come under attack. The most recent example of continuing human rights crimes comes from South Aceh, where three men, including a human rights lawyer and a religious leader involved in conflict resolution efforts, were killed on March 29, 2001. The perpetrators have not been identified, but circumstantial evidence suggests that state security forces may have been involved. In another case in Aceh, three aid workers providing care to torture victims were abducted and
shot execution-style in December 2000. In the latter case, evidence of military involvement is overwhelming but just last week four key suspects were reported to have escaped from detention. While the murder of human rights defenders continues to go unpunished, Indonesian authorities have revived discredited colonial-era laws to jail leaders of peaceful civilian movements. In Aceh, this includes Mohammad Nazar, head of SIRA, a group that supports a referendum on Aceh's political status. In Irian Jaya (Papua), political detainees include over a dozen community leaders and students.
Despite the continuing abuses, Indonesian reformers have been able to
enact signficant legislation which warrants international support, including a new law establishing human rights courts. Investigation in one key case -- the December 2000 torture of dozens and death in custody of two Papuan students -- has begun. In another positive step, Indonesia's parliament on March 21, 2001 approved the establishment of ad hoc courts to prosecute past human rights crimes in East Timor in 1999 and Tanjung Priok in 1984.
These are important first steps, but success is by no means assured and prosecutions could still be derailed. Commission members should take this opportunity to denounce continued military impunity and to support nascent justice efforts in Indonesia.