Dear President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Teungku Hasan di Tiro:
We write to express Human Rights Watch's grave concern over the potential collapse of the ceasefire in Aceh. We urge both sides in the conflict to comply with the terms of the ceasefire reached on December 9, 2002, to resume negotiations immediately, and to strengthen the agreement by putting in place additional human rights safeguards. While there is strong international support for, and attention to, the peace process in Aceh, this may be the last chance for both sides to return to a cessation of hostilities and take the next steps needed to reach a viable long-term solution to the conflict.
Human Rights Watch deplores the dramatic resurgence of abuses in Aceh in the last two weeks by both the Indonesian security forces and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Between April 12 and April 17 twenty new killings were reported in the province, including ten civilian fatalities. Among them was a ten-year-old girl who was shot and killed on April 12, 2002, during a firefight between the GAM and police in Bireuen district. On April 18, there were fresh reports of killings of six people, including three civilians.
Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned by recent statements from Indonesian armed forces commander General Endriartono Sutarto indicating that the government of Indonesia is preparing to resume full-scale military operations in the province if talks break down. Previous military operations in Aceh have resulted in gross human rights violations, including thousands of extra-judicial executions, arbitrary detentions, and torture, and created enormous distrust of Jakarta by the Acehnese. A general return to hostilities in Aceh will only result in further civilian casualties, internal displacement, and widespread destruction of livelihoods and property.
A military strategy to resolve the conflict will undermine the Indonesian government's credibility in its commitment to peace, justice and human rights for the people of Aceh. Similarly, the GAM must reaffirm its commitment to these principles and cease extortion of the local populace and attacks on Indonesian security forces.
The people of Aceh and the international community will hold both sides accountable if the agreement collapses. The GAM and the Indonesian government have a profound moral and political responsibility they cannot avoid by blaming each other for a lack of good faith or transgressions of the agreement.
The December 9, 2002 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA) was premised on the good faith of each party. Initial efforts at confidence building were largely successful. However, recently the Joint Security Committee (JSC) has sanctioned both Indonesia and the GAM for "very serious violations." These violations are defined as "any violation to the COHA which may endanger the process of the COHA, and that violation may also cause serious injury, death, permanent disfigurement, the destruction of property to either party including civilians."
The Indonesian government was found responsible for very serious violations with regard to a January 25, 2003, shooting in Lamno, West Aceh and a January 10, 2002, killing in Langsa Kota, East Aceh. The GAM was found responsible for a very serious violation with regard to a December 22, 2002, attack in Manggamat, South Aceh.
The cease-fire agreement must be complied with to avoid a downward spiral towards war. Concrete steps need to be taken to ensure that the agreement can work. Sanctioning the parties responsible for violations is a good first step towards accountability, but both sides should take measures to ensure that internally enforceable mechanisms are put in place to hold members of their respective forces individually accountable for human rights violations. At a minimum, any member of the GAM or the Indonesian security forces alleged to have committed abuses or violated the agreement should be immediately suspended, removed from the field, and appropriately disciplined.
In this regard it will be critical that the Henry Dunant Centre, which under the COHA remains pivotal as a third party mediator in the conflict, be given full co-operation by both sides. Furthermore, the JSC must be guaranteed protection from intimidation, harassment and physical abuse. The March 3, 2002, attack on the JSC and Tri-partite Monitors (TMT) office in Takengon, Central Aceh, and the April 6, 2000, burning of the JSC/TMT office in Langsa, East Aceh are unacceptable. Reports of general intimidation and threats against JSC and TMT staff are also deplorable, including the confirmed report of a grenade found outside TMT accommodation on March 23, 2003, in North Aceh. The monitors should be allowed to carry out their work, as mandated by the Indonesian government and the GAM, with full security guarantees.
Both sides should refrain from any threats, intimidation or harassment of both domestic and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and humanitarian aid groups. The March 25, 2002, abduction of two Link for Community Development activists, Mukhlis and Zulfikar, demonstrates the ongoing security concerns NGO workers face in Aceh. The two were abducted during a village protest in Bireuen district by men identified by eye witnesses as from the military intelligence unit, Satuan Gabungan Intelijen. They are still missing and, if alive, are at risk of ill treatment and torture. Many in Aceh fear that they may have already been killed.
Explicit guarantees must be made to ensure protection for human rights monitors, civil society members, and humanitarian workers in Aceh. They should be able to operate freely and without fear. Both parties must adopt meaningful measures to prevent and address attacks or threats against NGOs. Diplomats and journalists should also be guaranteed safe access in order to informally monitor and report on security conditions in Aceh and any breaches of the agreement.
The Indonesian government and the GAM are obligated under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and non-combatants. This includes prohibitions on attacks targeting civilians and providing humane treatment to all persons in custody. The Indonesian government is obligated under international human rights law to ensure the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association. As a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 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.
Failure of the peace talks is likely to plunge Aceh into renewed conflict with enormous social, economic and human costs for civilians, military personnel and GAM forces. Conflict will lead to both political and economic instability, with foreign businesses less likely to invest in the province. Success, on the other hand, will boost Indonesia's image abroad and can lead to substantial contributions to the reconstruction of Aceh by the international community.
Thank you for your consideration.
Executive Director, Asia Division
Human Rights Watch