(Jakarta) In a new report released today, Human Rights Watch called on both the Indonesian government and armed rebels in Aceh to protect civilians, saying both sides had been responsible for human rights violations.

Human Rights Watch also called for the government to allow local human rights organizations to carry out fact-finding investigations without intimidation and to cease persecution of non-violent supporters of political change.
"There is no question that both sides have been responsible for unlawful killings, as well as a wide range of other abuses," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "But the Indonesian government has a particular responsibility to ensure that those who are supposed to uphold the law do not themselves become violators of it. In this, it has failed utterly."

Human Rights Watch called on the new government of President Megawati Soekarnoputri to move quickly to set up human rights courts to prosecute cases of serious human rights violations.

"The President also needs to give her full support to independent investigations into some of the most serious killings in Aceh," said Jones. Such incidents, she said, include the murder of three humanitarian workers outside Lhokseumawe on December 6, 2000; the murder of human rights defender Suprin Sulaiman and two others after leaving a police station in South Aceh in late March; the massacres in Central Aceh last June, in which both sides have been implicated; and the killing of more than thirty civilian plantation workers in East Aceh on August 9.

The new forty page report, The War in Aceh, documents the difficulty that local human rights organizations have had in doing field investigations over the last six months, and Jones said the obstacles to such work seemed to be on the rise. "Rights monitors are squeezed by both sides," she said. "If they report on military or police abuses, they face criminal defamation charges. If they report on rebel abuses, they get warnings and threats."

Jones noted that as military operations in Aceh intensified in June and July 2001, government pressure on activist organizations intensified, leading to frequent raids, seizures of computers and documents, and in some cases, arrests.

"We're particularly concerned that the government seems to be making increased use of the laws Soeharto used to use against his critics," said Jones, referring to Indonesia's former president. "Freedom of expression is again under attack, especially in relation to public support for a political referendum in Aceh."

The new report notes that the Acehnese rebel organization, Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM, the Free Aceh Movement) has tried to restrict free expression by threatening journalists who do not report GAM's version of events. It also looks at killings and unlawful detentions by GAM, as well as GAM's forced expulsions of ethnic Javanese.

The report also examines the Indonesian security forces' role in extrajudicial executions, "disappearances," torture, and collective punishment.

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.