(New York) The peace agreement signed on Monday in Geneva by the government of Indonesia and the armed Free Aceh Movement (GAM) could, if implemented with human rights protections, end years of conflict, Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch said the long running Aceh conflict has been marked by serious human rights abuses on both sides. More than 10,000 people have been killed, including more than 1,300 in the past year alone. The agreement calls for a cessation of hostilities and mandates an immediate end to all acts of violence and unlawful arrests.
"This peace deal is welcome, but we are concerned by the absence of human rights provisions or even of the term 'human rights,' in the agreement," said Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. "The agreement won't stick without will on both sides to protect human rights and civilian lives."
Human Rights Watch said that the continuation of violence up to the signing of the agreement casts doubt on the will of the parties to make the agreement a success. Before the start of the annual Ramadan period in early November, GAM announced a unilateral cease-fire in anticipation of the signing of yesterday's agreement. However, the Indonesian military launched an offensive the next day, during which it laid siege to a major GAM base in Cot Trieng. GAM responded by violating its own cease-fire. Both sides sustained numerous casualties during this period.
Human Rights Watch also expressed concern that the agreement includes no mechanism to ensure protection for human rights workers investigating abuses.
"We are pleased that both parties have accepted the presence of monitors to report on the security situation, but there should also be an agreement on the role of both international and local human rights monitors, too," said Adams. "The ability of human rights workers to monitor the situation in Aceh after the signing of the peace agreement will be critical to making the agreement a success."
Recent weeks have seen the increased targeting of local human rights workers in Aceh. For example, Musliadi, a coordinator of the Coalition for West Aceh Students' Movement (KAGEMPAR) and a member of the Aceh Referendum Information Center, was abducted from the KAGEMPAR office in Banda Aceh on November 30 by six armed, plain-clothed men. His body was found four days later in Sibreh village, Aceh Besar District, floating in the river. His corpse had signs that he had been tortured. Several human rights groups, including the Aceh Legal Aid Office, have also reported an increase in intimidation against their staff.
Human Rights Watch said outside support and pressure will be critical for the peace agreement to succeed over the long term.
"The international community must insist to both sides that they abide by the letter and spirit of the agreement, commit to a lasting cease-fire, and ensure the protection of basic human rights," said Adams. "Only with these protections will the provincial elections called for in 2004 be a success."
Human Rights Watch also called on donors such as Japan, who are pledging assistance for reconstruction in Aceh, to use their influence with the Indonesian government and GAM to insist on independent human rights monitoring and respect for the rule of law as conditions for development aid. Human Rights Watch also suggested that embassies in Jakarta, particularly those of ASEAN countries, regularly send their representatives to Aceh to monitor the situation and make clear their support for human rights workers.
Human Rights Watch commended the announcement today in Aceh by a spokesman for the Indonesian army that government troops would cease all military operations in the province and return to barracks. Any lasting peace agreement will require the armed forces of both sides to withdraw and end attacks on soldiers and civilians alike.
"There have been many false promises to the Acehnese people about the end of hostilities," said Adams. "We hope this time will be different."