(Jakarta) - Indonesian security forces in Aceh are systematically torturing detainees suspected of supporting the armed separatist Free Aceh Movement, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The detainees’ forced confessions routinely serve as the basis for convictions in proceedings that fail to meet fair trial standards under Indonesian and international law.

Based on interviews with 35 adult and child prisoners from Aceh, held in five prisons in central Java, the 50-page report, “Aceh at War: Torture, Ill-Treatment and Unfair Trials,” documents routine torture, including the use of electric shock, burning with cigarettes, beatings, threats, and intimidation against detainees accused of membership in or support for the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in Indonesia’s northwest region of Aceh.

Human Rights Watch noted that Indonesian officials have criticized the torture and mistreatment of Muslim prisoners by the United States at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. In May, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said, “The U.S. government does not have the moral authority to assess or act as a judge of other countries, including Indonesia, on human rights, especially after the abuse scandal at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.” Meanwhile, a spokesman for Kopassus, the Indonesian military’s notorious special forces unit, said, “The treatment of Iraqi prisoners was clearly inhumane because the military should have strict standards on how to properly interrogate detainees.” Kopassus forces are identified in this report by a number of victims as responsible for torture and other mistreatment.

“Indonesia was right to criticize the United States over Abu Ghraib” said Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division. “But the widespread torture of detainees in Aceh shows that Indonesia’s military is committing the same kind of abuses against Indonesian citizens.”

Detainees described horrific abuse by Indonesian security forces. An Acehnese man told Human Rights Watch that he was arrested by Kopassus officers during a military operation in his village on June 5, 2003. He described what happened:

After I was arrested I was taken to an illegal post. It was a torture place. At that time I was interrogated and ill-treated. They bound my hands and covered my eyes and I was hit repeatedly on my body, then they shocked me with electricity and I was abused until I was bruised.

The incoming administration of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former general in the Indonesian army, should address the allegations in this report expeditiously and in a serious, transparent manner, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch called on the Indonesian government and military to take all necessary measures to immediately end the torture and mistreatment of detainees. The government should conduct investigations into allegations of torture and other mistreatment. Military and police officials should launch their own investigations and discipline personnel found to have committed or condoned such acts or who have been complicit or negligent in allowing them to take place.

“General Yudhoyono says he wants to reform and professionalize the Indonesian military,” said Adams. “His credentials as a reformer can be judged by his willingness to take these allegations seriously. He needs to cooperate with independent investigations and pursue the prosecution of those responsible.”

The report also highlighted systematic violations of due process in the arrest, detention and trial of GAM suspects in Aceh. In most cases, security forces made arrests without necessary arrest warrants, defense counsel took no part in preparing a defense or participating in the trial. Moreover, little or no evidence or witnesses beyond dubious confessions were produced in court, making cross-examination of witnesses or testing of evidence impossible.

Human Rights Watch called on Indonesia to invite both the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers to investigate and report on these allegations and make relevant recommendations to the Indonesian government on how to stop such abuses.

The international community, in particular the so-called Quartet (the United States, the European Union, Japan, and the World Bank), should insist that Indonesia open Aceh to independent national and international journalists, human rights workers, diplomats and observers.

“Torture, arbitrary arrests and unfair trials flourish under the cloak of secrecy,” said Adams. “As long as Aceh remains closed to independent scrutiny, these abuses are likely to continue.”

The current round of fighting between the Indonesian military and GAM began on May 19, 2003, when the Indonesian government imposed martial law in the region after a six-month ceasefire failed to yield a resolution of the decades-long conflict in Aceh. The Aceh offensive is Indonesia’s largest military campaign since the country’s invasion of East Timor in 1975. The operation involves an estimated 30,000 troops, who are opposed by an estimated 5,000 armed members of GAM.

Since the resumption of conflict, Human Rights Watch has published a series of reports on the war in Aceh documenting grave abuses by the Indonesian military, including extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and torture. As in this report, the army appears to be targeting young men whom they believe, often without evidence, to be members or supporters of GAM.

“Although senior Indonesian military leaders have publicly committed themselves to follow international law in the conduct of their operations in Aceh, the behavior of the Indonesian security forces on the ground tells a vastly different story,” Adams said.