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A bewildering array of security forces were operating on the ground in Aceh as of July 2001. These included local police, at the subdistrict (polsek), district (polres) and provincial (polda) levels; mobile police brigade units (Brimob), many of them sent in from outside Aceh to assist with operations (known as BKO or bantuan kendali operasi, essentially auxiliary forces). The military units included "organic" or locally-based forces at the subdistrict (Koramil), district (Kodim), sub-province (Korem) and regional (Kodam) levels, as well as specially trained units sent in from West Java.26

As noted above, the structure changed formally with Inpres No.4, with the appointment of a new joint military and police command designated to oversee operations, under nominal police control. (Aceh police commander Chairul Rasjid told Human Rights Watch that the role of the army in this structure was similar to that of the National Guard in the U.S., called in as back up when a situation exceeded policy capacity to control, as in the Los Angeles riots of 1992.27) In fact, the TNI has repeatedly expressed concern that the Indonesian police are not up to the job. Long before Inpres No.4 was issued, the TNI was pressing for, and apparently expected to receive, authorization from president for, "limited military operations" against GAM. Even before Inpres No.4 was issued, thousands of new troops were sent to Aceh, including the Kopassus-trained forces grouped together as the Rajawali Task Force.28

Extrajudicial Executions

By mid-2001, so many killings were taking place in Aceh of people suspected of belonging to GAM that it was difficult to keep an accurate tally. In some of the highest profile killings, such as the March 29, 2001 murders of Tgk. Kamal, a religious leader from South Aceh, Suprin Sulaiman, a human rights lawyer, and Amiruddin, their driver (described in Section VII below), Indonesian security forces were widely assumed to be responsible on the basis of circumstantial evidence, but in numerous other cases, there was direct eyewitness testimony pointing to government troops.

Indonesian security forces themselves were more likely to try to cover up executions of suspected GAM members during military operations (penyisiran) by claiming that they occurred during an armed clash (kontak senjata) or during escape attempts. When ordinary civilians are killed by the military or police, the official explanation puts the responsibility for their deaths back onto the rebels. A senior police officer in Banda Aceh, for example, told Human Rights Watch that GAM members often fire at security forces from behind civilian houses, hoping that the forces will fire back and hit civilians so they can blame the security forces for the deaths.29

There is ample evidence, however, that Indonesian forces deliberately and systematically employ executions to deter villagers from supporting GAM, as the Samalanga killings, described above, and other similar incidents indicate.

Usman bin Adam, a twenty-four-year-old student at the al-Hilal Islamic teacher training institute in Sigli, Pidie district who was almost certainly executed by Brimob forces in mid-April 2001. His body was never returned to his family.30 On April 11, 2001 the village of Kalee, Muaratiga subdistrict, Pidie, became the target of military operations after a bombing incident the day before. At around 11:00 a.m., a Brimob unit that included two local police officers from the Muaratiga police headquarters, identified by villagers as Privates Nurijal and Roni, drove into Kalee market in two vehicles, one of them a truck with about twenty-four men on board. They rounded up about forty people who were in the market at the time, forced them to stand in the sun, and lectured them about loyalty to Indonesia. They also forced them to recite the principles of Pancasila, the state ideology under former President Soeharto, and to sing the Indonesian national anthem.

As this was going on, Usman bin Adam rode into the market on a motorcycle. He was initially told to join the others. But then the police noticed that the motorcycle he had been riding bore a police license plate. This immediately put him under suspicion because GAM regularly commandeers vehicles from government offices, businesses, and private citizens, leading security forces to assume that anyone in possession of a motorcycle or car but unable to prove ownership must belong to GAM, although there may be other likely reasons for possession.

As the assembled villagers watched, four Brimob men dragged Usman bin Adam away from the crowd and took him behind a kiosk belonging to Bakhtiar Raden Taken. Minutes later, villagers heard three shots from behind the kiosk. Shortly thereafter, they saw Usman bin Adam's body being put on the Brimob truck, and the police unit drove off. When they had gone, villagers went to look behind Bakhtiar's kiosk. They saw blood and brains on the wall of the kiosk. It was about 12:00 p.m.

Over the next week, hundreds of villagers searched the surrounding forest for Usman bin Adam `s body. They found no trace of him, but they did find the body of another man, name not known, who had been missing for about a week, and who had been last seen being apprehended by security forces as he was filling up a car that did not belong to him at a petrol pump.

The deputy information officer for Operasi Cinta Meunasah II, the police operation that preceded Inpres No.4, denied any involvement of the security forces in Usman bin Adam's disappearance and likely execution and told journalists that they should disregard any reports about it.31


Torture by the police and army appears to be routine during interrogation of suspected GAM members, as documented in numerous reports by local human rights organizations.32 In May 2001, Human Rights Watch interviewed one detainee named Muchsin in Banda Aceh prison, who alleged that he had been tortured by police using a pair of pliers, leaving clearly visible scars.

Muchsin had been involved in a highly publicized case in which a bank manager was accused of having called on GAM to help discipline his subordinate in a case of alleged embezzlement.

According to reports, on April 2, 2001, T.B. Herman, the manager of the Banda Aceh branch of BNI 46, a large national bank, accused one of his subordinates of embezzling about Rp.71,000,000 (U.S. $7,000) that belonged to a religious school in Aceh Besar district. He had apparently learned of the disappearance of the money while going over the end-of-month accounts. Herman allegedly told the subordinate that unless he returned the money, he would be handed over to a GAM member who was at that moment waiting in the office. One of those in the manager's office at the time was Muchsin.

It was not the first time that Herman had called in GAM. In November 2000, he had turned over the same subordinate to GAM for punishment after U.S.$10,000 had disappeared from the bank; the subordinate was held for a week by GAM but released after the monitoring team working on the humanitarian dialogue intervened on his behalf.33

This time, however, when Herman threatened him, the subordinate began to shout, attracting the attention of police stationed in the bank. As a result, Herman and the subordinate were both taken to the Banda Aceh police station. Then, after hearing the subordinate's testimony, a joint force of police, Brimob, and soldiers stormed the bank and arrested six men, including Muchsin, who was brought out of the manager's office blindfolded and with his hands tied behind his back.

The other men were questioned and released, but Muchsin, suspected of being the GAM member, was taken out of the police station by a group of men to a place that he could not identify because of his blindfold. There, one by one, his interrogators took turns in torturing him with pliers to make him admit that he belonged to GAM. They pulled the nail almost off his left thumb, squeezed his nose so hard that they punctured it by the left nostril, and caused severe scars on his upper right forearm and right nipple, and injuries to his right ear. He collapsed under the pain and woke up in hospital.

At first, he was told that he would be charged with rebellion, but the charges were then changed to making threats. T.B.Herman, the bank manager, was briefly arrested, then released for "medical reasons" but reportedly after making a large payment to the police. He went to Medan thereafter and reportedly has not returned to Aceh.34

When Human Rights Watch raised the issue of Muchsin's torture, the spokesman for the police-military operations in Aceh initially tried to suggest that the police were not responsible, although he did not seem to know the details of the case. When Human Rights Watch said there was no question but that the police were involved, he said it would be impossible to take any action against the police or press the issue further unless the victim were willing to make a formal complaint, through the praperadilan, a pre-trial hearing to challenge unauthorized arrest and detention procedures. In May 2001, the chances of a suspected GAM member making such a complaint, let alone having it heard before a court in Aceh, were almost nil.


Just as thousands of Acehnese were victims of enforced disappearances during the DOM period, their fate unknown to this day, "disappearances" of people suspected of having links to GAM are regularly reported by local human rights organizations in Aceh and in Medan, North Sumatra, where many Acehnese live. In some cases, individuals are missing for days or weeks before their bodies are found and identified by relatives. The most prominent such case to date was the "disappearance" from Medan in August 2000 of U.S.-based Acehnese human rights lawyer Jafar Siddiq Hamzah, whose body was found three weeks later. As of July 2001, no witnesses had come forward, no killers had been identified, and the police investigation had reached a dead end.

In many cases, the bodies of the "disappeared" are never found; in others, bodies are found but never identified, either because of their decomposition, because family members or witnesses to their "disappearance" are afraid to come forward in case they are suspected of belonging to GAM, and because police keep no central registry of persons reported to have "disappeared."

In May 2001, Acehnese interviewed by Human Rights Watch were particularly concerned about the "disappearance" of three university students in Banda Aceh in January 2001. There were unconfirmed reports, however, that one had been seen acting as a guide for a military operation.

The sequence of events was as follows. On January 4, 2001 at about 5:00 p.m., Taufik Jaya Putra, twenty, a law student at Syiah Kuala University, left home to visit a house in the village of Tungkap, Darussalam subdistrict, an area of Banda Aceh in which three prominent colleges are located. He was driving a Feroza jeep, and Ramli MD, a student of Islamic law at the ar-Raniry State Islamic Institute (IAIN), was with him.

They arrived at the house in Tungkap and left about an hour later. Shortly after they left, three Kijang minivans containing about a dozen men stopped them. Some of the men were masked and dressed in black, others wore ordinary civilian clothes.

The four vehicles-the three minivans and the students' car-then returned to the house that Taufik and Ramli had visited. There, the men seized Marmunadi, twenty-eight, a student in the technical faculty of Syiah Kuala University. The three students were then driven away. All four vehicles left together, but it is not clear from witness accounts whether the three were taken in Taufik Jaya Putra's jeep or in one of the three minivans.

A witness named Subchan reportedly saw and heard the three students after sunset. Subchan had been arrested around 5:00 p.m. in Lambada, Lambaro Angun, and was brought to Banda Aceh police headquarters (Mapolda) in a red Kijiang van. He was then transferred to the Brimob post in nearby Lingke, still within the Banda Aceh city limits, where he was kept in the car for about an hour and a half: Subchan saw the Feroza belonging to Taufik parked right behind the red Kijiang and heard sounds of people being beaten. Subchan himself was released shortly thereafter.

Families of the three students went to the office of the Legal Aid Institute, an NGO in Banda Aceh, for help and then, accompanied by a representative of the Institute, they went to see the chief of police for Aceh Besar district, Sayed Hoesairy. Hoesairy, however, said he had not received any report of the incident, and told them that no police operations were carried out on January 4.35 The families also went to see Kusbini Imbar, then head of the information office for Operation Cinta Meunasah I. He told them he had no information, and they should direct their inquiries to the Aceh police. As of August 2001, no further information about the three students was available.

Collective Punishment
Security forces in mid-2001 were frequently punishing entire villages for GAM attacks on police or military. The most devastating example was the burning of the town of Idi Rayeuk and related destruction of civilian property in East Aceh, which took place in early March, before the issuance of Inpres No.4.

On the evening of February 28, 2001, GAM forces entered and took control of the town of some 15,000 inhabitants, and held it until the following morning when Indonesian reinforcements arrived. GAM reportedly burned down a police barracks and the local jail, which was empty, and bombed the police station. There were no reported casualties. When Indonesian forces arrived, however, a major battle ensued, in the course of which an estimated seventeen civilians were killed. The joint force of Indonesian military and police, using armored personnel carriers and three helicopters, then proceeded to burn the center of the town to the ground, and also torched six surrounding villages. As of early June, the town was still in ruins, and no economic activity had resumed. Thousands of people were displaced, with estimates ranging from 6,000 to over 9,000.

In mid-May, Human Rights Watch interviewed several fishermen from one of the burned villages, Kampong Jawa, in Idi Rayeuk subdistrict, who were then trying to make a living as fishermen in Banda Aceh, while their wives and children remained in a displaced persons' center in East Aceh. They had lost everything when the army came in: their houses, their belongings, and in some cases, their family members. They had not been able to visit their families because any male coming into a displaced persons' center is immediately suspected of belonging to GAM. Of all the disasters that had befallen them on the day that the military retook and destroyed Idi Rayeuk, they were especially angered by the deliberate destruction of their fishing boats. One man told us that in Kampong Jawa alone, some thirty boats were burned. So critical are boats to communities whose livelihoods depend on fishing that one could make the argument that this particular act of destruction constitutes a violation of one key provision of international humanitarian law, proscribing the destruction of objects "indispensable to the survival of the civilian population."36

The burning of more than 115 shops, kiosks, and homes in two villages in Samalanga, following the death of the Koramil commander's wife (described above), also was an example of collective punishment.37 The economic life of those villages was destroyed, and many villagers fled, joining an already large population of displaced persons.

On May 5, TNI soldiers from Infantry Battalion 123 who were finishing their tour of duty in South Aceh set fire to twenty homes in the village of Kapa Seusak, Trumon subdistrict, as they were leaving. In this case, a high-ranking delegation of army officers went to South Aceh and made a public apology for the behavior of the troops.38

On May 22, Brig.Gen. Zamroni, the TNI commander of Operation Restore Order, issued a ten-point instruction to troops operating in Aceh, one of which was that they were forbidden to "destroy, burn, or take people's property." It may have been a tacit acknowledgment of the destruction, burning, and looting that army and police had engaged in to date, but those practices did not end with Zamroni's order and it was not clear how the ban would be enforced.

Restrictions on Freedom of Expression, Assembly, and Association

In May 2001, Indonesian police were moving to restrict legitimate exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, targeting not only Acehnese political activists in Aceh but also Acehnese based in Jakarta. Increasingly, they made use of the so-called "spreading hatred" clauses of the Indonesian Criminal Code, a favorite tool of Soeharto-era police against government critics, that criminalize speech or publications that are deemed to incite or disseminate hatred or hostility against the government. Acehnese human rights defenders were also facing criminal defamation charges for alleging that Brimob officers had been involved in a high-profile rape case in South Aceh.

A main target of police restrictions on expression and assembly was the nongovernmental organization called SIRA. Police officials claimed to Human Rights Watch in May, and have made numerous public statements elsewhere, that SIRA is the political wing of GAM.39 "GAM and SIRA," Aceh police commander Brig.Gen. Chairul Rasjid told Human Rights Watch, "are like Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos Horta," referring to the East Timorese independence leaders.40 But this analogy was wrong.

As noted above, SIRA emerged from an all-Aceh student congress held in early February 1999. The congress condemned human rights violations in Aceh and called for a referendum on the territory's future status as a way to end them. It urged the United Nations to take the lead in helping bring about such a referendum, and it established SIRA as the local campaign office. GAM was initially opposed to the idea of a referendum, but it later became clear that a broad-based civil society campaign was in fact in GAM's interests. The huge attendance at SIRA-organized rallies in Banda Aceh in November 1999 and November 2000 would probably not have been possible without GAM support. But SIRA has never been institutionally linked to GAM, and its commitment to peaceful means for achieving its political ends was and clearly remains at odds with GAM's commitment to armed struggle.

On August 17, 2000, SIRA organized a protest to coincide with Indonesia_s National Day, urging all Acehnese to fly the United Nations flag as a show of support for a referendum. The day before, SIRA had organized a mass rally at the Darussalam University campus on the outskirts of Banda Aceh, calling for U.N. intervention in Aceh. Posters and banners displayed during this and related protests called for Aceh's separation from Indonesia. It was this rally that led to the charges against Muhammad Nazar.

On September 19, 2000, two leading SIRA activists, Mohammed W. Saleh, a member of the group's presidium, and Muzakkir, in charge of the group's tabloid publication Suwa, were abducted by out-of-uniform Brimob members in Banda Aceh, then interrogated for fifteen hours and beaten so severely at the Brimob headquarters that they were required hospitalization. They were accused among other things of having given GAM lectures" during the August protests.

On November 4, 2000, the SIRA office was raided by police. They produced no warrant but searched staff members and confiscated documents.

On November 10 and 11, 2000, SIRA organized a pro-referendum rally in Banda Aceh on the first anniversary of the 1999 "million-member" march in support of a referendum. To pre-empt the rally, Indonesia security forces made systematic efforts to prevent people from traveling to the capital to take part, including by shooting some of those who tried to do so. The confirmed death toll was about thirty, but some estimates went much higher.41 On the eve of the rally, at about 5:00 p.m. on November 10, police raided an office of the organizing committee of the rally, SIRA-RAKAN, and arrested three committee members. Two were members of SIRA; the third was a member of another largely student organization involved in the distribution of humanitarian aid. They were held briefly and then released.

On November 20, police arrested SIRA chairperson Muhammad Nazar after he reported to the Banda Aceh police station in response to a summons. There they charged him with "spreading hatred" on account of his activities related to the August 17 demonstrations. During his questioning, police reportedly accused SIRA of being "GAM without the guns." Nine members of the SIRA presidium were summoned as witnesses in the Nazar case during the first two weeks of December. They refused to respond, understandably fearing that they would be arrested if they appeared at the police station. Some went into hiding. Harassment of SIRA activists continued over the next several months.

Muhammad Nazar went on trial on March 8, 2001. He read a twenty-six page tract in response to the prosecutor's charges, and accused the Indonesian government of neo-colonialism, but continued to maintain that his actions and those of SIRA were peaceful. On March 28, he was sentenced to ten months in prison for spreading hatred in a verdict that the English-language daily Jakarta Post called a "setback and a retrograde step by the judicial authorities of the so-called New Indonesia."

On May 10, 2001, a homemade bomb exploded in the Iskandar Muda dormitory for Acehnese students in South Jakarta. Three people died, and eighteen were injured. Police said that they found another bomb and materials for making hundreds of molotov cocktails in the ruins, and immediately accused SIRA of being behind the blast. They alleged that the coordinator of students at the dormitory, Taufik Abdullah, who was taken into custody, was a SIRA activist, and that a student named Gafi, who was present when the explosion took place but who had fled the scene, was as well. The head of police intelligence for Jakarta told reporters that Taufik had told police investigators that "a SIRA activist, identified as Gafi, had met him five days before Thursday's blast, and asked Taufik if he would like to join him (Gafi) in blowing up Java."42

Police then raided SIRA's Jakarta office, and almost immediately told journalists that Faisal Saifuddin, the head of that office, was to be questioned in connection with the bomb blast. When he was eventually issued with a summons on May 18, 2001, however, it was not connected to the dormitory explosion. Instead, he was named as a suspect in a "spreading hatred" case arising from a peaceful demonstration on November 8, 2000. At this demonstration, organized by SIRA and held in front of the U.N. office in Jakarta, activists had distributed a flier in English calling on the United Nations to intervene to stop crimes against humanity "conducted by the neo-colonialist Republic of Indonesia"; demanding the right to self-determination and the "returning of Acehnese sovereignty"; and condemning the shooting by Brimob of civilians wanting to attend the pro-referendum rally in Banda Aceh. Faisal Saifuddin was eventually arrested on August 3, 2001.

In the meantime, on May 15, 2001, at about 2:00 a.m, a Reo-brand truck containing about twenty-four masked men drove up to the SIRA office in Banda Aceh and began vandalizing and spray-painting it with phrases such as "Communist Party headquarters (Markas PKI)", "Jewish funds (dana Yahudi)," and "eating the money of the people (makan uang rakyat)." Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that some of the men were wearing Brimob uniforms.

In a discussion with police officials in Banda Aceh, Human Rights Watch tried to ascertain what police perceptions were on the limits of freedom of association, particularly with reference to SIRA. One police officer present said that if an organization advocated a political goal that could realistically only be achieved through armed struggle, that advocacy was tantamount to rebellion (makar), whether or not the group was armed. The police would not punish ordinary individuals who may have been pressured to support independence. But when an organization with a clear structure was deliberately created to further such a goal, those involved had crossed the line and were open to criminal charges. That argument suggests the police see no difference between advocacy of a referendum and advocacy of independence, and that any advocacy of independence, however peaceful, is illegal. Human Rights Watch believes that advocacy of a non-violent change of government, including independence, is a legitimate exercise of freedom of expression.43

As of this writing, SIRA activists in Jakarta and Aceh remained under heavy surveillance.

26 The regional command that covers Aceh is based in Medan, North Sumatra. Aceh has two Korems, the Teuku Umar Korem in Banda Aceh, and the Lilawangse Korem in Lhokseumawe. For a good description of TNI territorial structure see Robert Lowry, The Indonesian Armed Forces, Melbourne University Press (Australia), 1998.

27 Human Rights Watch interview, Banda Aceh, May 12, 2001.

28 "The Presidential Instruction: Laden with Uncertainty," Tempo (Jakarta) newsweekly, April 17-23, 2001.

29 Interview at police headquarters, Banda Aceh, May 12, 2001.

30 The information about Usman bin Adam comes from interviews with human rights workers who conducted an investigation at the site on April 12, 2001, the day after the probable execution took place. Human Rights Watch conducted the interviews on May 17, 2001 in Jakarta.

31 "Ratusan Warga Dekerahkan Mencari Mahasiswa Hilang," Seramb Indonesia, April 17, 2001.

32 See, for example, Kontras-Aceh, "Tabulasi Data Kekerasan di Aceh Penode 01 January-09 Desember 2000." The report lists 549 cases of torture in Aceh during the year.

33 "Kepala BNI-46 Ditangkap Polisi," Serambi Indonesia, April 3, 2001.

34 Interviews with Muchsin, Muchsin's lawyer, and human rights NGOs in Banda Aceh.

35 "Keluarga Korban Penculikan Mengadu ke LBH," Serambi Indonesia, January 6, 2001.

36 Article 14 of Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II).

37 "115 Ruko dan Kios di Samalanga Hangus," Serambi Indonesia, May 15, 2001.

38 "Peristiwa Pembakaran Rumah di Kapa Seusak, Danrem-012 Minta Maaf," Serambi Indonesia, May 5, 2001.

39 See, for example, "Kapolda Aceh Tuding SIRA Sayap GAM," Media Indonesia (Jakarta), May 23, 2001.

40 Human Rights Watch interview, Aceh police headquarters (Mapolda), May 12, 2001.

41 The most careful verification of reports of deaths was undertaken by Kontras-Aceh. They had documented twenty-one killings by November 9, 2000 before the rally actually took place. The official death toll afterwards was about thirty. See Far Eastern Economic Review, "Indonesian Province Rallies for Independence," November 22, 2000.

42 "Police find third body, live bomb in blast site," The Jakarta Post, May 12, 2001.

43 See "The Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression, and Access to Information" ( Principles 6 and 7 are particularly relevant. Principle 6 reads, "Expression may be punished as a threat to national security only if a government can demonstrate that a) the expression is intended to incite imminent violence; b) it is likely to incite such violence; and c) there is a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the likelihood or occurrence of such violence." Principle 7 reads in part, "Expression which shall not constitute a threat to national security includes, but is not limited to, expression that i) advocates non-violent change of government policy or the government itself; ii) constitutes criticism of, or insult to, the nation, the state or its symbols, the government, its agencies, or public officials..."

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