GAM abuses include killings of cuak or suspected military informants, as well as of family members of police and military personnel, unlawful detentions, forced expulsions, and other terrorizing of non-Acehnese, especially ethnic Javanese; destruction of property, including homes, of personnel working for Indonesian government institutions or belonging to Indonesian political parties; and systematic extortion. These abuses have received relatively little attention except from the Indonesian security forces, who make no distinction between attacks on combatants (i.e. army and police personnel) and non-combatants.
One of the reasons there is little coverage of human rights violations by GAM is fear. With senior GAM officials demonstrating little readiness to control the behavior of armed personnel operating at a local level, it can be more dangerous for human rights monitors to report on GAM abuses than to document violations by Indonesian military personnel. In fact, GAM efforts to escape accountability for its own actions are almost as striking as the government's. Like Indonesian police and military officers, GAM leaders routinely deny that its members commit crimes. If a serious abuse is committed, GAM always claims that another party bears responsibility.
In meetings with Human Rights Watch, senior GAM officials acknowledged that the organization had committed abuses in the past but claimed that these were less the result of a GAM policy than the actions of GAM members acting on their own account. As GAM extended its control, they asserted, this problem was being addressed. If GAM leaders believed a person had committed a crime, the GAM officials said, they did not exercise summary punishment, but convened a council or majelis at the village, subdistrict, or district level. Village councils, they said, mostly handled petty crimes, but if a person were accused of "interaction with the enemy" or involvement with Indonesian security forces, one of the higher level councils would be convened. Each such council, they said, was composed of four or five persons, but, they rarely handed out punishments: rather, usually, they discussed the crime with the accused, secured his or her repentance and a promise of no further wrongdoing, and then released the person. If arrested for theft, the person would have to return the stolen property.
As an example, GAM officials cited the case of a known collaborator with the Indonesian army in Bireun, who had been detained by GAM in February 2000 and given a strict warning to sever his links with the TNI. He promised to do so, was released, and went straight back to the army. As a punishment, GAM burned down his house.44
GAM officials also cited the example of Ampon Thaib, identified by an eyewitness as having been involved in the abduction and muder of three workers of the humanitarian organization, RATA, in December 2000. The GAM officials said they had twice detained "Teungku Pon," as he was locally known, in 1998 in connection with killings during the DOM period, when he had worked with Kopassus, and in early 1999 for a killing in Aloue Tipie, about ten kilometers from Lhokseumawe. They had released him on both occasions but said that if they should catch him a third time, he would not be released.
The GAM officials also cited other examples to explain how their own internal rudimentary justice system is used to warn wrongdoers, acknowledging that this often involves the abduction and detention of suspects. Those targeted have included subdistrict officials, some nineteen of whom had been taken and warned over the previous year not to engage in government functions; women and girls accused of flirting with Brimob officers; and many others.
There is strong reason to believe that the GAM "justice" system is anything but just. One person interviewed by Human Rights Watch, whose family member had been brought before a district council in a matter involving alleged financial wrongdoing, said the suspect had no opportunity to defend himself and the principle of presumption of innocence was totally absent.
At the outset of this report, we documented the abduction and execution of the wife of a military commander who was suspected of being a cuak or informer. It was not an isolated instance. When Human Rights Watch asked one GAM member about the case, he said that GAM told its people not to target family members of the security forces but, if they did, the GAM leadership understood what motivated them and would forgive them. That justification comes very close to the police argument that excuses killings of civilians by Indonesian forces on the grounds that GAM attacks on the security forces make soldiers and police "emotional."
The readiness with which GAM assumes individuals are "infiltrators and spies" is also particularly disturbing, especially as it is often tied to ethnicity. Any stranger coming into a village is likely to be apprehended by GAM, according to GAM officials themselves. The captors then ask the stranger to speak Acehnese, and if they cannot, it is assumed that they are spying for the military. GAM claimed to have detained some ethnic Javanese who had been trained by the Indonesian military in Medan and who then had been sent back to work either as spies or militia members in Aceh, The GAM officials told Human Rights Watch that the "spies" were released after a warning and after obtaining from them names of other "trainees." GAM then used the local newspapers, Serambi and Waspada, to publicize the fact that it had lists of names, and to warn those concerned to cease their activities.
GAM leaders have repeatedly expressed their intention to remove ethnic Javanese from Aceh, at least as a temporary measure. As a result, over the past two years, tens of thousands of Javanese migrants have fled across the provincial border into North Sumatra, where they are scattered in more than forty different locations. GAM claims that it has urged Javanese to leave so that they cannot be recruited by the Indonesian security forces as spies, and denies that it has forcibly expelled them, but this is disingenuous.45 In fact, GAM has used a combination of terrorization, arson, and some killings to force Javanese out. Human Rights Watch received numerous eyewitness reports of GAM "sweepings" - searches at gunpoint - of buses plying the Banda Aceh-Medan road, during which anyone found with a Javanese-sounding name on his or her identity card was taken off the bus for an unknown fate.
According to the main Banda Aceh newspaper, on May 19, 2001 GAM burned six houses of Javanese in Lhoksari village of Pante Cermin, West Aceh. They had ordered all Javanese working in the PT Telaga Sari Indah plantation to leave within three days or they would be killed, one by one. Some 200 families fled into Meulaboh town, including Javanese who had lived in Aceh since Indonesia was under Dutch colonial rule.46 The house burnings took place shortly after an armed clash between GAM and Indonesian forces.
A human rights worker from East Aceh told Human Rights Watch in May 2001 that GAM leaders in East Aceh were indeed "asking Javanese to leave but telling them they could come back when the war was over."47
The Legal Aid Institute in Medan estimated that as of May 2001, some 36,000 people, the overwhelming majority of them Javanese, had been displaced from Aceh and were then living in six districts in North Sumatra. Many had fled from transmigrant settlements. Interviews conducted by the institute with displaced families in one of those districts, Langkat, in February 2001 indicated that intimidation by armed groups had been the primary reason for their flight, as well as their perception that they could get no protection from the army or police.48 They did not specify GAM, but in many cases, the phrase "armed group" is used when the victims themselves or the local journalists covering the story are afraid to state openly that the attackers were rebels. (The phrase may also indicate genuine bewilderment on the part of the victims as to the identity of the attackers.)
As noted above, the army has attributed the killing of more than 40 Javanese transmigrants on June 5-6, 2001 in Central Aceh to GAM, although Human Rights Watch is not aware of any independent verification of GAM's role.
As noted above, GAM detains alleged wrongdoers and metes out "justice" as a matter of course. In some cases, the detention is punishment for a perceived crime and is accompanied by a kind of "reeducation." In others, the motivation is extortion.
Human Rights Watch interviewed one woman from a village in Aceh Besar who recounted an incident in April 2001 involving a seventeen-year-old girl high school student who had become friendly with Brimob men in the Indrapuri subdistrict police post. One of her teachers warned the girl not to become too close to Brimob as this could be dangerous. The girl, however, told her Brimob friends, who then came and threatened the teacher. They warned that if anything should happen to the girl, the school would be burned down. A few days later, a group from GAM came and took the girl away from the school, holding a gun to her head. Everyone saw her being taken, but no one dared tell her family what had happened. She was held for two weeks during which she was "given advice" by GAM. She was then released and allowed to go home. As of mid-May 2001, she was no longer going to school, and the teacher had moved away because of more threats from Brimob.49
Another case involving the detention of an NGO worker by GAM was reported to Human Rights Watch. To protect the source from possible reprisals, the location of the incident and other details must be withheld. It involves a community development NGO that was working on an income-generating project in four villages, and that was planning to hold a general meeting to review the results of the project. For security reasons, the meeting was to be held in Medan, North Sumatra, rather than in Aceh. The day before the meeting was to start, the coordinator in one village informed the NGO organizers that GAM was preventing people from his village from attending. He did not know why, and he wanted to go and speak with the local GAM commander to straighten things out. When the coordinator reached the local GAM headquarters, however, he was immediately detained. The principal organizers then contacted other GAM officials they knew to try and bring about his release, but to no avail. While in detention, the coordinator was accused of intending to use the meeting to discuss autonomy for Aceh, anathema to GAM, and a wholly unfounded charge since the meeting had no political content. The GAM captors also questioned the coordinator about the source of funds for the income-generating project. It became apparent that the GAM official responsible for the detention believed that significant international grant monies were being received by the NGO and that the coordinator could be convinced to turn over 10 percent to GAM. It was only when villagers angry over the detention of the coordinator went en masse to GAM and produced documents showing the tiny amounts of money involved in the project that the detained NGO worker was released.
Restrictions of Freedom of Expression
According to people close to Serambi, GAM officials became angry because the paragraph did not state that the Kijiang in question belonged to Brimob: the journalists, in fact, had received conflicting reports and had not been able to verify this.
Ayah Sofyan went to Serambi, however, and ordered its editors to cease publication, or else GAM would be "unable to guarantee the safety" of its reporters and drivers delivering the papers to outlying districts. The warning was taken very seriously by the editors, especially since a Serambi driver had been held in GAM custody for three days several months earlier. Ayah Sofyan also told Serambi editors that they should not report on events in Aceh Besar, and that the editors had violated an earlier agreement that no news critical of GAM would appear on the front page.52
On June 20, 2001, Human Rights Watch raised the case directly with senior GAM officials who were visiting New York and urged them to refrain from such threats or other actions restricting freedom of expression.
44 Human Rights Watch interview with GAM officials, Kuala Tripa Hotel, Banda Aceh, May 13, 2001.
45 See for example the statements of Sofyan Daud, GAM commander for the Pase district (North Aceh) in which he "respectfully" requests all Javanese to leave Aceh. "GAM Nyatakan Perang," Serambi Indonesia, April 22, 2001.
46 "Ratusan Penduduk Mengungsi ke Meulaboh," Waspada, May 22, 2001.
47 Human Rights Watch interview in Banda Aceh with NGO worker from Peurelak, May 19, 2001.
48 Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Medan, "Investigasi Pengungsi Asal Aceh di Kabupaten Langkat, 9-10 Februari 2001," Medan, Indonesia, February 15, 2001.
49 Human Rights Watch interview, May 21, 2001.
50 Solahudin, "Terror for Journalists in Aceh," Southeast Asia Press Alliance, June 20, 2001.
51 The original read, "Dari berbagai sumber lainnya diperoleh informasi, pada Minggu malam (17/6), sekitar pukul 22.00 WIB, kediaman Ali Basyah Dahlan di Desa Ajuen didatangi kelompok bersenjuta menggunakan mobil Kijang."
52 Ibid., p. 2.