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Addressing crimes of sexual violence is difficult under any circumstances because of the stigmatization that is often attached to women who are raped or otherwise sexually assaulted, and because of the problems inherent in encouraging witnesses to come forward without providing credible guarantees for their protection. It is even harder when sexual violence becomes politicized, as it often does in times of conflict, when allegations of rape can be used by one side to mobilize public sentiment against the other.

The case that has come to be known as the South Aceh rape case brings out all of these difficulties. It has led to three murders, several pending charges of criminal defamation, and has had a devastating impact on the ability of local NGOs to respond to reports of sexual violence in Aceh more generally. In the description of the case that follows, Human Rights Watch is reporting the sum total of information we have to date, without drawing definitive conclusions about exactly what happened in South Aceh to the five women and girls concerned.

The first news of the South Aceh case came in an e-mail sent on January 7, 2001 by a man calling himself Jean Michel Hara to a list-serve of people interested in Aceh. He said that two women had been taken off a bus in a sweeping operation by Brimob soldiers on September 22, 2000 in Gelombang village as they were en route to Bakongan subdistrict, South Aceh. He said that they had been held for months at the Brimob post in Lhok Jamin, where they had been forced to work as "sex slaves" before being released on December 2, 2000. The girl's name was given in the e-mail as Nurma, fifteen years old, from Ujong Tanah, Bakongan, and the woman was named as Noriza, aged twenty-four, from a village called Alue Dua Meuh in Acehnese, Alor Dua Mas in Indonesian. Noriza is apparently the same as the woman whose name was given in subsequent testimony as Nuriani.

On February 17, 2001, Hara reported that the two females were "under the protection of GAM soldiers in South Aceh" and that one of them was three or four months pregnant. He also noted that there were several new women victims who had sought GAM's protection, including two rape victims and four or five victims of other unspecified forms of sexual abuse.

At about the same time, Tgk. Kamal, the head of a religious school in Blang Pidie, South Aceh, and a member of the Peace Through Dialogue monitoring team who had good relations with GAM, called a man active in a South Aceh NGO, who in turn called the non-governmental organization Kontras Aceh to report that five of the women were willing to come to Banda Aceh and tell their story. He urged Kontras Aceh to help.

On February 20, Kontras Aceh reported that they had decided to evacuate three women who had been raped and two others who had been sexually assaulted by members of Brimob. Two staff from Kontras Aceh left for South Aceh to bring the women to Banda Aceh so that they could be interviewed in relative safety. However, unbeknownst to Kontras Aceh, Tgk. Kamal had also contacted another member of the Peace through Dialogue monitoring team for South Aceh, a man named Yarno, as well as a journalist for the Banda Aceh tabloid newspaper, Kronika. Yarno and the journalist went to the village where the women were waiting, and the journalist interviewed four of the five. Yarno and the journalist did not travel with Kontras-Aceh, had no prior contact with the Kontras-Aceh staff, and Kontras-Aceh, according to one staff member, did not endorse the idea of the women being interviewed by the tabloid.53

On February 22, Kontras staff and the five women left South Aceh together, stopping that night at Tgk.Kamal's school. On February 23, they arrived in Banda Aceh and were taken directly to the Kontras Aceh office that it shares with another NGO, the Legal Aid Institute (Lembaga Bantuan Hukum or LBH). The next day, some NGO staff took the women to a place that they said was safer for them to stay. On February 27, a consortium of five NGOs held a press conference, without the women, to publicize the assaults by Brimob and to disclose that the victims were now in Banda Aceh. On the same day, a number of journalists were notified by the Aceh branch of the National Human Rights Commission, known as Komnas HAM-Aceh, that several women from South Aceh would be filing a complaint with its office the following day.54 On February 28, the women, accompanied by the NGOs, formally registered their complaint, as dozens of journalists waited outside the Komnas office to interview them. The five were reluctant to speak to the press, but the journalists urged the NGOs to produce at least one of the victims. Eventually one woman came forward on the condition that she not be photographed and her name not be mentioned, but she gave few details of the complaint.55

On March 3, at their own request, the women decided to return to South Aceh for the Muslim holiday of Idul Adha. Accompanied by two staff members from Kontras-Aceh and a driver, they arrived at Tgk. Kamal's school around 6:30 p.m. and spent the night there. The next day the driver took the car back to Banda Aceh. Around 2:00 p.m., a Kontras staff member, together with one of the women, left the school in a Peace Through Dialogue car, with a driver, to see if they could find public transportation to their destination, but they were stopped and taken to the South Aceh police station. Then, in the early hours of March 5, the commander of the Blang Pidie subdistrict police (the police station closest to Tgk. Kamal's school), accompanied by other security forces, arrived at the school and said he had orders to take the remaining four women and Kontras-Aceh staff for questioning. He also inquired about the whereabouts of a GAM member named Muhib. Tgk. Kamal asked to see a warrant, but the police did not have one, so they left. About an hour later, they returned with a warrant, and the women and Kontras-Aceh staff member were taken away by the police.56

After keeping the women in detention for five days, the South Aceh police turned the case over to the provincial police, who flew the women to Banda Aceh by helicopter and presented them at a press conference on March 9, 2001. The provincial police simultaneously released interrogation depositions in which the women's accounts of what had occurred to them were radically different from those previously reported by the press and by the NGOs who had tried to help them. Instead of being raped or assaulted by Brimob, their depositions alleged that they had been kidnapped by GAM forces because they had had Brimob boyfriends, and that GAM had forced them to make the assault allegations.

The provincial police commander, Chairul Rasjid, then took the women to Jakarta to meet President Wahid, leading members of parliament, Komnas HAM, the coordinating minister for politics and security, and others. The five were also given medical examinations in Jakarta, after which they police announced that none of them had been raped, and that all were still virgins. One of the NGO staff members, however, noted that this was odd, as one of the five was known to be a widow.

The women were then reportedly flown back to South Aceh where they remained, as of May, in the protective custody of the police. The police commander told Human Rights Watch on May 12, 2001 in an interview in Banda Aceh that three of the women were planning to marry Brimob soldiers.

The Changed Stories
Because the police accounts differed so greatly from the original press stories, it is worth examining the two versions in detail.

The now defunct Kronika newspaper published its story on four of the five women in late February 2001.57 It used easily recognizable pseudonyms and almost recognizable photographs of the four. Two of the women were apparently the same as those referred to in Hara's first e-mail, but in the article, they appear as "Nur" and "Ani."

The Kronika version of Ani's account said that ten days before the beginning of Ramadan (i.e. approximately November 15, 2000), Ani was taken into Brimob custody in Terbangan, South Aceh. She was shopping in the market but did not have her identification card, so she was taken to the Brimob post at Lhok Jamin. She was held there for a month. She was ordered to wash and clean for Brimob during the day and provide sexual services at night to as many as seven men. She was only able to leave after her brother happened to see her in the yard of the Brimob post. He asked for her return, and was only able to get her home after her family agreed to pay her captors Rp.6 million (about U.S. $600). She was then freed but did not want to stay at home and instead sought the protection of GAM at their subdistrict headquarters in Tapaktuan, the district capital of South Aceh.

In Kronika, Nur said that her story was the same as Ani's, that she was with Ani shopping in the Gelombang market on October 19 [sic], and that she did not have her identification card with her. When a sweeping took place, she was detained together with Ani, and they were brought to the Brimob post where they were ordered to wash and clean for the men. According to the article, Nur said she had to sexually serve between seven and fifteen men per night, even when she was menstruating. They threatened to kill her if she did not meet their demands. She was released only after Ani's brother came and agreed to pay Rp.6 million. If the money was not paid by the fourth day after the end of Ramadan, she would be shot, they said.

The statements made by the two women after they had been detained by the Aceh police in early March were very different. Neither mentioned what had happened during November. The police-approved accounts begin in December 2000, at the point that the GAM sources reported that the two women had been released by Brimob and had sought GAM's protection.

In the police statement, Nurma ("Nur") said that on a Friday in December, three GAM agents had come to her home in Ujung Tanoh village, Bakongan subdistrict. One had Nuriani ("Ani") on the back of his motorcycle. Nurma said she was taken to the village of Seunubok Keranji, where she and Nuriani were questioned about their contacts with Brimob in Lhok Jamin. She was forced at gunpoint to say that she had been raped by the Brimob men at the post. She was then held there until shortly before leaving for Banda Aceh, when she was turned over to GAM forces in Manggamat village, who told her she would be taken to Banda Aceh as proof of Brimob rapes. Just before leaving, she and Nuriani were taken to a house where there were eight other women and girls who had been taken by GAM. When the Kontras team arrived, a staff member interviewed them and asked whether they had been raped, sexually molested, or threatened. Nurma said she had been threatened. The next day, five of the women left with the Kontras team, while five others stayed behind.

Nuriani told the police that four days after the Idul Fitri holiday (around December 20, 2000), she was taken by three GAM agents to Seunobok Keranji village and asked about her relations with members of the security forces. She said she had none, but she was forced to "confess" that she had been raped by seven men. Then she was told to wait until people from the Peace Through Dialogue monitoring team and journalists could come from Banda Aceh. After two months of waiting, the team finally came. She and three others were taken straight to the office of the Legal Aid Institute in Banda Aceh, which houses the Kontras office. She said she had never told Kontras or Komnas HAM that she had been raped by Brimob personnel.

The other three women, Faridah, Anita, and Wiwik, appear to have been targeted by GAM because they were suspected of having Brimob boyfriends. Wiwik never claimed to have been raped.

Farida's original account, reported by Kronika as the story of "Ida", was as follows:

I don't know where Brimob got my name, but I was sent letters eight times and didn't respond. Then the writer asked me to meet him and made threats. He said if I didn't respond, he would come to my house. Then he asked me to meet him at the house of a friend of mine named Nor.
When I got there the Brimob gave me what he said was Sprite. I drank it then began to have a terrible headache. Then I lost consciousness, and when I awoke, my clothes had been removed and my vagina felt sore. I knew I had been raped.
I didn't dare go home because I was afraid of my parents. I went to my aunt. While I was there, some GAM people came to protect me, and I felt safe. This all happened about January 29.
I don't want this to happen to my friends. I don't want any military to be around where I live. My neighborhood used to be safe but now I don't dare go out of the house for evening prayer.58

In her account to the police, Farida, seventeen years old, said that on February 8, 2001 two GAM members came up on a motorcycle and ordered her to go with them. They went to Krueng Kluet village. There, one of the GAM pulled out a pistol from his waistband and said, "You've seen this before, it's not only your boyfriend who has a gun." Then, he said, "Is it true or not that you have a Brimob boyfriend and that he raped you?" She said, "Yes, the part about the boyfriend is true." She denied that she had been raped. He told her she could go home if she admitted she had been raped. On February 11, she was brought before the GAM commander and saw four other women, all of whom were forced to say that they had been raped by Brimob. On February 20, she was put together with four other women, at around 8:00 a.m., and they were told that three people from the Peace Through Dialogue monitoring team were coming, so they should be sure and tell them that they had been raped by Brimob personnel. On February 21, four people came from Banda Aceh, including the Kontras staff member, who began asking them if it was true that they had been raped, and if so, how and by whom. Farida followed the instructions she had been given by GAM and said she had been given a Sprite to drink, but did not know what happened, and when she woke up, found that she had been raped.59

In the Kronika version, Anita or "Ita", who was thirteen according to the newspaper and seventeen according to the police, said that on February 6, she had come home from school to find a group of Brimob soldiers in her village of Kota Fajar. She was dragged to the office of the camat (subdistrict head), where the Brimob men gave her a Sprite. Immediately she began to feel dizzy. She said a Brimob man kissed her, then tore off her clothes. She said her head felt so heavy that she could not resist, and, in any case, she was afraid of his gun. She said she was raped on the table in back of the office. She fainted, and woke up to find herself naked. The Brimob man sat there fully dressed, smoking a cigarette. He gave "Ita" a gold necklace and told her not to tell anyone what happened, and that if she did, her family would be wiped out.60

In the police version, Anita said she was taken from her home on February 10, 2001 by GAM men she did not know and asked, "You've got a Brimob boyfriend, haven't you? You've been playing around with Brimob, haven't you?" Then one of the GAM members pulled a gun and pointed it at her head and said, "You've been playing with Brimob about fifteen times, haven't you?" Because she was terrified of the gun, she admitted having sex once with a member of Brimob. She was detained for two weeks before being taken to Banda Aceh.61

There is no Kronika version for Alhadewi, known as Wiwik. In the police version, her high school biology teacher turned her over to GAM, who accused her of having a Brimob boyfriend. She said she denied it, and the GAM members got angry and said, "You were raped by Brimob, weren't you?" She again denied it, for which she was slapped in the face three times by a GAM person and told to admit she had been raped. She was taken to a house and there saw two girls she knew, Rahmah and Eka. She and Rahmah were then taken in a car, while Eka was ordered to go home. They were turned over to a landlady of a house, whose husband told them, "Some Kontras people are coming from Banda Aceh, so you go with them." She was taken about five kilometers on a motorcycle to a house where she saw nine other women and girls who had been kidnapped by GAM. It was at this house where the Kontras staff members and the journalist from Kronika were waiting for them.

Defamation and Murder

The NGOs and journalists who had originally brought the women to Banda Aceh did not know what to make of the changed accounts and were denied access to the women to recheck the original information. But even as they began to acknowledge major weaknesses in how they had handled a sensitive case, particularly in failing to take adequate measures to protect the women concerned, they became the targets of an official investigation, launched by the police, into criminal defamation and kidnapping.

In mid-March, Iqbal Farabi of the Banda Aceh branch office of the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission (Komnas-HAM), was named as a suspect in a case of "sullying the good name [of the police]/slandering/libeling and/or kidnapping and/or restricting the freedom of an individual," and eight journalists were then summoned as witnesses. Several of those who refused to respond to the summons were told that if they did not attend as witnesses, they would be served summonses as suspects. 62 Police went to the Serambi Indonesia office on March 21, 2001, and threatened to forcibly remove Muharram, one of the summoned journalists, if he did not respond. They then called the Serambi Indonesia editors the next day to warn of further consequences if the summons went unanswered. Finally, the editors ordered Muharram to report to the police, which he did, accompanied by the newspaper's lawyer.

Aguswandi, the head of Kontras Aceh, received a similar summons dated May 14, 2001.63 In early June, Mariati, the head of a legal aid NGO called LBH-Apik, was summoned as a witness and interrogated over two days. Nursiti, the director of Kelompok Transformasi Gender Aceh (KTGA), a women's organization, was also summoned. Both LBH-Apik and KTGA were part of the five-organization consortium that had been formed to help the women in Banda Aceh. The police also issued summonses to other journalists on June 6, and were reportedly planning to call a total of thirty witnesses, despite the protests' of journalists' associations and NGOs.

It was clear from Human Rights Watch's interviews with police in Banda Aceh that they were aggressively pursuing the defamation case. They were not, however, making any moves at all to investigate three murders related to the same case - that of Tgk. Kamal, head of the religious school in Blang Pidie where the five women had stayed, and his lawyer and driver. On March 28, 2001 Tgk. Kamal received a summons from the South Aceh police in Tapaktuan. He was asked to appear as a suspect, not merely as a witness, in a case of slandering the police in connection with accusations that they had raped the five women.64 On March 29, accompanied by his lawyer, human rights defender Suprin Sulaiman, Tgk. Kamal went to the South Aceh police command in a vehicle clearly marked as belonging to the Peace Through Dialogue monitoring team, and driven by Amiruddin, a driver employed by the team.65 Leaving the police station in the afternoon, the three were followed by a Panther Isuzu, according to witnesses. About a half hour later, in a place called Buke Alue, witnesses heard four gun shots, then saw the car that had followed Tgk Kamal's returning toward Tapaktuan. Tgk. Kamal, Suprin, and Amiruddin were found dead, from bullet wounds to the head.

GAM immediately issued a statement saying that head of the South Aceh police command had to take responsibility for the murders. The police, through Drs. Sad Harunantyo, spokesman for police/military operations in Aceh, suggested that GAM itself was responsible. Drs. Sad said that the testimony that Tgk. Kamal had provided to the South Aceh police indicated that he was aware of the role of GAM, and particularly of the involvement of the local GAM commander, Tgk.Abror, in the abduction of the five women, and that therefore GAM had shot him in retribution.66

No one whom Human Rights Watch met in May, outside the police, gave credence to the police explanation. No one except the police, with the exception of the lawyer who was killed, had seen the interrogation deposition of Tgk Kamal. So little time had elapsed between the time Tgk Kamal and Suprin left the police command and the time they were killed that it is difficult to see how GAM would have been able to find out about the contents of the interrogation and then plan an ambush.

In some ways most damning, however, is the fact that more than two months later, the police had not even started any serious investigation into the case. When Human Rights Watch asked Drs. Harunantyo in Banda Aceh why not a single witness had been questioned, he said in surprise, "But all the witnesses are dead!" The police, it appeared, had taken no steps to seek witnesses in the immediate neighborhood of the killings, and preferred to assume that the only people who could identify the perpetrators were their murdered victims.

The Impact of the South Aceh Case

The impact of the South Aceh case has been devastating, even though the truth of what happened to the five women remains uncertain. It has reinforced the perception of the security forces that GAM and human rights NGOs are working in concert. The information that there were five women victims of Brimob in South Aceh originated with GAM, and there is a feeling among some NGO staff that they were manipulated by the rebels, even if some parts of the original testimonies prove to be accurate.67

The NGOs were particularly concerned about the defamation action by the police. If they were to face possible criminal defamation charges every time they tried to document an abuse by someone connected with the police or military forces, they would soon have to stop work entirely. The fact that the courts are not functioning is largely irrelevant here. Many NGOs were thinking less of a trial than of their colleague, Suprin Sulaiman, and Tgk. Kamal, and the fact that a person named as a suspect in a defamation case ended up shot to death days later.

The consequences of the South Aceh case became clear when GAM spokesmen announced to the press on May 14, 2001 that at least five women and girls between the ages of fifteen and twenty-eight had been raped following an army sweeping in the subdistrict of Meruah Mulia, North Aceh.68 Not a single NGO would investigate it, despite concern for the possible victims. One human rights lawyer had received a call, apparently from GAM, telling him to take up the case. He said he was reluctant to do so, even if the information could be verified, because he did not want to fall into a political trap. If he did take it on, he would be accused by the government of furthering GAM's political objectives. If he did not, he would be accused by GAM of siding with the government. In the meantime, he had decided to stay out of telephone contact with anyone.

The South Aceh case also underscored the acute need for training in investigating cases of sexual violence and working with the women affected. Some staff members of the NGOs involved in the original evacuation of the five women from Banda Aceh have since acknowledged that it was a mistake to have allowed a journalist to go with them to South Aceh in the first place, that they should not have held the press conference in Banda Aceh announcing the women's arrival, and that they should not have allowed the women to be photographed by television cameras after they formally registered their human rights complaint. At present, however, there are no facilities and little expertise available for treating victims of sexual violence, and there is an urgent need for international assistance in this regard.

53 Telephone interview with Kontras-Aceh staff member, June 6, 2001.

54 Solahudin and Nazamudin Arbi, "Liputan berbunut di Kantor Polisi," undated, p. 2. The authors are journalists, the first from the Jakarta office of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, the second from the Banda Aceh branch of the Association of Independent Journalists. Both have been closely following developments related to the press in Aceh.

55 Ibid., p. 2.

56 Divisi Kampanye, Kontras Aceh, "Kronologis Penangkapan," e-mail message forwarded to Human Rights Watch, March 6, 2001. The information about Tgk. Kamal requesting a warrant came from a separate interview with a Kontras-Aceh staff member, May 23, 2001.

57 "Kesaksian Itu," Kronika, Vol.2, No.68, Fourth Week of February 2001, p. 17.

58 "Kesaksian Itu," Kronika, Vol.2, No.68, Fourth Week of February 2001, p. 17.

59 Interrogation deposition taken by Drs. Manahan Daulay, head of the intelligence directorate for the Aceh Provinical Police, March 9, 2001.

60 "Kesaksian Itu," Kronika, Vol.2, No.68, Fourth Week of February 2001, p.17.

61 Interrogation deposition taken by Drs. Manahan Daulay, head of the intelligence directorate for the Aceh Provincial Police, March 9, 2001.

62 Solahudin and Arbi, op.cit., p.3. The journalists were Effendi, a correspondent of the TPI news agency; Yusrizal of RCTI, an independent television company; Jasman of SCTV, another independent television company; Najmuddin Oemar of the Jakarta daily Kompas; Taufan Nugraha of the independent radio station, Radio 68h Jakarta; Iskandar Syah of the Medan daily Waspada; Cici, a journalist with the radio station Prima; Andi Basri of Aceh Kronika; and Muharram of Serambi Indonesia.

63 No.SP/84/V/2001/Dit Serse, ordering him to appear by May 17, 2001 before the Aceh provincial police. Human Rights Watch has a copy of the summons.

64 "Anggota TMMK Tewas Tertembak," Serambi Indonesia, March 30, 2001.

65 The car had the logo of "Peace Through Dialogue" (Damai Melalui Dialog) on the right and left hand sides and on the back.

66 Human Rights Watch interview, May 20, 2001, Banda Aceh.

67 One GAM member told Human Rights Watch in an interview on May 13, 2001 that the case originated when "an NGO found out about the case and asked the women if any of them were brave enough to go to testify before the Indonesian Human Rights Commission. Five of them were."

68 "GAM Tuding Oknum TNI Memperkosa," Serambi Indonesia, May 13, 2001. The deputy GAM commander said they had been raped on returning to their village after fleeing the approach of the military and police. They came back when they thought the security forces had gone, only to be caught by the soldiers. One of the women was shot and killed after being raped, but, he said, GAM could not remove the body or evacuate the others because the military was still occupying the village concerned.

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