Unlike in past operations in Aceh, Indonesia has taken some steps to hold its soldiers accountable for crimes committed in Aceh. In June, a military court sentenced six soldiers from Infantry Battalion 144 to five months in prison for severely beating villagers in Bireun district on May 27.126 The soldiers were charged with violating of articles 351 and 55 of the Criminal Code on assaulting civilians and article 103 of the military’s criminal code on breaching military discipline. They were not charged with the shooting death of a man named Abubakar in the same incident, although one of the defendants admitted to the killing. As in many of the cases described in this report, the victims testified in court that they were assaulted for not knowing the location of a suspected rebel.127
In July, a military court in Lhokseumawe, North Aceh, found three soldiers guilty of raping four women. The court ordered the three soldiers discharged and sentenced them to between two-and-a-half and three-and-a-half years in prison. Under military law the offense carried a maximum sentence of twelve years.128
In September, twelve soldiers from the West Java-based Siliwangi Battalion went on trial in a military court, charged with beating residents of two villages in Dewantara subdistrict, North Aceh, on August 30.129 They were acquitted, although a military spokesman said they would still receive disciplinary punishments ranging from a strong warning to a three-week jail term.130
Trials are welcome exceptions to the almost complete impunity the TNI enjoys. However, the light sentences, selective prosecution, and the low rank of those charged demonstrate a lack of seriousness in punishing or deterring crimes by members of the armed forces.131 No murder charges have been brought following civilian deaths during this military operation.
In addition, as previously documented by Human Rights Watch, several of those in charge of the military campaign in Aceh have been convicted for or have been implicated in serious human rights violations. One of the most notorious, Major General Adam Rachmat Damiri, is the highest-ranking Indonesian military officer ever to be tried and found guilty of committing human rights violations in Indonesia. On August 5, 2003, the Jakarta ad hoc court on East Timor found General Damiri guilty of crimes against humanity for atrocities committed in East Timor in 1999. Damiri has also been indicted for crimes against humanity by a United Nations backed court in East Timor.
Despite the charges against him Damiri was promoted to Assistant for Operations to the Chief of the General Staff, where he was involved in directing military operations in Aceh province during the first months of martial law. Similar cases have been documented by Human Rights Watch.132
126 “Indonesia Convicts Troops in Aceh Abuses,” Associated Press, June 9, 2003; “Soldiers convicted of rights abuses,” Laksamana.net, June 10, 2003.
127 “Three soldiers on trial admit assaulting villagers,” The Jakarta Post, June 5, 2003.
128 “Soldiers jailed for Aceh rapes,” BBC News Online, July 19, 2003; “Soldiers sentenced in Aceh rape cases,” The Jakarta Post, July 20, 2003.
129 “12 soldiers go on trial for beating villagers in Aceh,” Associated Press, September 25, 2003; Tiarma Siboro, “12 soldiers to stand trial for torturing civilians in Aceh,” The Jakarta Post, September 20, 2003.
130 “Soldiers Acquitted of Aceh Assaults,” Laksamana.Net, October 10, 2003. http://www.laksamana.net/vnews.cfm?ncat=45&news_id=6152 (accessed December 4, 2003).
131 The army chief told Time magazine, “I will take responsibility for any order I give. But my orders and those of the armed-forces commander are clear: don't kill civilians. If I send someone out to buy fried bananas and that person gets caught stealing them, or stealing money to buy them, should I also be punished?” Interview with Ryamizard Ryacudu, "No Region Can Break Away," Time Asia, June 2, 2003.
132 See “Aceh Under Martial Law: Can These Men Be Trusted to Prosecute This War?” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, October 2003.