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Government forces

On 19 May 2003 military emergency status was declared in the Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam province (known as Aceh). The Indonesian armed forces declared at the time that they had approximately 40,000 police and soldiers in Aceh, fighting an estimated 5,000 members of the armed opposition Free Aceh Movement (GAM).110 The military emergency was initially declared for a six-month period but on 4 September the Indonesian armed forces chief suggested that military operations could last until the GAM no longer posed a security threat.111 In June it was reported that the Indonesian police force had lowered the age for recruitment into the police force in Sumatra (where Aceh is located) from 18 to 17.112

In May, UNICEF warned of an emerging humanitarian crisis, with thousands of children affected by internal displacement, the burning of some 500 schools and the disruption of health and sanitation services. Since the declaration of the military emergency, access to Aceh has been highly restricted and the province has virtually closed to outsiders.113 Activities by Indonesian or foreign NGOs deemed to run counter to the aims of the military emergency administration are banned. All humanitarian assistance must be coordinated by the Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare, and special passes must be obtained by relief workers for travel within the province.114

While there were no reports of children being involved in Indonesian military forces, children as young as 11 were reportedly killed by government security forces after being accused of GAM membership.115 In May, a military spokesman said that ten people from four villages in the area had been shot, including a 13-year-old. The spokesman claimed the victims were GAM members shot during a clash that began with an explosion at a bridge. A police supervisor reportedly said “don’t look at their ages [but at] what they have done”.116 Indonesia's human rights commission has noted strong indications of “extrajudicial killings" during the incident, although it has yet to reach a conclusion as to which party was responsible. According to the head of the team that visited Aceh "two children were among the victims [of extrajudicial killings]. Children cannot become the shooting target of either side."117

The work of human rights defenders, including the investigation of alleged human rights violations by both the security forces and GAM, has virtually ceased since the declaration of the military emergency. Research projects and training seminars on children’s rights and child soldier issues have been suspended because in the prevailing climate there were fears that such activities could result in military harassment. Human rights activists, including those known to the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, reported that suspected activists have been arrested and harassed and their phone and internet communications monitored by the security forces. 118

Non-state armed groups

Indonesian armed forces have reported the presence of armed teenagers within GAM.119 In June military forces arrested two teenagers they said were attempting to set fire to a school building in North Aceh. According to military reports, the teenagers were forced to join GAM and had burned down 60 school buildings over the past three years.120 The Stockholm-based GAM leadership have denied using child soldiers and in June said they would be willing to let independent observers carry out investigations if the Indonesian Government would permit this.121

Demobilization and child protection programs

Little information was available on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programs in Aceh. Government and international programs focused on humanitarian interventions. The official figure for people displaced by military operations stood at 40,000 in mid-July but the number was constantly shifting, as some communities were allowed to return and others required to move to allow military operations to attack suspected GAM bases. The Indonesian government pledged some US$40 million for humanitarian aid, including for displacement camps, but press reports indicated that medical and sanitation provisions were woefully inadequate.122

In June the government said it would provide land, tools, seeds and fertilizers, to GAM members who surrendered.123 In July the National Commission for the Protection of Children (Komnas Anak), the State Ministry of Women’s Empowerment, the Office of the Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare and private corporations jointly announced plans to establish a number of shelters as rehabilitation centres for children affected by the armed conflict.124 In August, the Indonesian Government funded a rehabilitation skills-training program in the Masjid Raya subdistrict of Aceh. The five month program, which was reportedly for 381 captured GAM members and supporters, aimed to assist ex-combatants to return to normal activities.125


The United Nations (UN) Security Council should urge the Indonesian Government to permit humanitarian workers and independent human rights monitors free and unhindered access to Aceh.

The UN Security Council should urge the Indonesian government to permit independent observers to visit Aceh and monitor the situation of children involved in the conflict, as well as to research child soldier issues.

The UN should support efforts to continue the peace process between the government and GAM and urge them to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, especially on the protection of civilians and children and the use of child soldiers.

The UN should urge the Indonesian Government to ensure that recruitment age for police is 18 in all Indonesia’s provinces.

The UN should urge the Indonesian Government to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC-OP-CAC) as soon as possible.

Armed opposition groups should declare their commitment to the CRC-OP-CAC and a “straight 18” standard for recruitment.

110 “Indonesian military in full control of Aceh,” The News (Internet Edition), 28 May 2003,

111 “Indonesian military offensive in Aceh could last until April, Agence France Presse, 4 September 2003

112 Coalition member interview with Aceh-based human rights activist, 16 June 2003.

113“Humanitarian aid needed for children in Aceh”, UNICEF press release, 23 May 2003

114 “Aceh: how not to win hearts and minds”, Indonesia briefing, International Crisis Group, 23 July 2003, “Government to curb foreign NGOs in Aceh”, Jakarta Post, 26 June 2003

115 Powell, Sian, “Children massacred by military,” Daily Telegraph, 23 May 2003; de Guzman, Orlando, “They killed them one by one,” BBC News, 21 May 2003; Time, “Young Blood,” 2 June 2003.

116 Powell, Sian, “Aceh children first to die,” The Australian, 23 May 2003.

117 Reuters, “Signs of Extrajudicial Killings in Aceh Commission,” 13 June 2003,

118 Indonesia: protecting the protectors, human rights defenders and humanitarian workers in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, ASA 21/024/2003, 23 June 2003

119 Nunan, Patricia, “Ceasefire Brings Uneasy Peace To Indonesia's Aceh Province,” Voice of America, 24 March 2003,

120 “No separatist rebel to be allowed to escape, says Minister” ,, 8 June 2003

121, 9 June 2003

122 “Indonesia briefing, Aceh: how not to win hearts and minds”, International Crisis Group, 23 July 2003.

123 The New Zealand Herald, “Indonesia Pledges land for Rebels who Surrender,” 23 June 2003.

124 Jakarta Post online, “Child Commission to visit Aceh victims”, 4 July 2003,

125 Indonesia Consolidated Situation Report, No.142, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 16 to 22 August 2003

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January 2003