Indonesia: Time to Face the Past: Justice for past abuses in Indonesia's Aceh province

April 18, 2013

Indonesia: Time to Face the Past: Justice for past abuses in Indonesia's Aceh province

"[We] want to know why until now the government of Indonesia has not acknowledged that we suffered human rights abuses. As victims... we do not feel revenge, however they must address our feelings. [The government] cannot say there is already peace. Because for them peace is their justice for victims... I know the agreement on 15 August 2005 between the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement brought peace in Aceh. [But] in the Helsinki MOU they also mentioned about human rights and the creation of a Human Rights Court and a TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] in Aceh. My dream has not been fulfilled yet. We are still fighting, not against the government, but for the government to remember what happened to us. They do not have the right to forget."

The former head of a victims' association in Aceh, 8 May 2012

On 15 August 2005, the Indonesian government and the armed pro-independence movement, the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, hereafter referred to as GAM) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) under the auspice of the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) headed by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari signalling the end of years of violence. The Aceh conflict had a devastating impact on the civilian population, in particular between 1989 and 2004 when military operations were conducted by the Indonesian authorities to suppress claims for separatism. Between 10,000 and 30,000 people were killed during the conflict, many of them civilians.

National and international fact-finding organizations, including Indonesia's National Human Rights Commission (Komisi Nasional Hak Asasi Manusia, hereafter referred to as Komnas HAM), and the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komisi Nasional Anti- Kekerasan Terhadap Perempuan, Komnas Perempuan) have produced extensive accounts of some of the serious human rights violations and abuses committed against the Acehnese civilian population during the conflict. However, many of these official accounts, including the Komnas HAM reports, which indicate that the vast majority of past abuses were committed by members of the security forces and their auxiliaries, have yet to be made available to the public.

Amnesty International and other bodies documented a range of violations committed by members of the security forces and their auxiliaries, including unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture, forcible displacement of civilians, arbitrary arrest and detention of those suspected of supporting GAM. Human rights abuses committed by GAM, including hostage-taking and the targeted killing of suspected informers, government officials and civil servants, were also reported. Amnesty International along with others has also highlighted the extent of violence against women during the conflict and stressed in its 2004 report Indonesia: New military operations, old patterns of human rights abuses in Aceh that there was a "long-established pattern of rape and other sexual crimes against women" in the province.

Although rarely labelled as such, many of the human rights abuses6 committed during the Aceh conflict constitute crimes under international law. Many of the violations and abuses committed by both sides in the context of the non-international armed conflict that existed between 1989 and 2005 may amount to war crimes. Many of the violations directed by Indonesia's forces and their auxiliaries against civilians as part of the policy of suppressing the independence movement appear to have formed part of a widespread or systematic attack and may amount to crimes against humanity. These and other crimes under international law, including torture, extrajudicial execution and enforced disappearance must be investigated and, where sufficient admissible evidence exists, those suspected of criminal responsibility should be prosecuted in fair trials in accordance with international law and standards without recourse to the death penalty. Victims also have a right to an effective remedy, including truth, justice and full and effective reparation.