• Sheet of paper Report

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

April 18, 2013

"[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.

However, as illustrated by the quote above, most victims and their relatives have long been denied truth, justice and reparation in violation of Indonesia's obligation under international law. They are still waiting for local and national Indonesian authorities to acknowledge and remedy what happened to them and their loved ones during the conflict.

During a visit to Aceh in May 2012, Amnesty International spoke with various groups and individuals, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community organizations, lawyers, parliamentarians, local government officials, journalists, and over thirty victims and their representatives about the current situation in Aceh and the lack of measures to provide truth, justice and reparation for crimes committed during the conflict.

Victims and their relatives told Amnesty International that they welcome the current peace process and the improved security situation in Aceh; however they do not understand why commitments contained in the 2005 MOU to set-up a Human Rights Court for Aceh and an Aceh Truth and Reconciliation Commission have yet to be implemented. They also explained that, although some post-MOU programmes have provided some forms of financial support to many victims, these measures have lacked consistency and they were not specifically related to an acknowledgement of past human rights abuses.

At the time of the peace agreement in 2005, the topic of addressing crimes committed during the conflict was perceived by some as a threat to the peace process. However, seven years on, it is time for the central and local Indonesian authorities to face the past and take long overdue measures to implement victims' rights to truth, justice and reparation. Not only would it contribute to healing the open wounds of the civilian population, it would also help strengthen the rule of law in the country and secure the peace process in the long-term. As noted by the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in August 2004:

"[t]ransitional justice initiatives promote accountability, reinforce respect for human rights and are critical to fostering the strong levels of civic trust required to bolster rule of law reform, economic development and democratic governance."

Addressing past crimes and acknowledging that serious human rights abuses were committed during the Aceh conflict would also send a strong signal to other victims of human rights abuses and their families in Indonesia, who are waiting for measures of truth, justice and reparation to address crimes committed in other situations.

In order to strengthen the rule of law in Indonesia and ensure that victims and their relatives have access to truth, justice and reparation for crimes committed during the Aceh conflict, Amnesty International recommends that local and central authorities undertake the following steps as a matter of priority:

  • Acknowledge that serious human rights violations and abuses, including crimes under international law, were committed during the Aceh conflict;
  • Set up immediately a truth commission in line with international standards to ensure that victims, their families and affected communities are provided with full disclosure about what happened during the Aceh conflict and ensure that specific measures are taken to reveal the fate and whereabouts of victims of enforced disappearances;
  • Take effective measures (including law reform) to investigate and, where there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute those responsible for crimes under international law, including possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances committed during the conflict; and
  • Establish a programme to provide full and effective reparation including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition to all victims of human rights violations and abuses in Aceh. The programme should be devised in consultation with victims and should take into account the different experiences and needs of women and men, girls and boys, who experience conflict differently, as well as any other relevant groups.