Mon, 10 Jan 2000

Bringing an end to Aceh's saga of sadness

This is the first of a two-part article based on a year-end evaluation of conditions in Aceh by Saifuddin Bantasyam, executive director of the Care for Human Rights Forum (FPHAM), one of several private groups monitoring human rights in the province.

BANDA ACEH (JP): People say the year 2,000 will be decisive for us as a nation and state. Acehnese in particular waited fervently for the New Year, hoping things would be better. When we enter a new year, we do not necessarily make a clean break with the past. Wise men say that experience is the best teacher.

Part of this experience were the human rights conditions in Aceh. At the end of the year, the Care for Human Rights Forum (FPHAM) evaluated these conditions, mainly with regard to 1999.

Set up on July 17, 1998, the forum collected data from field investigations and first hand accounts, including from individuals reporting to the forum's office and media reports.

The data, much of which has been published, comprised victims of military operations and victims after the operations were formally ended, up to December 22.

The military operation (DOM) status for Aceh, which began in 1989, was officially lifted by the government when then minister of defense and security/Indonesian Military chief Gen. Wiranto, came to Lhokseumawe, North Aceh, on Aug. 7 1998. Then and now, Acehnese, and even the world community, demanded that the responsible parties be tried; what happened during the military era was inconceivable, both in quantity and the nature of rights violations.

From late July to mid November 1998, FPHAM volunteers conducted investigations in Pidie, North and East Aceh regencies, the areas within the DOM status.

The data revealed 1,321 killed, 1,985 missing, 3,439 tortured, 128 raped, 81 sexually assaulted, 597 houses burned, 938 cases of looted gold and 16,375 children who were orphaned.

The independent inquiry team on Aceh, formed under B.J. Habibie's government, has revealed that at least five cases could immediately go to trial, including the tortures at the "slaughter house" in Pidie between 1997 and 1998 and the fatal shooting of Islamic boarding school leader Tengku Bantaqiah and members of his community in Beutong Ateuh, West Aceh in July 1999.

But none of the cases revealed have ever been brought to court -- despite the government's pledge to set up a court with a joint panel of civil and military judges.

During 1999, the Indonesian Military (TNI) assumed a nonchalant attitude toward any allegation and probe into rights violations involving their personnel. Gen. Wiranto, for instance, disregarded the substance of investigations by the National Commission on Human Rights in Pidie and North Aceh last year.

The recent hearing at the House of Representatives with a number of army generals and the former Aceh governor about the military operations there degenerated into an anticlimax of attempts to hold TNI accountable for the tragedies.

TNI's nonchalant attitude was also reflected in the wake of investigations by KPP HAM, the government-sponsored independent inquiry into the violence in East Timor. The efforts have been taken by TNI as an attempt to corner them, while members of the National Commission on Human Rights have been suspected of lacking nationalism.

Later it was asserted that efforts to take army generals to court would fuel soldiers' anger. And so, our dream of seeing a demonstration of the military's gallantry and responsibility to the state, and equality before the law, has become even more distant. The government still tends to apply repressive and discriminative laws, forgetting laws imbued with a sense of justice.

One implication of all this is that the institutionalization of impunity in human rights violation cases in Aceh has become all the more obvious.

Every effort to enforce human rights and or investigations into human rights violations has been met with the simplifying of problems, or the shifting of public attention for political purposes.

Amid demands voiced by the Acehnese for a referendum of self- determination, which expresses democracy and demands of human rights, the government must stick to pursuing a legal process against rights violators. Otherwise the state will continue to become a party to human rights violation with impunity.