Sat, 23 Aug 2003

'Rights abuses in Aceh may lead to UN intervention'

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) warned the government on Friday that intervention by the United Nations (UN) was imminent if it failed to put an end to the gross human rights violations in strife-torn Aceh.

Chairman of the commission's ad hoc team for Aceh M.M. Billah said the possibility of the UN sending an investigating team to probe human rights violations in Aceh was there if the warring parties continued to breach humanitarian law upheld by the Geneva Convention and the human rights law which has been in force since 2000.

"The likelihood will be greater if things do not improve in Aceh," Billah told a press conference here.

Billah said the UN presence in Aceh would be among recommendations proposed by the human rights watchdog to the government in the next assessment of the third month of the military offensive against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels.

When asked if the proposal for UN intervention could materialize, given the fact that international community had earlier said that Aceh was Indonesia's internal problem, he said: "No, you must recall that the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the U.S. Secretary of State Collin Powell expressed regret that the conflicting sides had resorted to violence,"

The international community deplored the failure of both the Indonesian government and GAM to resume peace talks that later prompted Jakarta to impose martial law in Aceh on May 19.

The warning by Komnas HAM came after it completed a five-day mission in the westernmost province. It concluded that human rights violations had decreased compared to the first month of the military operation, but remained intolerable.

The commission said that murder, sexual harassment, rape and forced displacement and abduction remained rampant in Aceh. The rights commissioners interviewed 102 witnesses in connection with the cases.

The rights watchdog said the martial law administration had failed to bring security back to Aceh, which was one of the objectives of the integrated operation in the province.

"Many of the refugees do not have the courage to return to their home villages, as there is no guarantee that they could lead a normal life," he said, adding that many deserted homes of the refugees had been looted.

He also said reports of over 230 Acehnese who were seeking refuge in Malaysia was proof of the government's failure to maintain security in the resource-rich province.

A Malaysian official said on Friday 120 of the Acehnese had agreed to go home.

The administration has also failed to protect public facilities, as evident in the arson attack on over 500 schools, depriving tens of thousands of students of proper education, Billah said.

"We also found school buildings which were used as military barracks," he added.

The outspoken member of the rights body said the attack and occupation of school buildings by either warring party was an abject violation of the Geneva Convention, which stipulates that non-military objects should not become targets of a war.

The first three months of the military operation claimed the lives of 49 military personnel and police, 198 civilians and some 600 rebels.

Religious leaders and politicians have called on the government to stop the war in Aceh in view of the gross human rights violations committed by the conflicting sides.

Aware of the fact that there would not be a quick end to conflict between the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the Aceh rebels, Komnas HAM is now training local youths to work as volunteers who will monitor human rights violations.

"Currently, we already have two offices in Bireuen and Lhokseumawe. In the next two or three months, I believe that each regency will have a monitoring team," Billah said, adding that a team would consist of four members.