Aceh’s new status an opportunity to involve society in peace process

Kompas – May 17, 2005
Aceh Working Group member Rafendi Djamin pictured centre (UNSW)
Aceh Working Group member Rafendi Djamin pictured centre (UNSW)

Jakarta – The reduction of Aceh’s status from a state of civil emergency to one of a civil authority must be seized as an opportunity to further increase the involvement of civil society.

Increasing society’s involvement should primarily be in relation to the determination of policies, one of which is the involvement of social organisations in the negotiations between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

The coordinator of the Human Rights Working Group, Rafendi Djamin, conveyed this on Monday May 16. According to Djamin, the negotiations between the government and GAM that are proceeded rapidly should be balanced with a further increase in the role of social organisations in Aceh and Indonesia.

“The issue of Aceh’s future cannot only be appointed to GAM representatives, which by definition are only one element of society. The process should also involve civil society. Listen to [Acehnese] society, women’s groups, Islamic religious leaders and so forth”, said Rafendi.

As has been reported, on May 18 the government plans to reduce the state of civil emergency in Aceh that has been in place for one year. The government will return Aceh to the status of a civil authority. The reasons being that after evaluating the two six-month periods of civil emergency critical issues have been dealt with. What are needed now are normal regulations that guarantee transparency and accountability in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Aceh.

Rafendi believes that the policy of revoking the civil emergency means the same thing as end to further efforts by particular parties to deny basic social rights in the name of emergency laws. Every single person’s civil rights are guaranteed under a civil authority. “The legal framework which is in force in Aceh at the moment is a framework where Acehnese society’s civil rights must again be respected. People can no longer be detained in the name of emergency laws, even in the context of the military operation”, he said.

Military question

According to Rafendi, in order to support improvements to these civil rights, the military forces present in Aceh must be reduced by half. If the TNI (armed forces) does this it will give a positive signal that the TNI supports the peace process. “Unfortunately, the TNI’s commitment to be subordinate to the civilian government is still limited to statements by TNI chief General Endriartono Sutarto”, said Rafendi. Lower ranking military officers however, continue to try to justify the TNI’s presence in Aceh on the grounds that GAM’s forces in the districts are still strong.

Furthermore, Rafendi also criticised the plan by the commander of the Iskandar Muda territorial military command, Major-General Supiadin AS, who said recently they would form strategic hamlets during the reconstruction and rehabilitation stage in Aceh and deploy soldiers in these villages.

“Take into account such measures were applied in East Timor, have a look, what were the results like there? Such measures will only create bloody thirsty militia forces. Do you want to apply an experience like that in Aceh. Won’t it instead sow discord in society”, he said.

Rafendi suggested that if the TNI wants to win the hearts and minds of the Acehnese then that isn’t the way. As a military strategy, taking advantage of the reconstruction process to form militia forces is clearly not the correct thing to do. (DWA)

[Translated by James Balowski.]