Riang Karunianidi – The government has demolished the remains of the Geudong House (Rumoh Geudong) in Pidie regency, Aceh. The building was used as an interrogation and torture centre during the armed conflict in Aceh. It is one of 12 cases of gross human rights violations acknowledged by the government and prior to its demolition, was a place of pilgrimage for the survivors and families of victims.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo claims that the Geudong House was demolished to mark the launch of a program for the non-judicial settlement of past rights violations. He also claimed that the demolition was to accommodate the wishes of local people and that a mosque would be built in its place.
This is the complete opposite of what was conveyed by one of the Geudong House's victims, Saifuddin, who was interviewed by Tempo. He related how the government had never informed them of the plan to demolish the building. Saifuddin was tortured as an infant in order to force his father into confessing to arms smuggling.
According to a National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) report on the case, the military and police used the building to commit crimes against humanity including arbitrary detention, rape, torture and murder. Data from Komnas HAM notes that at least 109 civilians were tortured, 74 women were raped, nine people murdered and eight people remain missing to this day.
During the administration of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, in May 2003 security forces conducted sweeps and attacks on villages in Aceh. One of the examples of this was the massacre at the Jambo Keupok Village in South Aceh, which the government alleged was a basis for the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
Two days after this, Megawati issued Presidential Instruction Number 28/2003 declaring Aceh to be a Military Operations Zone (DOM). This legitimised security forces continuing to commit gross human rights abuses well after Suharto had stepped down. This shows that instead of endeavoring to settle past abuses and bring the perpetrators to trial, the Megawati regime continued the violations.
Aside from this, there are two important things related to the demolition of the Geudong House.
First, it represents the continuation of the regime of using bad laws to settle past violations. In January Widodo publically acknowledge that 12 cases of gross human rights violations had occurred in Indonesia, including at the Geudong House. Last year, he issued Government Regulation Number 17/2022 on the formation of a team to find a non-judicial resolution to past abuses. This regulation is a continuation of the legal vacuum left by Law Number 39/1999 on Human Rights and Law Number 26/2000 on Human Rights Courts.
These two higher laws stipulate the relationship between the judicial and non-judicial resolution of human rights violations. Moreover "independent" government organisations such as Komnas HAM are only given the authority to investigate, but not prosecute alleged human rights cases. This makes it easy for the cases that are piling up to be ping-ponged by the Attorney General's Office and the judiciary. These facts show there are still no progressive laws in Indonesia to address the many cases of human rights violations left behind by the Suharto military regime.
Second, and this is still linked with this legal vacuum, the regime is still able to settle cases of past violations in accordance with their perspective, namely protecting the perpetrators of past crimes. These methods have a pattern, and previous presidents have a similar track record. Suharto's successor president BJ Habibie once formed a fact finding team to investigate cases that occurred during the DOM in Aceh and an ad-hoc human rights court for East Timor. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also once pledged to resolve cases such as the invasion of East Timor and the abduction of pro-democracy activists in 1997-98. According to the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), the Widodo administration has formed three teams to deal with past rights violations. First there was the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in 2015, then the National Reconciliation Council in 2016, and third the Integrated Joint Team on the Resolution of Alleged Past Gross Human Rights Violations in 2018.
Given the cases that occurred during the DOM in Aceh, it is increasingly difficult to trust that the Widodo administration is willing to resolve the cases using means that side with the victims. This is because it touches on Widodo's political power circle, which is filled by human rights violators. This includes Megawati who is the chairperson of Widodo's ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and powerful figures that enjoy her patronage.
As usual, Widodo has responded to the criticisms over the demolition of the Geudong House with evasive remarks. "Later a living park will be made, we will still remember because there are objects placed there, but there can also be benefits, therefore a park can be made which can be used by the people there to remember in a perspective that is positive, not negative", he said.
But what is actually is the positive aspect for the victims and families of the victims at the Geudong House? There are none. The only positive perspective would be if the perpetrators are indicted and tried in court. And for as long as the perpetrators are still roaming free, even filling important positions in the administration, historical sites such as the Geudong House are a symbol that continues to call out demanding that the perpetrators be tried. Not just an apology, or resolved in a peaceful or "positive" manner through non-judicial mechanisms as the bourgeoisie would like to see.
So it becomes clear that the bourgeoisie in Indonesia has no perspective of siding with the victims. They cannot be trusted to have an initiative that is more progressive other than the promise of illusive resolutions.
Eroding the ordinary people's tendency to believe in these illusive promises is what must be done. This can only happen when the working class and the ordinary people (including the victims and families of victims of gross human rights violations) join hands in a struggle to demand a human rights court and push for a settlement to be carried out under the control of the people to exposé the evil of the bourgeoisie. Only in this way can the resolution of past abuses in Aceh be fully resolved.
-- Riang Karunianidi is member of Resistance and the Socialist Union (Perserikatan Sosialis).
- Victims of rights abuses in Aceh divided over non-judicial settlement. Kompas.com – June 27, 2023
- Government slammed for demolishing Aceh torture house ahead of Jokowi's visit. CNN Indonesia – June 23, 2023
- Government accused of erasing history by demolishing Aceh torture house. CNN Indonesia – June 23, 2023
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Penghancuran Rumoh Geudong dan Kebohongan Elit Politik Menelikung Hak Korban".]