Government slammed for demolishing Aceh torture house ahead of Jokowi's visit

CNN Indonesia – June 23, 2023
Brimob personnel patrol near Geudong House in preparation for Widodo's arrival – Undated (Detik)

Jakarta – The remains of the Geudong House (Rumoh Geudong) in Pidie regency, Aceh, where gross human rights abuses were committed when Aceh was declared a military operational area (DOM), have been flattened to the ground ahead of a visit by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo next week.

Widodo is scheduled to arrive in Pidie on June 27 to kick off of an event by the Monitoring Team for the Implementation of Recommendations for the Non-Judicial Resolution of Past Gross Human Rights Violations (PKPHAM).

The demolition of the Geudong House, which according to information began on Tuesday June 20, has attracted opposition from the Aceh Transitional Committee (KPA) and civil society organisations.

Amnesty International Indonesia says that it deplores the government's move to flatten the building.

"We regret the destruction of the remainder of the Geudong House building. The building represents an important historical site and at the same time evidence that there were very serious crimes in Pidie regency, Aceh", said Amnesty International Executive Director Usman Hamid in a written release on Thursday June 22.

"The destruction of this important building gives rise to questions about the country's seriousness in trying to rewrite Indonesia's history [to acknowledge past abuses] and other efforts to memorialise gross human rights violations in Aceh", he added.

The Geudong House was formerly a Tactical and Strategic Unit Post (Pos Sattis) in Sector A, Glumpang Tiga sub-district, Pidie, that was used as a place to torture and murder local people during the military emergency in Aceh.

The crimes committed by security forces during the implementation of DOM in the period 1989-1998 have remained embedded in the memory of the Acehnese people. The events at the Geudong House are one of the 12 cases of gross human rights violations acknowledged by President Widodo in January this year.

"The demolition, which has occurred ahead of President Joko Widodo's visit to Aceh on June 27, gives rise to serious questions about the state's commitment to dealing with human rights violations", said Hamid.

In the same vein, the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) and the Banda Aceh Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) also issued statements condemning the demolition.

The groups said it is an indication that the government is still granting impunity to perpetrators of gross human rights violations in Aceh.

They added that the government has blatantly destroyed, damaged and obliterated an important site that could have been used as evidence for judicial purposes, in this case a human rights court.

"The ongoing effort to destroy the physical remains of the building at Geudong House is an attempt on the part of the state to eliminate physical evidence of gross human rights violations that occurred at the site, and this a systematic and planned act by the state to grant impunity to perpetrators of gross human rights violations", said LBH Banda Aceh Director Syahrul in an official statement on Thursday.

The YLBHI and LBH Banda Aceh believe that president Widodo is making an effort to bury the existence of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), grant impunity to perpetrators and fence in victims in the name of rehabilitation.

"The rehabilitation of victims must be carried out by the state without having to use the additional frills of 'resolving cases' entirely, because this could result in a bad precedent in resolving cases of gross human rights violations in Indonesia", said Syahrul.

"As if the country is free to violate the human rights of its citizens, then it's just a matter of paying", he added.

Mosque to be build with state budget

The Pidie regency government has spoken out about the demolition of the Geudong House, which is a silent witness to the rights abuses committed during military operations in Aceh.

Pidie regency government protocol and communication division head Teuku Iqbal says a mosque will be built on the site using the state budget (APBN).

"God willing a mosque will be built. Constructed using the APBN. Hopefully everything will go smoothly", said Iqbal on Friday June 23 as quoted by

Iqbal said that the Pidie government has already released the land where the Geudong House is located and that the construction of the mosque is intended to wipe out old wounds.

"This is also to eliminate all of the old wounds, building a better future", he explained.

KPA spokesperson Azhari Cage has questioned the demolition of the Geudong House on the pretext of building a mosque, saying that the area already has two mosques and that is considered enough.

"We at the KPA firmly reject the shift in the function of the Rumoh Geudong historical site in Pidie because whatever its story is it represents historical evidence of the previous period of [armed] conflict", Cagee told CNN Indonesia on Thursday.

The KPA, which is a forum to accommodate former Free Aceh Movement (GAM) combatants following the 2005 peace deal, objects to the demolition of the Geudong House by the government.

Before the building was demolished, the KPA sent a letter to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo asking that the building not be destroyed in order to build a mosque.

Instead, they had asked that the building be turned into a museum or school because two mosques have already been established in the area.

"We don't oppose the construction of a mosque but the residential area already has two mosques. Later if it's pushed through the congregation won't be big enough, if indeed you want to build a mosque why must you insist on having it there?", he asked. (tim/kid)

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "AII dan LBH Aceh Kecam Perobohan Rumah Geudong Jelang Jokowi Datang".]