There can be no genuine democracy in Indonesia without an end to the military emergency in Aceh

SEGERA – August 7, 2003
Mass grave in Aceh (Sekilas Info Aceh)
Mass grave in Aceh (Sekilas Info Aceh)

[The following is a translation of a statement issued by the Solidarity Movement for the People of Aceh (Solidaritas Gerakan untuk Rakyat Aceh, SEGERA) which was read out a demonstration in front of the national parliament on August 7, to coincide with the last day of the annual session of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) which started on August 1. Included after the statement is an abridged chronology of the demonstration at the MPR.]

The annual session of the People’s Consultative Assembly has entered its last day and has run flawlessly. But the results have been no more than lobbying and compromises between the large political parties and the elite for the sake of the interests of particular groups in the lead-up to the 2004 general elections. Not one sentence related to the urgent problems of the people who are suffering from the economic and political crisis was put forward. On the issue of Aceh, all of the participants approved and agreed unanimously that the military operation chapter II has run successfully and needs to be continued until it is completed without seeking clarification on the impact of the military operations which has utterly destroyed the economy and social infrastructure.

Since the military emergency came into force, it has been calculated that 540 schools have been burnt to the ground, in addition to which 342 civilians have died, 614 GAM [Free Aceh Movement] personnel have been killed, five people have disappeared and 101 tortured inhumanly. Added to this is the death of 29 TNI [Indonesian military] and police officers as well as the orphaned children which have been left behind. The conflict has also resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of refugees and children who do not have sufficient medicines and time to play as well as the prolonged trauma [they will suffer because] of the conflict. The military operation has also resulted in crimes by TNI soldiers in the form of the rape and torture of civilians. These war crimes were further added to with the finding of mass graves in Nisam, North Aceh, Manggamat, South Aceh and Takengon in Central Aceh.

The impact of the military emergency has also flowed through to the economic sector in the form of reducing the people’s purchasing power, prices have skyrocketed because of the high cost of transpiration of basic foods, drastically increasing the levels of unemployment. People’s crops have been abandoned (as a result of being made refugees) and the loss of productive time as a consequence of night time [curfews] and sweeps by troops has resulted in a drastic increase in poverty. Since the prolonged armed conflict in Aceh, it has been calculated that the number of poor in Aceh which in 2001 was as many as 1.2 million people (30.43 per cent) and increased to 1.4 million in 2002 (33.43 per cent), has increased in 2003 to 1.6 million, 40 per cent of a total population in Aceh of 4.1 million. In fact, before the conflict the levels of poverty were only around 26.5 per cent or 1.1 million people. There have been three regions which have experienced the greatest increases in poverty: North Aceh, with as many as 413,935 people, 39.82 per cent of the provinces population, East Aceh with 286,797 people (42.34 per cent) and Pidie with 206,179 people or 40.33 per cent.

They have suffered a double tragedy [lit: its is as if they fell while climbing the steps to their house only then to have their house collapse on top of them – JB], this is the exact term to describe the suffering of the Acehnese people at the moment.

The military emergency has also closed the democratic space which was able to be opened up during period of the Gus Dur [President Abdurrahman Wahid] government because of intimidation, terror and the hunt for people who are considered to be GAM sympathizers. This has been added to by all kinds of prohibitions on press conferences, demonstrations, discussions and so forth, [which have been implemented] without any clear guidelines. The people’s right to obtain true and accurate information has been limited by the prohibitions on journalist covering local conflicts unless they are embedded with troops or have the blessing of the local military commander. Press briefings for journalists are in essence a form of pressure and intimidation to [make journalists] report in accordance with the direction and interests of the military operation, reports are censored and both domestic and international journalists are required to obtain special permission to cover [the war]. This has made the [TNI’s] media centre the only source of information on the war in Aceh because of the prohibitions on obtaining conformation from other parties [such as GAM]. This means that the stories on the military emergency which are read and consumed by the public do not fulfill the ethics of objective and balanced journalism so that there are great opportunities for manipulation in the interests of the military and the authorities. Violence has also occurred against journalists who have not fulfilled the rules and guidelines of the military operational commander and this has resulted in the death of a number of journalists such as a Tempo journalists in Padang Tidji, a 68H Jakarta journalist and one person from a TVRI television crew who was found dead in Banda Aceh.

From the data above, the government and parliament should see that the military operation and the military emergency can be said to have failed both in terms of its goals, strategy and impact, which for the people of Aceh has been extreme. In terms of the goal to win the hearts and minds of the Acehnese people and [to persuade] them to return to fold of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI), it has instead created the seeds of a new hatred against the government because of the violence which has been perpetrated against civilians, murders, massacres, which represent fertile ground for the development of Acehnese nationalism which will become evermore widespread. A fine goal but with the wrong method and strategy. The frequent loyalty pledges to NKRI which have been seen and propagandised by the military as an achievement, have been because of pressure, and these formalities by the Acehnese people are not based on voluntarism. We want the people of Aceh to return to the fold of NKRI because we are confronting capitalism which requires national unity, but this unity should not be one based on pressure and intimidation at the end of a gun, it should not be a unity under the threat of a rifle butt, it should not be a unity which kills democracy and humanity, but a unity which is encouraged though joint voluntarism, sincerity and love for the life of the national and state.

The government should learn from the failures of the New Order [regime of former President Suharto] which prioritised militarism and violence in its approach to the demands of the Acehnese people. Their desire for social and economic justice was greeted with the slaughter of [innocent] human beings. The policy of DOM [Aceh was declared a special military operations zone between 1989-1998] during the period of the New Order provided fertile soil for the development and strengthening of demands for independence in Aceh which have persisted to this day. We therefore consider that a resolution to the Aceh problem must prioritise dialogue and consultation which involves the participation of Acehnese civil society which is broader and involves decision makers.

A resolution to the prolonged armed conflict must also involve international mediators who have a high level of legitimacy and legal authority at the national and international level.

We therefore call on the government and the parliament which is in annual session:

  1. To reject the military operation in Aceh because it has resulted in the destruction of the economy, the death of democracy and a humanitarian tragedy.
  2. To try the perpetrators of crimes against human rights and humanity in Aceh.
  3. To reject the 2004 general election in Aceh because it has not fulfilled the requirements of democratic and civil freedoms. An election held under the force of arms will be a new tool of oppression for the people of Aceh. The process and political fiesta which should be given to the Acehnese people by the Indonesian government is to give them the democratic right to determine their own future (a referendum) under the supervision of the international community.
  4. We also call on the people of Aceh and the national opposition in Indonesia to support a new unity with the Indonesian people based upon voluntarism and people’s democracy.

Herein are our recommendations to the annual session of the People’s Consultative Assembly and our call to the Indonesian national opposition to resolve the Aceh problem.

  • There can be no genuine democracy in Indonesia without ending the military operation in Aceh
  • The law cannot be upheld in Indonesia without trying the violators of human rights in Aceh

Jakarta, August 7, 2003
Solidarity Movement for the People of Aceh (SEGERA)

s/- Yusuf Lakaseng, chairperson

Information Centre: Jl. Tebet Dalam I D, No. 9
Phone: 021-8305268/08159654406

[Translated by James Balowski.]