Tapol speech on Aceh

3 Apr 1999
Carmel Budiardjo, TAPOL
Delivered at the International Conference on Aceh, Washington (US), 3 April 1999

I must first extend warm greetings from TAPOL and our gratitude to the International Forum on Aceh for holding this conference and inviting us to attend. We are very keen to be a part of the joint efforts to mobilise international support for the people of Aceh in the struggle to have their human rights upheld in all respects.

We now stand at a turning point in the struggle of the Acehnese people. The downfall last year of Suharto, the Indonesian dictator, opened the floodgates for thousands of Acehnese, women, men and young people, who had suffered unbelievable atrocities at the hands of the Indonesian military during a decade when they treated Aceh as a DOM, a military operational zone. Oppressed by what was in effect an army of occupation, the Acehnese suffered in silence though some brave souls succeeded in alerting human rights organisations such as ourselves, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. For our part, we did what we could to spread this information during the 1990s but there was no response. Our pleas for pressure from the western powers to condemn the Suharto regime were ignored.

After Suharto was forced by the mass actions of the students across the country to resign, hundreds of Acehnese spoke out as victims, local NGOs started to document the grim reality of DOM, and the Indonesian Human Rights Commission and members of the Indonesian Parliament undertook investigations. The Indonesian press reported the gruesome facts, shocking public opinion, and the Armed Forces leadership (ABRI) was forced to apologise and announce the lifting of DOM.

But it soon became apparent that ABRI had no intention of responding to people’s grievances by punishing the perpetrators and ending its reign of terror. By the end of the year, new atrocities had been committed and a new, undeclared DOM was in force, which we can call DOM Mark-II.

It also became apparent that ABRI was seeking to justify its continued presence in Aceh by reinforcing the myth that the Aceh Merdeka Movement or GAM was back in action, representing a threat to law and order. As the atrocities intensified, reaching a climax with the killings in Idi Cut on 3 February, the mood of the Acehnese people changed perceptibly. They were no longer only speaking out bravely as victims and calling for retribution but questioning Aceh’s position as a part of the Indonesian Republic. This reached a climax during Habibie’s brief visit to Banda Aceh on 26 March, now known as Bloody Friday, when tens of thousands of people went onto the streets calling for a Referendum and were confronted by troops armed with teargas and rubber bullets. The army’s response was harsh and unremitting, with more than a hundred people wounded, many of them seriously.

The brutalities perpetrated by members of ABRI are largely to blame for pushing the people of Aceh into a more openly hostile attitude towards Indonesia. Early this year and well before the more recent atrocities, I warned senior Foreign Office officials that if they failed to exert pressure on Jakarta to bring a halt to military atrocities in Aceh, support for independence would grow and this is what has happened. It is a fact of history that repression sows the seeds of rebellion. The Acehnese scholar Nurdin Abdullah Rachman, who spent eight years in prison on false charges of supporting the Free Aceh guerrillas, said recently in an interview. ‘Before my arrest, I was not an Acehnese nationalist but I became one in prison’. [See TAPOL Bulletin, No 151, March 1999.] Armies bent on repression will never learn, they do not understand that they provide the best schooling for commitment to a nationalist cause.

Western powers are now expressing fears about the Balkanisation of Indonesia, preferring to keep the country together as a single entity. For them, keeping the Republic together under a strong and effective central government is the best way to invest in and exploit Indonesia’s huge natural resources. Fear of Balkanisation was the view put forward by the British officials to whom I was speaking. They assured me that, yes, Aceh was righteously seething with anger because of the massive human rights violations to which they had been subjected, but they refused to believe that independence might become an issue. I don’t know what they think now but what they fail to understand is that under Suharto’s authoritarian New Order, unrelenting army repression in the regions stifled opposition in many parts of what people call the ‘outer islands’, holding the Republic together by force. But the dynamics of society in many parts of the archipelago have changed in the post-Suharto era, and nowhere more dramatically than in Aceh.

Until recently, support for GAM was never publicly expressed in Aceh as it would have been regarded as support for the ‘GPK’ or as it is now referred to as ‘GPHdT’, branding such activities as ‘terrorist’, an offence punishable by death or long prison sentences under the draconian anti-subversion law. Today’s discourse is different. A major turning point was the meeting that preceded the atrocity in Idi Cut on 3 February when thousands of people gathered in a public place, ignoring attempts by the army to ban the event, to listen to sermons or speeches about Aceh Merdeka.

No one can accuse the students who have spearheaded the escalating movement for a Referendum of being ‘terrorists’ or ‘GPK’. Their movement is part of civil society, using peaceful means, with no pretence of being engaged in an armed struggle. I believe that this represents a far greater challenge to the powers that be in Jakarta.

Ending ABRI’s role in Aceh

When the ABRI commander-in-chief General Wiranto announced last August that non-organic troops - that is to say Kopassus - which were primarily responsible for the ten years of horrific atrocities would be withdrawn from Aceh, many people welcomed the statement with scepticism. As in East Timor, Kopassus troops became notorious for the savagery with which they tortured, killed, raped and caused the ‘disappearance’ of thousands of Acehnese. Later, there was jubilation in the streets when Kopassus soldiers departed although the celebrations proved to be short-lived as, according to recent reports, more Kopassus troops have since been brought back in.

But the announcement that a new regional military command or kodam called Iskandar Muda will be created for the province of Aceh has provoked even more anger. This will greatly reinforce the army’s presence and role in Aceh, signifying that Aceh is regarded as a territory in need of more, not less, military control and operations. Civil society has justifiably expressed its opposition to such a plan.

Opposition to the new kodam has been coupled with a call for the withdrawal of all military forces, including the territorial army. This would mean dismantling the military commands, from the korem down to the babinsa. This spells out what ending the dwifungsi really means. Taken to its logical conclusion, ending the dwifungsi is not just ending the army’s control of key positions in executive and legislative bodies but insisting on the armed forces’ role being limited to defending the country against external attack. The Indonesian army’s core structure as a territorial army, with a presence right down to the village, has enabled the military to keep a close watch on society at every level. This has been particularly effective in places like East Timor and Aceh which the authorities like to describe as daerah rawan or ‘trouble-spots’.

Ending the dwifungsi is a pre-requisite for transforming Indonesia into a truly democratic country, in which human rights are fully respected. It challenges the culture and ideology of militarism that has for so many decades dominated Indonesian political, economic and social life. It challenges the emphasis on the security approach which lies at the root of all the repression - mass arrests, torture, unjust trials and conviction and the many massacres that occurred during Suharto’s New Order.

Law and order should be a matter for a police force that is accountable to a civilian authority. In response to the many demands during the past year, the police were separated from ABRI two days ago, on 1 April. However, since the force has been placed under the Department of Defence, it is difficult to see this as little more than a cosmetic change, a tiny step forward, the donning of new caps and insignia, as some Indonesian newspapers have called it. It will take years before the police can shake itself free of the military doctrine that has dominated police training and organisational structure for so many years.

The future status of Aceh

Acehnese students and other sections of civil society are now calling for a Referendum because they see it as being the most democratic way for the people of Aceh to decide on their future status as a territory. Other groups are pressing for autonomy or federation, which means the devolution of many powers to local authorities. In West Papua where the demand for a referendum is also reverberating, people are calling it a choice between O.F.M. - otonomi, federasi atau merdeka.

It is because of this kind of pressure that the Habibie government is eager for the DPR adopt a law on autonomy before the end of this month. (Some critics believe that such a path-breaking law should not be enacted by the present Parliament which is a creation of the New Order.) The draft law devolves all powers to the regions, with the exception of International Relations, Security and Defence, Finances and Monetary Policy, and the Judiciary, which many see as a major step forward. A separate draft law, which has not yet been made public, will deal with the critical question of the division of revenues between the centre and the regions. This is especially critical for Aceh which has seen the proceeds of its abundant natural resources gobbled up by the central government, turning the region into one of the most poverty-stricken regions in the Republic.

The striking thing about the draft law however is that powers are devolved to the kabupaten and municipalities, not to the provinces. This has been described as a policy of ‘divide and rule’, an attempt to contain the tendency towards separatism which might be promoted if provinces like Aceh, Irian Jaya and Riau were invested with these powers. Nor will autonomy status grant full rights over the exploitation of natural resources which are regarded as being too strategic to be released from central government control.

Once consensus is reached in Aceh for holding a Referendum, the true nature of autonomy on offer from Jakarta will need to be ‘socialised’ so that people fully understand the options.

International campaigning

The international atmosphere today is far more conducive for issues like human rights than it was during the Cold War or, to give an example closer to home, than it was when East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in December 1975. As someone involved in building international support for East Timor from the very start, I must emphasise that it took more than fifteen years and a fearsome massacre recorded by British and US journalists - the Santa Cruz Massacre of 12 November 1991 - before East Timor really took off as an international campaign.

No one, including the western powers that supported Suharto for more than three decades, doubts anymore that the New Order was authoritarian, aggressive and murderous. International public opinion is more open these days to the sufferings and the demands of the peoples who were oppressed under that regime.

But our international campaign will only grow if it is replenished constantly with the flow of accurate information about human rights abuses, and with visits to key countries by witnesses and others who can convey the reality of the situation to the outside world. This is currently being done in Geneva, at the UN Human Rights Commission which I was unfortunately unable to attend because I wanted to be here.

I can assure you that we in TAPOL will do all we can to take part in this noble endeavour.

Thank you.

Carmel Budiardjo, TAPOL