Bulletin no. 158
A major report on the grave human rights situation in Aceh has been published by TAPOL. It documents the escalation in human rights violations since the army announced the lifting of Aceh’s designation as a ‘military operations area’ in August 1998. Among its many recommendations is a call on the Indonesian armed forces and the Free Aceh Movement to end the violence and agree to a ceasefire.
Entitled ‘A Reign of Terror: Human Rights Violations in Aceh, 1998 - 2000’, the Report focuses primarily on the human rights situation in Aceh following the lifting of DOM in August 1998. From 1989 until 1998, Aceh was designated a military operations area, giving the armed forces free rein to inflict massive human rights abuses on the people of Aceh. Following the downfall of Suharto in May 1998, Aceh was awash with complaints about the terrible things that had happened, killings, torture, disappearances, the raping of women and dozens of subversion trials. The revelations shocked the whole country.
Civil society, with women taking the lead, called for DOM to be lifted and for the perpetrators of the abuses to be brought to justice. In August 1998. the armed forces commander-in-chief General Wiranto was forced to come to Banda Aceh, to offer his apologies and announce the lifting of DOM. But nothing changed; in fact, military terror has reached a new level of ferocity. While it was estimated by Amnesty International, in a report published in 1993, that at least two thousand people killed in the three years from 1989, there were no fewer than 215 deaths in the first ten weeks of 2000. with reports of more deaths pouring in every day.
Four periods of escalating terror
The Report identifies four phases in the eighteen months since DOM was lifted.
Phase One, Intimidation and the Re-Emergence of GAM, began immediately after the end of DOM, and was characterised by the unexplained killings of a number of people thought to have been informants who had helped the armed forces during DOM. A group of eight soldiers were kidnapped and killed, apparently by GAM, the armed Free Aceh Movement, causing the security forces to seek revenge.
Phase Two, Operation Wibawa 99 - Military Massacre of Civilians began in January 1999. The ostensible reason for the new military operation was to capture an alleged GAM leader whose identity was never verified, but it led to a number of very grave incidents in which many civilians were killed in cold blood. Massacres that occurred from February until July 1999 resulted in more than a hundred deaths and a much larger number of wounded. Hundreds of school buildings were torched and tens of thousands of villagers fled from their homes and took refuge in camps for the internally displaced. Meanwhile, nothing was done, despite government promises, to bring the men guilty for crimes during DOM to justice. Confidence in the Indonesian authorities plummeted and grassroots support for GAM grew. It was also during this period that students organisations started to campaign for a referendum, to determine the future status of Aceh, either as an autonomous region of Indonesia or as an independent state.
Phase Three, Return to Shock Therapy - Operasi Sadar Rencong II covering the last five months of 1999 began in August of that year. The strategy of killing dozens of people at a time was replaced by one of attrition, with sweepings by the armed forces in villages; many people who disappeared during these operations were later found dead. GAM operations also escalated with villagers often being the ones to suffer the casualties when the security forces undertook operations against GAM. During this period, civil society was in the ascendant with demands for a referendum becoming every more persistent. A three-day mass strike occurred in August and in November an estimated one million people descended on Banda Aceh to attend a rally in favour of a referendum. There was a growing sentiment among civilian organisations that GAM operations were solving nothing and only exacerbating the situation, so the search for a peaceful solution intensified.
Phase Four, Targeting Civilian Activists - Operasi Sadar Rencong III began at the end of 1999 and with the launching of a new operation in February this year. The police chief of Aceh, announcing the new operation, said the aim was to capture eight hundred GAM activists and sym- pathisers and to adopt a ‘much more aggressive approach’. Many humanitarian workers, human rights defenders, NGO activists have been harassed, arrested, tortured and in some cases, killed. Army raids in the countryside ostensibly to search for members of GAM have resulted in many civilian deaths and disappearances. The rape and sexual harassment of women has again become a feature.
The Report ends with a number of recommendations calling on the Indonesian Government to respond to the demands of the people of Aceh for full accountability for past human rights abuses, for the creation of ad hoc human rights courts to mete out justice to the perpetrators, for the protection of witnesses, for compensation and rehabilitation for the victims of abuses, and for an end to the harassment and persecution of humanitarian activists and human rights defenders. It calls on both sides in the armed struggle to end the violence and agree to a ceasefire. It calls on the Indonesian government to call a halt to the military operations now underway in Aceh and withdraw all non-organic troops from the region including the special police forces, as the prelude to withdrawing all organic troops, leaving the security situation in the hands of a normal police force. It also addresses a call on the international community, in particular the US and EU governments, to press for the dispatch of UN special rapporteurs, in particular those dealing with extra- judicial killings, disappearances, torture and violence against women as well as the UN working group on arbitrary detentions.
Women in Aceh have been in the forefront exposing the atrocities committed in Aceh during the last decade of the Suharto era. They are also among their most harassed victims. Flower Aceh cam- paigns on their behalf and co-ordinates volunteers who visit refugee camps. Suraiya Kamaruz- zaman, the founder of Flower Aceh, spoke to Carmel Budiardjo of TAPOL when they met at a con- ference in Amsterdam in December.
What is it that prompted you to set up Flower Aceh and to start speaking out on behalf of the victims of human rights abuses?
I helped to set up Flower in 1989. I was 21 years old at the time. In those days, it focused on women’s issues, reproductive rights and helping women to set up small businesses as a way of ensuring their independence.
In 1992, I was on a job training course at Mobil Oil as part of my studies at the faculty of chemical technology. I used to return home at weekends, travelling from Lhokseumawe to Banda Aceh and I discovered that there were many corpses lying in the mountainous area through which I travelled, along the roads or down ravines. I soon realised that local people were terrified and didn’t dare to say anything about what was happening. I was told that parents were telling their children, especially their sons, not to return home during the vacations, for fear of being killed. So we began to turn our attention to monitoring these atrocities.
Some time later, I went to Jakarta to attend a workshop on feminist perspectives and I was shocked to discover that no one there had the slightest notion of what was going on in Aceh. Information was being hidden because people were too afraid to talk to outsiders, especially to foreigners. If you spoke to foreigners, military intelligence agents would check up on you afterwards with dangerous consequences.
But over the years, our volunteers have collected many photos and evidence. We have photos of soldiers holding people with guns pointed at their heads, soldiers holding up the severed heads of their victims, and we have detailed information about the perpetrators of many atrocities.
Were you aware in those days that Aceh was a ‘military operation zone’ or DOM? We abroad never heard that term used until after Suharto was removed from power.
We didn’t hear it either. What we knew was that there were frequent military operations. They were called Jaring Merah (Red Net). They happened in phases, Red Net I, II, III and IV, conducted by the military.
After Suharto stepped down, there were demands for DOM to be lifted. It was the time of reformasi and the students began to organise themselves. And people started to come forward, especially the women, to talk about the terrible abuses they had suffered. Many student organisations and NGOs came into existence. The local government also got involved in collecting information about the human rights abuses. They co-opted some of the NGOs, hoping to ensure that they would toe the government line. False NGOs were also set up. Some activists, myself included, found themselves being accused of all kinds of things. A rumour started to circulate that I was in the pay of military intelligence. The intention was to discredit us in the eyes of the people and to set us against each other, to create what we call ‘horizontal conflicts’, but it didn’t work.
In what way has Flower Aceh campaigned on behalf of women?
One of our most difficult campaigns has been to speak out on behalf of women who have been raped. This is a quite common occurrence but it’s difficult to press for the rapists to be punished. In 1997, a villager complained that she had been raped by the village chief. There was plenty of evidence to prove that this was true; people living nearby said that they had heard her scream. We decided to take this case to court and have the rapist charged. The man was actually held for five months but no one dared to testify in court against him although he had plenty of friends speaking in his defence. In the end, the case was dropped. I wrote to MUI, the ulamas’ council, urging them to condemn this and protect women against this crime, but they were not prepared to accept the victim’s evidence. The first issue of our Flower Aceh newsletter wad devoted to discussing this case.
President Wahid now says that if the people of Aceh want a referendum, he will allow you to vote on whether you want Syariah Law in Aceh. This isn’t what the referendum campaign is about is it? How did this idea emerge?
Before Gus Dur took over as president, President Habibie had a lot of trouble with Aceh during his years in office. He set up a special team to work out a strategy. The head of the team was Usman Hasan and he came up with this idea of adopting Syariah Law in Aceh. It was supported by MUI but not by the rest of us.
Another idea they had was to enact a Law on Special Autonomy for Aceh, Law 44/1999. The law has been passed but for a long time, it was very difficult to get a copy of the law. The law states that Aceh will take control in four areas - education, religion, traditional law and increasing the role of the local ulamas. As a matter of fact, Aceh is supposed to have had special autonomy since 1957. The new law adds nothing to what was granted before except for the fourth point about the ulamas. The government says it will also introduce a law allocating 75 per cent of the wealth produced by Aceh to us.
I have seen several reports recently about Acehnese women being required to wear a jilbab (head cover). Is there a regulation like this?
No, there isn’t, but many people are talking as if there was. Recently, huge banners were hung in front of the Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh, written in Indonesian, Arabic and Acehnese, saying that women must wear head covers. There is no such law but this is being promoted as a distraction from the real issues, bringing human rights violators to account and holding a referendum.
There have been many instances where women have been attacked for not wearing a jilbab. There have been raids in the streets against women whose heads are uncovered and some have even had their hair shaved off. Sad to say, some women do this kind of thing. My organisation became so concerned about this that we held a press conference on 4 October 1999. We said that wearing a jilbab is a personal matter and the state has no right to interfere and make it compulsory. While making so much fuss about jilbab, the authorities do absolutely nothing to protect women against acts of violence like rape.
Strange to say, it’s far more difficult for people to speak out on the jilbab issue than to protest about the presence of the military. When we protest about the jilbab, we are accused of being anti-Islam and that gets you into real trouble!
Aceh is not like Ambon where there are two distinct religious communities, so they have to create horizontal conflicts along different lines, setting men against women and even women against women.
Why are women being harassed in this way?
Well, Acehnese women have always played a very militant role. During the Acehnese War at the end of the 19th century, they even occupied positions of command. Under Suharto, they were heavily suppressed but after DOM was lifted, the women were the ones who spoke out first and most courageously.
This is seen as being the way to undermine civil society. The question of how women dress and what they do is becoming the main issue. It’s now being said that women shouldn’t be allowed to teach gymnastics and physical education in school.
What will you be doing when you return home?
I’ll go back to monitoring conditions in the refugee camps. This often gets us into hot water, you know, because the security forces accuse us of being pro-GAM which is absolute rubbish.
Just before I left for Holland, there was an attempt by some men to burn down one of the camps that had been set up in the vicinity of a mosque. The man involved was caught. He was thoroughly searched and a Kopassus card was found in his trouser pocket, showing he was in fact from the army. We handed him over to the security forces, to the police and he was sent to Jakarta but we never heard what happened to him afterwards.
Thank you for sharing your experiences with me.
For three weeks in December and January, I was able for the first time ever to visit East Timor. I had been invited to be one of the facilitators for a media course but this visit provided me with an excellent opportunity to learn about East Timor at this new phase of its history and to meet old friends. Here are my impressions.
I had been prepared for the worst. I knew of the destruction that had been wrought on the country as the forces of occupation withdrew in a fit of wrath and vengeance. Having been involved in solidarity work for East Timor since 1975, it has become part of my daily routine to follow the situation there closely. Being in East Timor has a kind of familiarity for me. Not only because the many people I know but also all the places I visit always has the historic connection with a certain moment or incident in the past two decades.
Bad as things were, I soon realised that not quite everything had been destroyed, not so bad for instance as the devastation the Russian army has inflicted on Grozny. Several neighbourhoods of Dili have been left unscathed or only partly destroyed. By comparison, when the Dutch left Indonesia in the late 1940s, the Republic’s new elite had plenty of finely-furnished houses for them to occupy and claim as their own.
During my stay in Dili, I was accommodated in a house that had formerly been the home of AURI (the Indonesian Air Force) officers, which is now home to several East Timorese families as well as being the meeting point for media activists. It was in the leafy area of Farol, a rather grand, colonial-style house built during the Portuguese era. Stripped of all its furnishings, conditions were very basic, sleeping on the floor on mats, but it was a great pleasure for me to bask in the warmth and generous hospitality of my East Timorese friends.
Now that the Indonesian occupation has ended, East Timorese walk with a light step and a smile on their face. It was such a pleasure to celebrate Christmas without the presence of the dreaded Indonesian army. But Dili was still heavily militarised because of the overwhelming presence of INTERFET troops. I had the impression that the troops had nothing much to do in Dili so they engaged in unnecessary manoeuvres in the streets. Almost every day, there were tanks rolling in the streets and helicopters droning over the houses, much to everyone’s annoyance.
There is something almost surreal about living in a newly liberated country where nothing that we normally associate with modern living exists. When I arrived at the airport, there were no immigration officers to pester me (this has since changed). There were no local police officers, no public services, no local laws, no shops, no newspapers, practically nothing was there. One only realises what this means when you are confronted with such a situation. There’s nowhere to go shopping, no supermarket, no department store or corner shop, as they say in London. This creates its own problems. Even for a tablet to cure a headache you have to go to a clinic or hospital and buying a light bulb can mean searching for hours.
In the weeks that I was there, a very basic market economy was slowly coming back to life. At the central market in Dili, small traders or farmers were selling a few products like vegetables and fruit (they were better than anything I had ever tasted). Street vendors were beginning to emerge, mostly selling fresh vegetables. A few restaurants had (re)opened as well as some cigarette kiosks, mostly selling the Indonesian clove cigarettes which are very popular among the Timorese. But with everything in short supply, prices had spiralled beyond the reach of the vast majority of East Timorese.
Another strange experience was living in a city without laws and regulations. There was plenty of traffic but no traffic police. The huge influx of vehicles belonging to the UN and the many international NGOs is perhaps the most striking symbol of East Timor in transition. Brand new cars were to be seen everywhere, all sporting their own license plates, Australian, Portuguese, British, Canadian, and with plenty of Indonesian licence plates as well. The Indonesian presence was still visible everywhere, on billboards and boards in front of buildings that until recently had been occupied by Indonesian organisations and offices.
As always, there is a positive side to all this; electricity has been restored in Dili and is free (for the moment) though it doesn’t always work, and there were quite a few blackouts during my short stay.
While I was there, the UN started to set up a rudimentary court system and twenty East Timorese law graduates, all from Indonesian universities, were given a crash course on how to run the transitional judiciary. The new law officials will hopefully fill the gap of uncertainty, building up a set of criteria for arresting and interrogating people. A sense of justice needs to be established, in particular to deal with those who were involved in militia gangs.
There was (and still is) no such thing as a civil service. It was not clear to me how such basic things as getting married or what kind of travel document the East Timorese will get in this transitional period. Public transport, which is privately run as in many parts of Asia, was functioning but public services like the post and garbage collection were not. There was no phone service and UN and NGO officials relied on Australian hand-phones powerful enough to reach Dili.
But these are trivial as compared to the much vaster problem for the UN, creating from scratch some of the essential institutions such as a country-wide fiscal authority, a banking system and a civil service.
Timor Loro Sae is at the cross-roads on the way to full independence. The administration is a hybrid, run by the UN in consultation with the East Timorese, with the latter being much less than a junior partner. The UN has been given the task, within these two years, of creating optimal conditions for the East Timorese to run an independent country but as far as I could see, the imbalance between the two was creating its own difficulties and causing resentment and frustration among local people.
The first year of the new millennium has been declared by CNRT, the East Timorese political umbrella, as the year of emergency, the year in which solving the humanitarian crisis in East Timor is the top priority. The humanitarian crisis covers absolutely everything, food, shelter, security, electricity, water, education and health care. Each of these sectors is fraught with problems.
Early on, the CNRT set an emergency taskforce but it soon became apparent that there would be many practical as well as structural problems. During the weeks I was in East Timor, two important meetings were held. One was between the CNRT and the big international NGOs (BINGOs) in Dili on 17 December. On the previous day in Tokyo, twenty-four East Timorese NGOs had a meeting with twenty NGOs from all parts of the world. On both occasions, the wishes and grievances of the East Timorese were addressed.
The East Timorese are deeply worried that during this transitional period, a dual economy is coming into being with negative consequences for the population. They fear that most of the attention will be on urban development at the expense of the rural sector, and that there will be a disparity between administrative costs and the development budgets of the UN and BINGOs.
The grassroots activists with whom I spent much of my time want the emergency phase to be as brief as possible and to give way to the development phase. Experience around the world shows that emergency aid creates a culture of dependency and promotes negative attitudes regarding such important principles as food self-reliance and reconstruction. Everything that I heard during my short visit and since leads me to the regrettable conclusion that the emer gency phase now underway in East Timor is fundamentally flawed because it excludes that critical element which was so important during the country’s resistance to the forces of occupation, the participation of the people. The UN pays lip service to this principle of participation when it speaks of ...‘organised efforts to increase control over resources and regulative institutions in given social conditions, on the part of groups and movements of those hitherto excluded from such control’.
The more radical activists had come to the conclusion that, after three months, the UN/BINGO system had failed to involve the population in the task of reconstruction.
The UN and the BINGOs
In an attempt to reverse the lack of people’s participation, the CNRT leadership has stressed the importance of partnership with the transitional UN administration but day to day experience shows that ‘partnership’ usually means nothing more than being consulted. Many of the BINGOs lack a basic knowledge of East Timor. I discovered that some of their officials knew nothing about the flourishing network of local NGOs and some didn’t even know who Xanana Gusmao was. The BINGOs complain about the unwillingness of East Timorese to attend their meetings but it is often understandable that the East Timorese doesn’t want to get involved in the bureaucracy and intricacies of the BINGOs.
This warped understanding is reflected in an unwillingness to co-operate with Timorese organisations. Initially OCHA, the co-ordinating body of UN humanitarian agencies, refused to liaise with the CNRT and only wanted to work with the Catholic Church in their relief activities. Whatever its weaknesses, having been so heavily persecuted during the months leading up to last August’s ballot, the CNRT is often the only political structure in the village; the CNRT should under no circumstances be ignored in the distribution of relief. Things have improved but there is another stumbling block, the lack of co-ordination between the UN and the BINGOs or in between the BINGOs.
Another delicate matter is the extent to which East Timorese are employed by the UN and the BINGOs. With most staff positions already filled by foreigners, the only vacancies left for East Timorese are unskilled, low-paid jobs. UN and BINGO officials are highly paid and enjoy a very different standard of living from the East Timorese, which has given birth to a dualistic economy with all the dangers of social envy and incitement to petty crime. This has had a negative impact on the growth of East Timorese NGOs and on East Timorese civil society in general. While local NGOs lack everything, even the most basic office equipment such as paper, pens and pencils, staplers and envelopes, not to speak of office space, computers and photocopiers, their well-endowed international counterparts have everything in abundance. But many East Timorese intellectuals and activists have turned down jobs on offer by the UN and the BINGOs, even though this would transform their economic circumstances, preferring to work with their local groups and devoting their energies to strengthening civil society which they see as being incompatible with working in a UN/BINGO environment.
The UN hopes to wind up its role in East Timor within two years although that could be extended if the basic structures are not yet in place. It has drafted concrete plans for reconstruction but the wheels of the UN turn very slowly. In the three weeks I was there, I saw nothing that could be remotely described as reconstruction. Even now, much needed building material and equipment have not arrived and people are still unable to start rebuilding their destroyed homes and schools.
Many of the UN personnel I spoke to were aware of the problems and agreed that it is difficult to get things done in East Timor. A major problem is the lack of funds. Only one third of the money pledged by the international community to help East Timor has been forthcoming so far.
One major unresolved problem relates to the return of refugees from West Timor and other parts of Indonesia. I soon realised that part of the problem lies within East Timor. I met many East Timorese who had recently returned home from refugee camps in the interior of East Timor or in West Timor.
The refugees in West Timor confront a complex situation with many being trapped in camps that remain under the control of militia gangs. [See TAPOL Bulletin No 156, February 2000.] But there are many who are reluctant to return home for the time being for a variety of reasons, including the fear of reprisals from the population. There have been instances when people who returned home were beaten up by the population. Feelings of anger still run deep among the East Timorese for the terrible destruction wrought on their villages and homes, for which they hold the army-backed militias responsible. Many of the people who return from West Timor are eyed with suspicion while the lack of any authority or accountability for these crimes only aggravates the problem. Several hundred returnees have sought protection from the Falintil forces in Aileu.
One incident during my stay involved a group of Indonesian refugees who had arrived back in Dili from West Timor. They had lived in East Timor for several decades and had come to regard East Timor as their home. Misunderstandings and feelings of resentment among East Timorese led to an outburst of anger in the neighbourhood where they were re-settled but fortunately Jose Ramos-Horta was on hand to talk to the East Timorese and persuade them to receive the new arrivals back as friends and the incident ended happily.
Another grave problem is health and the availability of medical services. For many years, tuberculosis and malaria have been major killers in East Timor. Living for months in close proximity in refugee camps caused the incidence of TB to intensify, while the many unfilled ditches and empty houses have become the breeding ground during the rainy season for mosquitoes, spreading malaria and dengue fever. Although a number of medical teams had arrived from various parts of the world, the state of health of the population is still very poor. I saw many very sick people wherever I went, East Timorese and foreigners alike. Almost everyone in the house where I was staying came down with something or other. Darwin has become a relief post for the very sick, mostly foreigners, and I was told that there were more than a thousand people from East Timor being treated there.
The CNRT is the only East Timorese political organisation which has a presence down to the villages. Despite its many problems, it is impressive to see that it has been able to mobilise the population to a considerable degree. But certain internal weaknesses had already begun to emerge in the early months of the emergency. By its very nature, the CNRT is a joint political platform consisting of groups and individuals with different political persuasions which has made it difficult structurally to adopt united positions on a number of burning issues.
UN officials have been known to complain that CNRT leaders take different positions on some issues. It is unlikely to expect this fragile unity to improve in the coming months, especially as general elections are due to be held in East Timor within two years. This means that the several political strands in the CNRT are bound to go their own way, emerging as distinct political parties. A new political map is already beginning to emerge, reflecting the transformation of East Timor into a pluralist society. While the old parties like Fretilin, UDT and Apodeti will take their rightful place, other parties are certain to appear, adding to the mosaic enriching East Timor’s post-colonial era. One party that has already emerged is the PST, the Socialist Party of Timor, which is represented on the transitional leadership of the CNRT administration. It is questionable whether the many activists will feel at home in any of the political groupings. I do believe many will remain active in their respective NGO constituencies.
The CNRT’s president and vice-president, Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos Horta, are enormously popular. Indeed, the East Timorese are lucky to have such experienced, impressive leaders. But at the same time, the CNRT leadership has failed as yet to recruit new blood from the hundreds of activists who did so much to keep the resistance alive under conditions of clandestinity during the final years of the Indonesian occupation, both in East Timor and Indonesia. Many of the second echelon CNRT leaders originate from the diaspora, mostly from Australia and Portugal, and an uneasy relationship now exists between former clandestine cadres and leaders from the diaspora. The decision to adopt Portuguese as the official language hasn’t helped to bridge the gap; this is not the language of the younger generation of East Timorese who speak Indonesian fluently but mostly struggle with Portuguese. The extensive use of Indonesian made it easy for me to communicate with almost everyone I met and to get a clearer picture of the present situation.
In the difficult days of the Indonesian occupation, the Catholic Church played a critically important role in protecting and organising the people but now, things have changed. Of course, the role of the church is still important. I attended traditional masses at Christmas and New Year with thousands of people present. But these days, Bishop Ximenes Belo is much less prominent as a public figure than during the Indonesian occupation.
An incident during New Year’s Eve celebrations in front of the former governor’s office drew attention to a rather awkward clash of traditions. A big party had been organised by INTERFET and the CNRT to entertain the troops and the population, but this clashes with the tradition of going to midnight mass. Some angry church activists grabbed the mike and urged the crowd to go the church but most people stayed.
In public affairs, it is now the CNRT rather than the Church which organises the people politically while local NGOs are building a vibrant civil society. With time, the Church and its many followers will surely fit into this changed milieu.
During the media training I had been invited to assist, I was deeply moved by the boundless enthusiasm of the participants, eager to start up a range of media outlets. The moment the facilities are available, radio programmes, newspapers and magazines will begin to appear. At the end of the media course, the participants announced the establishment of a Timor Loro Sae Journalists’ Association, with mainstream and activist journalists joining forces in the new association.
NGO activists across the board have been quick off the mark. The impressive Yayasan Hak is continuing with its human rights work while others have come into existence, a Commission for Human Rights, women’s organisations as well as wide range of other NGOs.
During my stay I also attended a public meeting organised by Yayasan Hak to greet the return home of the last batch of East Timorese political prisoners. The seventeen ex-prisoners, all staunch freedom fighters, spent many years in prisons in Indonesia, accused of terrorism and other acts of subversion. I was reminded of South Africa where many top leaders spent years in prison because of their convictions. It was an emotional meeting and Xanana Gusmao, himself an ex-political prisoner, was the first one to speak.
The youth of East Timor are also finding their own place in civil society. A new group called Forum Demokrasi already exists with left-wing credentials. The more established youth and student organisations like Renetil, Ojetil and Solidaritas Mahasiswa have also begun to re-organise themselves.
During my stay, preparations for the Renetil congress were under way. Many Renetil activists played an important role during their years of study at Indonesian universities, promoting the issue of East Timor to the outside world. Over the years, TAPOL worked closely with these activists and it was thrilling to be there among old friends, sharing their enthusiasm. I was privileged to be able to attend several preparatory meetings along with hundreds of participants. One of the options considered was for Renetil to become a political party but it was decided at their congress in January to continue as a mass organisation, functioning also as a political watchdog. The existence of organisations like Renetil is a guarantee that East Timorese civil society will remain vibrant and alert, bridging the gap between the population and the UN/BINGOs.
Having been a campaigner for so many years, I realise how much East Timor has changed. The international solidarity movement for East Timor must come to terms with this new situation. Dozens of activists are already involved in helping the reconstruction of the country. Others have drawn the conclusion that now that the main task, the right of self determination, has been achieved, their future role in solidarity with East Timor will need to be adjusted. I think the time has come to reconsider the strategy.
Liem Soei Liong
A draft bill for the creation of a human rights court has been finalised and has been submitted to the Indonesian parliament, the DPR. If enacted, this will be a major advance towards ending the cy- cle of impunity in Indonesia. Many analysts abroad are pessimistic that this can happen in short term and demand an international court for the crimes committed in East Timor in 1999.
It has taken months for the drafting committee composed of lawyers, government officials and human rights activists to agree on a bill that would make it possible for past crimes against humanity to be tried in courts with the necessary powers to try grave human rights abuses while not infring- ing the key principle of non-retroactivity that underpins the legal system. The modus reached was for the new law to set up a permanent human rights court without retroactive pow- ers, while enabling the president to set up ad hoc courts with similar powers to try specific past crimes.
Countless crimes committed during the 33 years of the Suharto dictatorship are now queuing up to be investigated and taken to court. They include: the massacre of hundreds of Muslims in Tanjung Priok, near Jakarta in September 1984, the attack on the head office of the Indonesian De- mocracy Party headed by Megawati Sukarnoputri in July 1996, the multiple atrocities perpetrated against the people of Aceh from 1989 - 1998 and subsequently, and the orgy of violence that struck East Timor before and after the ballot on 30 August 1999 when more than 78 per cent of East Timorese voted for independence.
Crimes against humanity becomes law
The new law inscribes into law a number of gross or extraordinary crimes as defined under international hu- manitarian law which until now have not been indictable under Indonesia’s Criminal Code. These include the crimes of genocide, enforced disappearances, slavery and torture, in all cases as defined in international conventions. Another critical addition to the statute books is the principle of ‘command responsibility’ which makes officers liable to prosecution for the criminal acts of subordinates under their command or for failing to exercise proper control, failing to prevent the crimes or failing to submit the matter to the competent authorities for investigation and prosecution. Un- til now, senior army officers have enjoyed impunity; in the few cases where soldiers have been charged for abuses, they have been from the lower ranks and charged with ‘procedural errors’ or ‘exceeding orders’, while those who issued the orders have escaped prosecution. Under the draft law now before the DPR, commanding officers will be li- able to the same penalty as the officers who actually com- mitted the crime. Several of the crimes included in the bill provide for a penalty of up to life imprisonment. The law excludes the use of the death penalty.
The law also makes provision for ad hoc judges to be appointed who need not be lawyers who normally function as judges but will the appointed for their proven integrity and commitment to human rights. It is widely acknowledged that the judiciary in Indonesia is riddled with corruption. Judges by and large are susceptible to external pressures and are part of a profession with no tradition in upholding human rights.
Crimes of humanity in East Timor
The first ad hoc court that is likely to be established will be for crimes against humanity that were committed in East Timor during 1999. As we reported in our previous issue [TAPOL Bulletin, No 155/156, January-February 2000], national and international teams undertook investigations in East Timor in the latter months of 1999. Both teams were restricted to investigating crimes committed during 1999. The lengthy catalogue of crimes going back to the invasion in December 1975 and before are therefore excluded, much to the dissatisfaction of human rights activists around the world.
The UN is under strong pressure to set up an interna- tional tribunal to try perpetrators of crimes against humanity in East Timor, as it has done for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. However, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan has made it clear that he will not request the Security Council to do so if Indonesia succeeds in setting up its own court with powers to try crimes against humanity in conformity with international standards. Hence much depends on whether Indonesia is able, within a reasonable time, to set up a court properly empowered to try such cases.
Indonesia’s Commission to Investigate Violations of Human Rights (KPP HAM) in East Timor published its findings on 31 January. The 16-page Executive Summary (the report itself runs into around two thousand pages) named thirty persons, including seventeen senior and mid- dle-ranking officers of the Indonesian armed forces and po- lice, who should undergo further investigation The remain- der on the list are Timorese militia leaders along with a few East Timorese administration officials. General Wiranto who was commander in chief of the armed forces gets a spe- cial mention in the report as being the person who should bear responsibility ‘for failing to guarantee security during the implementation of the two options announced by the government’. This makes Wiranto liable to possible indict- ment as the one responsible for the debacle.
The full report contains many more names of persons re- garded as having been directly or indirectly involved in crimes so it is not at present possible to say precisely how many people are likely to face prosecution.
From the Executive Summary it is clear that the KPP HAM’s investigations were thorough-going and comprehen- sive. They included systematic mass murders, torture and ill- treatment, enforced disappearances, gender-based violence, forced displacement of civilians, the scorched-earth policy, sexual slavery and the crime of rape. The Commission dealt in detail with a number of primary cases including the mas- sacre at the Liquica Church in April, the attack a couple of weeks later on the home of Manuel Carrascalao, the attack on the residence of Bishop Belo and the Dili Diocese, mur- ders in Maliana, the massacre at the Suai church when three priests and at least fifty people were slain, the murder of Sander Thoenes, the Dutch journalist, and the killing of re- ligious figures in Los Palos. The latter two crimes were committed shortly after the arrival in East Timor of the in- ternational peace-keeping force.
The Commission made a number of recommendations calling for the setting up of a human rights court, for secu- rity guarantees for witnesses and for rehabilitation and com- pensation for the victims and their families. It also called on the National Human Rights Commission to conduct investi- gations into all human rights violations in East Timor since 1975. In addition, it called for the ‘re-positioning’ of the Indonesian armed forces to transform it into a security in- stitution that hold human rights in high esteem as befits a democratic state.
The next steps
Within weeks of the KPP HAM arriving on the desk of Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman (who was until re- cently the chair of the National Human Rights Commission), the KPP HAM report had been examined and accepted as the basis for initiating the interrogation of witnesses and possible suspects in preparation for court proceedings. At the beginning of March, Darusman announced that these preparations would be completed within three months. De- pending on the speed with which the DPR deliberates upon the human rights court draft bill, it is possible that an ad hoc court for East Timor will come into being in time to start trying army and police officers and militia leaders.
But much now depends on the composition of the inter- rogation team, the appointment of prosecutors and of ad hoc judges to hear the cases. Already problems have arisen over the decision of the attorney general to include personnel from the police and the military police in the interrogation team. The leaders of Indonesia’s three leading human rights and legal aid institutions have declined invitations to join the team, arguing that they regard the inclusion of these officers as unacceptable. The attorney general knows very well that if these human rights activists refuse to participate, the inter- rogation team will lose all credibility. It remains to be seen how this dispute will be resolved. Furthermore the UN will be closely monitoring developments, as will the international solidarity movement.
In TAPOL’s view, a successful outcome leading to credible investigations and acceptable courts run by persons of high integrity will represent an important victory for civil society in Indonesia. Failure to achieve this will intensify pressure on the UN to press ahead with the creation of an international tribunal. The East Timorese people who have suffered so much at the hands of the Indonesian occupiers have a right to justice; international community is morally bound to ensure that this happens either in domestic courts or before an international tribunal.
President Abdurrahman Wahid has taken the unprecedented step of publicly stated that his gov- ernment would support any initiatives from society for the 1965/1966 massacres to be investigated.
Endorsing a probe into the killings on a nationwide, phone-in television talk-show, President Wahid said it would be the government's task ‘to follow up the findings of the investigations, to punish those...who are found guilty.’ In his bold initiative to force people to confront the evil that ushered in Suharto’s New Order, Wahid also said: ‘It will be very good if the case is opened...because many people claimed that the communists were guilty, but many others did not believe that. Therefore it should go to the court.’
Recently, Indonesia has been awash with demands for past grave abuses to be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. But the only people calling for an investigation into the 1965 killings are former political prisoners whose efforts have been largely rebuffed. [See TAPOL Bulletin No 156, January/February 2000 for an interview of Sulami.] When Sulami’s organisation, the Institute for the Study of the 1965/66 Massacres (YPKP), met members of the National Human Rights Commission recently to ask them to investigate the 1965 killings, they were told that this could not be done because the MPR anti-communist decree adopted in 1966 was still in force.
Wahid: ‘I have already apologised’
In his televised interview, President Wahid who is popularly known as Gus Dur, went even further, implicating his own organisation. ‘Frankly speaking, I have apologised long ago for the killings of those alleged members of the Communist party.’ He said that members of his own party, the Nahdlatul Ulama, had joined in the bloodletting. The party at the time was headed by his father. The NU was, and still is, one of the biggest Muslim organisations in the world.
Interviewed in a documentary made by Mike Carey And screened by Dateline in late 1998, a senior NU member, Jusuf Hasjim, who is Wahid’s uncle, admitted that he took a leading role in organising Banser, a youth organisation affiliated to the NU for the specific purpose of joining in the killings. He said that Hitler’s Mein Kampf had provided the inspiration on how to organise the youth.
Interviewed in the documentary, Gus Dur said that people knew that ‘it was Suharto who was involved in the killing of the six generals (on 1 October)’ which later became the justification for slaughtering hundreds of thousands of people. [See TAPOL Bulletin, No 153, July 1999]
The killings which took the lives of at least half a million people began in October 1965 when General Suharto ordered his crack troops, RPKAD, (now Kopassus) to go to Central Java and exterminate the PKI. Gangs of youths from various political groups were recruited, armed and trained by the Indonesian army to join in the killing.
Responses to the Wahid initiative
The question of what happened in 1965 touches many raw nerves. Circles close to the military and to some Muslim parties were clearly unhappy, claiming that such an investigation ‘would benefit no one’. Retired General Hasnan Habib said people should accept the bloody event ‘as part of history’ because of ‘the darkness and mystery blanketing the event’. [Jakarta Post, 17 March] Amien Rais of the Muslim party PAN, who chairs the MPR, said the president should ‘clarify’ his apology to the victims of the 1965 purges, adding that Indonesia must guard against reviving the communist party and teachings. [South China Morning Post, 23 March] while the chair of the NU, Hasyim Mazadi insisted that the 1966 MPR Decree banning the PKI should never be lifted. [Media Indonesia, 20 March] However, speaking on behalf of the Indonesian air force, Commodore Bachrum Rasir, said that those witnesses still living ‘bore a moral responsibility... to clarify the event.’ [Jakarta Post, 17 March] Leading figures in the air force were implicated in the 1 October 1965 event and the present leaders of the force have been pressing for a review of what happened, in order to clear their predecessors.
However, the leading English-language daily, The Jakarta Post,[17 March] was outspoken in its praise for Wahid: ‘Indonesia must count as one of the few nations in the world which can remain indifferent to the carnage that saw more than half a million of their own people killed 30 years ago.’ Arguing that people’s acceptance of the tragedy ‘explains the nation’s penchant for violence today’, it said in conclusion: ‘The ultimate aim in reopening the G30S file is to clear, once and for all, our conscience of this collective guilt.’
TAPOL hailed Gus Dur’s statement, saying: 'At a time when many groups in Indonesia are pressing for numerous human rights abuses and killings to be investigated, it is important to realise that all those targeted - imprisoned, torture, killed during the 33 years of the Suharto New Order were victims of the same repressive machinery which Suharto created, built on the bones of the victims of the 1965/1966 massacre. It is important that President Wahid has added his voice to these demands by calling for a probe into this massacre, in the face of possible opposition from circles within the army and other groups in Indonesian society who still bear deep, irrational grudges against the Indonesian communist party and the leftwing movement which was decimated by Suharto's killer thugs.' TAPOL Bulletin No. 157, April 2000
While much attention is paid to the more extreme acts of repression perpetrated by the Indonesian military and to the high-level struggle for political dominance between military hard-liners, reformers, civilian politicians and civil society, it is at the grassroots where the most insidious repression occurs and where the role of the military has to be decisively challenged. An important new report highlights the particular need to end military involvement in the workplace.
The territorial command structure of the armed forces is such that military personnel are stationed at every level of the civilian administration right down to the village level. One particularly oppressive aspect of this is the pervasive role of the military in industrial relations and in suppressing labour rights.
The new report, UK Companies Operating in Indonesia: Responses to ethical trade issues by labour consultants Celia Mather and Maggie Burns confirms that military intervention takes many forms. Troops are used to quell strikes and demonstrations. Military intelligence officers ('Intel') are placed inside factories to spy on and intimidate activists. Retired army staff are employed as 'personnel managers'. Military representatives are present during negotiations between management, police and official trades union representatives to resolve strikes. Local communities and families are often intimidated when there is a workers' protest.
The need for ethical standards
The report, published by the Catholic Institute for International Relations, points out that while the ethical and social standards of foreign investors have gained a high profile in recent years, what has been missing from most discussions and existing Codes of Conduct is a recognition of the harmful affect of military involvement in the workplace in countries such as Indonesia. Foreign companies and their governments must address this issue if they are serious about raising ethical standards.
This and other related issues are examined by the authors in their study of selected UK manufacturing companies with production facilities in Indonesia and of production facilities owned by non-UK nationals producing goods for the UK market. The views of all stakeholders, including workers and company representatives, are obtained where possible. The companies featured include C&A, Coats Viyella, Marks & Spencer, Next, Sears and Pentland.
Allied to the issue of military intervention in the workplace is the problem of bribery and corruption involving 'illegal payments' to the military and civil authorities. Payment of bribes and levies is estimated to account for 15-25 per cent of production costs in the garments industry and up to 40 per cent in other industries. By contrast, labour costs generally represent less than 15 per cent of production costs. It is clearly in the companies' own interests to halt the financial drain represented by these extra-legal payments.
No concern for workers’ well-being
The report is concerned that British firms' demand for consumer safety does not appear to be matched by practical action to protect the safety and well-being of workers. Core international labour standards and Indonesian national legislation are routinely ignored. Working standards are poor and wages are kept low despite the fact that Indonesian-made goods have historically been highly profitable for UK-based retailers. The authors estimate that if the Indonesian manufacturer PT Sindoll Pratama, for example, raised the wages of its staff by 75 per cent and passed the cost on to the UK buyer, Pentland, the cost to Pentland would be just £350,000 a year, equivalent to less than one per cent of annual operating profit.
Some of the worst affected workers are young women working in low-waged, labour-intensive export industries, such as garments and shoes. Often, the terms and conditions applying to women workers are inferior to those enjoyed by men and women often receive lower rates of pay. Women can face sexual harassment and pregnancy can be used as an excuse to dismiss workers.
Britain is the second-largest foreign investor in Indonesia after Japan and British companies have a particular responsibility to ensure that the serious issues raised by this report are comprehensively addressed. The British Government must work with the companies and demonstrate that the so-called ethical dimension of foreign policy is just as important as the commercial dimension. 'UK Companies Operating in Indonesia' is available from the publishers, CIIR (Tel: 020 7354 0883; Email: email@example.com) at £4.50.
A draft labour law which was submitted to parliament in February by Manpower Minister Bomer Pasaribu has been strongly criticised by the Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI) and other NGOs for bowing to the wishes of the IMF and international capital and ignoring the basic interests of the workers. The draft law incorporates a number of ministerial decrees regulating the right of workers to form trade unions. Some decrees date back to the days when retired Admiral Sudomo was labour minister; Sudomo headed Suharto’s notorious security agency, Kopkamtib, before taking on the job of controlling labour.
Munir of the YLBHI said that the law would enhance the powers of the executive to intervene in labour affairs, instead of strengthening their independence. [Suara Pembaruan, 25 March]
The YLBHI and the PBHI, both legal aid organisations which deal with labour rights, have made strong representations to the DPR for the draft bill to be rejected on the grounds that it would restrict the right to set up unions. What the DPR should be doing, they said, is to ratify the 1948 International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of Workers' Right to Organise. Johnson Panjaitan of the PBHI said: ‘Articles in the bill clearly show that the government is trying to control workers. It's a violation of the freedom to organise’. The fact that the bill gave the ministry of manpower the authority to register unions would effectively allow the government to limit workers’ right to set up unions. The bill was also silent on the right to strike. [Jakarta Post, 28 March]
Pasaribu’s appointment as minister of manpower by President Wahid last October attracted widespread condemnation from workers’ organisations and many calls for his dismissal. Pasaribu chaired the FSPSI, the only trade union permitted to exist during the Suharto dictatorship, which invariably took the side of the employers during labour disputes and was always deeply distrusted by workers.