Call for Probe of Indonesian Rights Violations

A new report by Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights on "gross human rights violations" during the 30-year campaign by Indonesia's military to suppress the separatist Free Aceh movement is likely to be ignored as its predecessor, about the appalling violence that took place against Communists in 1965, was a year ago.

Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director, held a press conference in Jakarta to add Amnesty International's voice to the report, which was published two weeks ago. The briefing, No Peace without Justice, examines how countless victims and family members in Aceh are still left without knowing the truth about the conflict, and highlights a number of cases of human rights violations by the security forces.

"Eight years after the Aceh conflict's end, the legacy of the violence is still part of the daily reality for thousands of people in the region," Arradon said. "While victims and their families welcome the improved security situation, they cannot understand why their demands for truth, justice and reparation are being ignored."

The National Commission on Human Rights, known by its Indonesian name Komnas HAM, issued a report on the events of 1965 a year ago that impelled President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to call for an investigation of the military's excesses during the campaign and for a national reconciliation.

Yudhoyono oversaw the 2005 Aceh peace deal ending the conflict. Amnesty International today called on the Indonesian President to "show his commitment to long lasting peace in Aceh by meeting the victims' demands before his term comes to an end next year."

Beyond calling attention to the Komnas Ham report, however, Yudhoyono has taken no other action. Nor has action been taken on a wide range of other human rights abuses by government officials, including the murder of human rights campaigner Munir Said Thalib, who was active in the Aceh and other controversies. Munir, as he was known nationally, was poisoned with arsenic in a glass of orange juice aboard a Garuda Indonesia flight to Amsterdam to pursue a master's degree at Utrecht University. The murder was laid at the feet of alleged mastermind Muchdi Purwopranjono, then the country's intelligence chief, who was acquitted by a Jakarta court under suspicious circumstances in 2009.

One of the officers accused but never fully investigated over human rights charges from East Timor and Jakarta in the 1990s, Prabowo Subianto, is not only free but stands a reasonably good chance of being elected president, succeeding Yudhoyono in next year's national elections. Special Forces troops commanded by Prabowo allegedly went on a murderous spree, at one point kidnapping and torturing nine democracy activists who later said they had been kicked, punched, beaten and given electric shocks.

Prabowo, then the son in law of the late strongman Suharto, was also accused of using his command to foment riots in Jakarta that resulted in the rape and murder of nearly 1,000 Chinese during the onset of the Asian Financial Crisis and Suharto's fall from power.

"Indonesia, like most countries in the region, has very little constituency for human rights investigations," said a Jakarta-based political analyst. "So many terrible things have happened to so many people and yet the country rarely gets to the bottom of any of it. Given that nothing much is done even on current cases like attacks on churches or Ahmadiyah by civilian radicals, I would be surprised if the government were to do anything to investigate past military abuses."

The Aceh conflict between the armed pro-independence movement Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) and the Indonesian government dated back to 1976, and peaked during military operations from 1989 until 2005. Between 10,000 and 30,000 were killed in the conflict, many of them civilians.

"Both sides committed widespread human rights abuses during the conflict, many of which constitute crimes under international law and may amount to war crimes," said the Amnesty International report. "Human rights violations directed by the Indonesian security forces may amount to crimes against humanity."

Thousands are still in the dark about the fate of "disappeared" loved ones, while only a handful of cases related to conflict abuses have been investigated, and not a single one since 2005, according to the human rights organization's report.

In its new report, Komnas HAM examined five key cases, including the infamous 1999 Simpang KKA incident when the military shot dead 21 protesters, and the torture and ill-treatment of detainees at the Rumoh Geudong military post in Pidie in 1997-98.

"Komnas HAM intends to follow up on its investigation by launching an inquiry, which could eventually lead to investigation and prosecution in a human rights court," Arradon said. "These recent developments within Komnas HAM are positive and show that the issue is alive and needs attention. Many victims believe that with truth, justice and reparation, the peace process can not only be supported but can be strengthened," said Arradon.

"Aceh lacks a comprehensive reparation program aimed specifically at victims of human rights abuses and their families. Many women survivors of sexual violence have been unable to receive any financial or medical assistance for what they suffered, and must be supported as a priority," she added.