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Aceh at risk of returning to violence, Amnesty says

Jakarta Globe - April 19, 2013

Laura Dawson, Gabriel Kereh & Tito Summa Siahaan – The specter of a resurgence in violence in Aceh looms large unless past rights abuses are properly addressed, a human rights group said on Thursday, in a warning that suggests its economic recovery could be derailed following three decades of separatist insurgency and a devastating tsunami.

In its report "Time to Face the Past in Aceh – Justices for Past Abuses in Indonesia's Aceh Province," London-based Amnesty International said the national government must make good on promises of truth, justice and reparations to victims of the separatist struggle, or risk a return of violence to the province.

Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty's deputy Asia Pacific director, said at the release of the report in Jakarta on Thursday that although Aceh was currently politically stable, without justice to accompany the 2005 peace agreement that ended the 29-year separatist insurgency, "there is a real risk of rising tension and resentment that can lead to a resumption of violence."

Renewed violence in the province would be a major setback for Aceh's ongoing economic recovery and development, both from the decades of armed struggle and from the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated the province and killed more than 170,000 people there.

The province's economy contracted by 10 percent in 2005, while inflation accelerated 35 percent, more than double the national average of 17 percent, according to data from the provincial statistics agency.

In the aftermath of the tsunami, the US government through USAID helped with reconstruction of homes, schools, roads and sanitation in partnership with the Indonesian government, local citizens and nongovernmental organizations. In the first year alone the UN refugee agency spent millions of dollars for immediate relief.

The United States said it also helped thousands of local farmers in rehabilitating crops of coffee and patchouli, and that, in turn had helped to revive the province's economy.

Since 2005 the province has recorded some progress. Aceh's gross domestic product last year rose 5.2 percent. Inflation was relatively tame at 0.2 percent, significantly lower than the national average of 4.3 percent.

In a speech last December, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said that the government "remains committed to resolving past cases of human rights violations," including the one in Aceh. "We cannot change what had happened, but we must resolve it," he said.

But activists criticized the pledge, saying that the president has done little to bring those involved to justice.

The peace process in 2005 involved promises by the Yudhoyono administration to establish both a human rights court and a truth and reconciliation commission for Aceh. Still, neither commitments have materialized almost eight years later.

At the time of the peace agreement, brokered by Finland, some were concerned that talks of justice would destabilize the peace process.

Amnesty stressed that the time for action was now, when the province was politically stable. "It is definitely time for President Yudhoyono to finish what he started," Arradon said.

Mufti Makarim, the executive director of the Institute for Defense, Security and Peace Studies, told the Jakarta Globe that it was important for the government to understand the matter from a legal and human rights perspective.

To hold people accountable for human rights atrocities will not only strengthen the current legal system, but it will also prevent future acts of impunity, he said.

Eva Kusuma Sundari, a legislator from the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), told the Globe that she was doubtful the Yudhoyono administration would act on the unresolved elements of the peace agreement. She did say, though, that there might now be progress.

Eva said that the former chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), Ifdal Kasim, had been asked to prepare the formation of the truth and reconciliation commission bylaw, adding that "hopefully this will actually happen and not end up being another unfulfilled promise."

The Aceh conflict between Indonesian government security forces and the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) stretches back to 1976 but peaked in violence from 1989 to 2005.

The Crisis Management Initiative, an NGO that assisted in brokering the 2005 peace deal between the government and the GAM, estimates that 10,000 people died during the conflict. The Aceh Reintegration Agency, though, claims this figure to be a gross underestimate, and instead postulates a death toll of around 30,000 people.

According to the Amnesty report, even though both sides of the conflict committed human rights violations, the majority of those violations were by the government's security forces.

Arradon said that many of the human rights violations committed by the security forces – such as torture, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances – constituted crimes under international law.

As a result, the Amnesty report argues the Indonesian government is internationally obliged to investigate the crimes, and "where sufficient evidence exists, to prosecute suspects in accordance with international fair trial standards."

Murtala, part of the NGO delegation and a survivor of the 1999 Simpang KKA slaughter in North Aceh, where Indonesian security forces killed dozens of people, agreed on the need to gird the province's fragile development with a resolution for the past violence.

"Many people are in doubt about the establishment of a human rights court and a truth and reconciliation commission and say it would disturb the peace. But for us [the survivors and victims], it would actually be a way of maintaining the peace," he said.