Military operation in Aceh was ‘gross human rights violation’

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) declared that the military operation in Aceh, which lasted from 1989 until a peace deal was signed in 2005, could be categorized as a gross human rights violation and that the Indonesian Military (TNI) was responsible for the atrocities.

Following a tense meeting where Komnas HAM chairperson Siti Noor Laila, deputy chairperson Siane Indriani and Yanto Bachriadi challenged the findings from the commission’s investigative team, which was led by the rights body commissioner Otto Nur Abdullah, the commission made the announcement on Thursday.

Otto said the conclusion was based on an investigation focusing on five particular cases: the tortures between 1997 and 1998 at Rumoh Geudong in Pidie, a former headquarters of the Indonesia’s elite Army Special Forces (Kopassus), known as the slaughter house; the 1999 May Simpang KKA incident, also known as the Dewantara incident, when the military randomly shot hundreds of protesters who rallied against an earlier shooting in April 30; the 2001 Bumi Flora massacre in eastern Aceh; the finding of skeletons of the remains of victims of the conflict in a mass grave in Bener Meriah regency in 2002; and the 2003 massacre in Jambo Keupok village in southern Aceh.

“We have thoroughly examined five major violent incidents during the deployment of the military operation to combat the Free Aceh Movement [GAM] rebels in Aceh, and concluded all incidents could be deemed gross human rights violations as they fulfilled the elements outlined in Law No. 26/2000 on human rights,” Otto said.

Article 9 of the law defines a crime against humanity as a systematic and widespread attack on civilians that includes annihilation; apartheid; ethnicity; forced disappearances; forced prostitution; limitations on physical freedom; murder; race; rape; religion and gender; slavery; torture; tradition; and widespread abuse based on ideology.

Komnas HAM recommended that the government set up a military tribunal.

“We, therefore, recommend that the government set up a rights tribunal. It is really important to follow up on our findings in order to sever the cycle of impunity among members of the military. Reluctance to do so will promote the culture of impunity, which will undoubtedly encourage the military to commit more rights violation,” Otto said.

The House of Representatives has conducted its investigation on the allegation of human rights abuse during the military operation beginning in July 1998.

The team, led by Lt. Gen. Hari Sabarno, head of the military faction at the House, never went public with its findings.

In October 1998, the House reported that it had received over 1,700 reports of alleged human rights violations, including 426 cases of missing people and 320 cases of killings in Aceh.

Komnas HAM started its first investigation into past abuses in Aceh in from July to August the same year and recorded 781 deaths, 163 disappearances, 368 cases of torture and 102 rape cases allegedly committed by members of the military during the military operation from between 1989 and 1998.

Komnas HAM never completed its report until Thursday’s announcement.

Several local and international rights watchdogs had previously released their findings of past abuses in Aceh.

The London-based Amnesty International, for example, called for a rights tribunal as well as a truth and reconciliation commission, which were mandated by the 2005 Helsinki peace agreement, earlier in April. The group was concerned that nothing has been done in spite of much publicized reports on crimes, ranging from unlawful killings, enforced disappearance and torture, committed by members of the military.

Komnas HAM chairperson Siti Noor Laila said Komnas HAM had yet to agree on the findings.

“We can’t declare them as gross human rights violations yet because we haven’t thoroughly and comprehensively discussed the findings,” Siti said.

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