WHY ACHEH WANTS INDEPENDENCE FROM THE COLONIALISM
OF THE REPUBLIC OF INDONESIA?
(This document is prepared by
The Executive Council of the Free Acheh Movement - MP GAM
-, August 1999)
Who would believe that one of history’s oldest independent states in the world that had successfully resisted all attempts to colonise it by foreign colonialism, eventually lost its independence to Asian colonialism. That is at the time when colonialism was declared ‘an international crime’ by the UN, and when acquisition of territory by force is considered illegal under International Law? That state is Acheh.
Acheh lies in the northern part of the island of Sumatra. It is ordered on the north by the Malacca Straits, on the South by the Indian Ocean, and has an estimated population 6 million. Aceh was the centre of a powerful empire for several centuries and has a long tradition of resistance to outside domination. Acheh is also abundantly rich in natural resources: oil, 1.5 million barrels per day; gas, 38% of world production - number one in the world; other products of Acheh include: gold, platinum, molybdenum, iron ore, tin, rubber, coffee, tea, and timber. All of the resources of Acheh are taken away to Jakarta and the people of Acheh are left with nothing.
A Glance at Achehnese History
For hundreds of years before the arrival of the European powers to Southeast Asia and for many centuries thereafter, Acheh remained an internationally recognised independent sovereign state. Larouse Grand Dictionnaire Universelle described the Kingdom of Acheh as
"the most dominant nation in the East Indies towards the end of the sixteenth and until the first half of the seventeenth century." (Volume 1, p.70, Paris 1886.)
Another great historical source of information of the period, La Grand Encyclopédie, wrote:
"In 1582, the Achehnese had already extended their preponderance over the islands of Sunda (Sumatra, Java, Borneo, etc.) over part of the Malay Peninsula, and having relations with all the nations trafficking the Indian Ocean from Japan to Arabia.
The history of the long struggle with the Achehnese sustained against the Portuguese who were established in Malacca since the beginning of the sixteenth century was no less glorious pages in the history of the Achehnese people. In 1586, one of their Sultans attacked the Portuguese in Malacca with an armada of 500 warships and 60, 000 marines." (Vol. IV, p. 402, Paris 1874.)
Three hundred years after the Dutch had established themselves as the colonial master in the island of Java over the rest of the East Indies - now called ‘Indonesia’ - Acheh was still an internationally recognized independent state having diplomatic relations with the rest of the world.
Professor M.C. Ricklefs, wrote in his book, "A History of Modern Indonesia"; "Acheh was emerging as a major power, the most
powerful, wealthy, and cultivated state of the area." (Bloomington, 1981).
The Dutch Declaration of War
On March 26, 1873, after colonising Java and other islands such as the Moluccas, the Celebes, etc., the Dutch issued a formal Declaration of War against the Kingdom of Acheh, thus acknowledging Acheh’s status as an independent sovereign state. By April 23, 1873, however, the Dutch invading army was defeated by the Achehnese defenders at the Battle of Bandar Acheh. The Dutch Supreme Commander, General Kohler, was among the slain. His army was decimated and the remnants withdrew to Java in
disgrace. For full reports about this battle, see the London Times, April 22 and the New York Times May 6, 1873.
Unable to accept the humiliating defeat at the hands of the Achehnese, the Dutch invaded Acheh for the second, third, forth, fifth and sixth times over the years, until the war dragged on and on for nearly 80 years. One Dutch historian who wrote a book about this war, Paul van ‘t Veer, wrote:
"Holland had never fought a war greater than the one with Acheh. In terms of time, the war can be said to be the eighty years war. In terms of casualties - more than one-hundred thousand dead - it was a military event that has no equal in the history of our land. The war against Acheh was for Holland very much more than a mere armed conflict: it was for a century, the burning point of our national, colonial, and international politics."
Paul van ‘t Veer, De Atjeh-oorlog (the Acheh War), p.10, Amsterdam, 1969.
After the Dutch withdrawal in 1942 and Acheh reverted back to its independent status without foreign army on its soil, the Japanese army landed in Acheh and occupied it for 3,5 years. The Achehnese bravely resisted Japanese imperialism as they had resisted the Dutch. In the whole short-lived Japanese ‘East Asia Co-prosperity period, only in Acheh did Japan face a native resistance.
When the Japanese forces capitulated to the allied powers in August, 1945, and were evacuated to Japan, the Dutch did not make any attempt to come back to Acheh although they did return to Java and to all other parts of their former colonial empire. Acheh, then, remained free and independent.
Dutch Illegal Transfer of Acheh to Indonesia
On December 27, 1949, seven long years after their withdrawal from Acheh, the Dutch signed a treaty with the newly fabricated artificial entity called ‘Republic of Indonesia’ (on the island of Java) pretending to transfer their NON-EXISTENTE "SOVEREIGNTY" over Acheh to Indonesia, without referendum of the people of Acheh, and against all principles of decolonization of the UN. That was how Acheh was illegally made part of Indonesia.
This was done in open violation of international law and conventions, and contradicting all UN General Assembly Resolutions against colonialism. The rules are crystal clear: (a) sovereignty in a colony does not lie in the hands of the colonial power, but in the hands of the people of a given colony - UN Resolution 1514(XV). In the case of Acheh, it was not even a colony of Holland; (b) sovereignty over a colonial territory is not transferable by one colonial power to another - UN Resolution 1514(XV); (c) all powers must be returned by the colonialist to the native people of each colony - UN Resolution 1514(XV); (d) the duty of all states is to end colonialism and to stop anyone from using force against peoples struggling for their independence - UN Resolution 2625(XXV); (e) colonialism is considered an ‘international crime’ and it is an inherent right of all colonised peoples to fight against the colonialists - UN Resolution 2621(XXV); (f) the use of force is prohibited against those who seek self-determination - UN Resolution 3314(XXIX); (g) each colonial territory has a separate juridical status, and each has the right to independence - UN Resolution 2625(XXV).
All these rules were violated in the former Dutch East Indies, which has not been decolonized at all: only its name was changed from Dutch east Indies to Indonesia.
Re-Declaration of Independence of Acheh
On the basis of all the above-mentioned UN Resolutions which have become parts of International Law and Conventions, especially UN Resolution 2711 (XXV), adopted on October 14, 1970, which recognised the legitimacy of the liberation struggle, including armed struggle, waged by the colonised people to gain their rights of self determination and to get rid of foreign, colonial domination, the Free Acheh Movement (GAM - Gerakan Acheh Merdeka) was established in 1976, and on December 4, 1976, the Re-declaration of Independence of Acheh was issued from the liberated territory.
Massive Violations of Human Rights in Acheh by Indonesia
The reaction of the Indonesian Colonialist regime to the Re-declaration of Independence of Acheh and the overwhelming popular support for it brought grave violations Achehnese people’s human rights. Thus, the root cause of the murders, torture, and other atrocities is the continued denial of the most fundamental human rights of all: the Right of Self-determination!
Soon after the establishment of the Free Acheh Movement, Indonesian forces conducted military operations against the relatively peaceful movement, and hundreds of alleged members were killed or arrested, and some were even brought to show trials. By the early 1980s most of the top leaders, including ministers, were either killed or imprisoned, or had fled the country. In spite of all the killings, arbitrary arrests and the crack down on its supporters, the movement sustained the struggle for several years onwards.
The Reign of Terror in Acheh under the Military Operational Area
("DOM" - Daerah Operasi Militer), 1989-1999
After a period of dormancy, the Free Acheh Movement (GAM) re-emerged again in 1989 with far wider support from the local
population. The Indonesian regime immediately sent 15 000 Special Forces, Kopassus, to "hunt" down supporters and members of the movement.
During this period (1989-1998), Acheh was declared as a Military Operational Area (DOM) by Indonesia and ruled by a reign of terror. The atrocities perpetrated through these years have no equal in the history of Acheh fighting against any colonial powers in the past. Arbitrary arrests, extra-judicial killings, routine torture and disappearances of thousands of civilians had become commonplace. An estimated 25 000 innocent Achehnese lost their lives in military custody, in hidden mass graves, or in secret concentration camps.
Political killings, disappearances and arrests reached their peaks in late 1990 and again in 1992. The methods employed to defeat GAM bore all the hall marks of any counter-insurgency campaigns conducted elsewhere in Indonesia. In an effort to undercut the civilian support base of the freedom fighters, military forces also carried out armed raids and house-to-house searches in suspected ‘rebel’ areas. The houses of villagers suspected of providing shelter or support to the rebels were
burned to the ground. The wives or daughters of some suspected rebels were detained as hostages and some were raped. Anyone suspected of contact with GAM members was vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, disappearance or summary execution. In March 1991, as the pressure on the GAM intensified, thousands of Achehnese civilians fled to neighbouring Malaysia to escape terror in the countryside.
Indonesia being an artefact of colonialism is not a government by consent of the governed. It is an illegally constituted state that has been maintained by using state terrorism as a national policy. It may not be maintainable otherwise. Asia Watch Report 1990, said:
"Violence is certainly an important part of the short history of Indonesia. The Indonesian government has systematically violated fundamental human rights for over 20 years and continue to do so with impunity."
Reports of human rights violations in Acheh began to appear intermittently in the national and international press during 1990. Amnesty International and Asia Watch expressed deep concern at the massive scale of human rights abuses in the area. In mid 1989 the military was using heavy handed methods and vowed to "crush" the rebellion by the end of the year. Summary executions, random mass arrests, barbaric torture, disappearances, 12-hour curfews, house-to-house searches and the deliberate creation of an atmosphere of fear and terror were the order of the day.
In November 1990, the Indonesian Major General Djoko Pramono, Military Commander for North Sumatra and Acheh, admitted that many people had been killed in Acheh and the killings were occurring everyday. In his own words, the Military Commander made it clear that killing people suspected of being supporters of the Free Acheh Movement was an official policy. He said:
"I have told the people the important thing is, if you see a GPK (security disrupter gangs, the term officially used for GAM by Indonesia), you should kill him. There is no need to investigate. Just shoot him or knife him. So I have instructed people to carry weapons, machetes or whatever. If you see a GPK, just kill him." (Tempo, 17 November 1990).
In a country where the words of a general are the law of the land, this is literally an official incitement to commit political murders. And yet this has caused no international outcry.
Shortly after Pramono gave the "shoot-to-kill" order, hundreds of corpses were found in public places, beside main roads, in plantations, in rivers - apparently as a warning to others not to join or support GAM. Most of the victims had been prisoners when they were killed; most had been shot at close range and showed signs of having been beaten with a blunt instrument or tortured, so that their faces were therefore often unrecognisable.
Actually, not all victims of extra-judicial killings were tortured and left in public places. Many were simply shot and thrown into hidden mass graves, some of which contained hundreds of bodies. In mid 1990, for example, people discovered a mass grave near the village of Alue Mirah, containing some 200 bodies. Commenting on the report, H.R. Pramono disputed the number of corpses but, significantly, did not deny the existence of the grave itself. Speaking to a journalist in November 1990, he said:
"The grave certainly exists but I don’t think it could have been 200 bodies. It is hard to tell with arms and heads all mixed up." Tempo, October 20, 1990.
For further reading on the atrocities committed under this period, the reader is recommended to read the following:
* Amnesty International: Shock Therapy: Restoring Order in Acheh, 1989-1993
* Asia Watch Report: Indonesia: Human Rights Abuses in Acheh, Dec. 27, 1990
* Asia Watch Report: Indonesia: Continuing H.R. Violations in Acheh, June 19, 1991
* TAPOL Backgrounder; Mass Killings in Acheh, June 27, 1991
* A Black Paper, Information Dept. ASNLF, Nov. 1, 1990
The Military Operational Area - DOM - Was Lifted in August 8, 1998.
After nearly a decade of brutality, massacres, disappearances, rapes, tortures, and after the downfall of Suharto in May
last year, the people of Acheh began to speak out about their sufferings at the hands of the Indonesian troops and demonstrated their anger at the murderous campaign of terror to which they have been subjected since the late 1980s. Achehnese from all walks of life - NGOs, students, and even members of the local assemblies - had been demanding the lifting of DOM. This forced the chief commander of Indonesian Army, General Wiranto, to hurriedly come to Acheh and make a public apology to the people of Acheh. At the same time, he announced the lifting of DOM and that all non-organic troops - troops outside of Acheh mainly Kopassus would be pulled out from the area within a month.
It so happened! The Special Forces "Kopassus" - were withdrawn in stages, but soon people discovered that even more
Kopassus were smuggled in again to Aceh to destabilise the situation that had deprived the military from controlling Acheh.
A diplomat told (19 November):
"The view is that Aceh is exactly the same as East Timor - there was a staged withdrawal of special forces and then they were sent in again through the back door."
Here again, the determination of the Indonesian military not to relinquish control over Acheh had caused widespread protests from the Achehnese, NGOs and a large number of local and national human rights organisations. The intensification of military activity could be traced back to within a few days of the announcement, when the media began to report renewed incidents of intimidation. People who had revealed the location of mass graves in public were being harassed by unknown individuals. Rape victims were intimidated by members of Kopassus for reporting what had happened to them.
Dozens of Mass Graves Found in Acheh
As the era of ‘reformation’ and openness prevailed, the Achehnese began to outpour their anger and bitter experience about a decade harsh military operation. Thousands of widows began to speak out to the press about their lost husbands; parents about their ‘disappeared’ children and vice versa; families about their bereaved ones, and so on.
Unable to contain the pressure from all sections of Achehnese society, an official fact finding mission (TPF) from the Indonesian parliament, DPR, was sent to Acheh, meeting with people to hear their complaints about the human right situation there during the past ten years. The team soon discovered evidence of dozens of mass graves containing the bones of both men and women. And it also found evidence of several torture camps used by Kopassus such as Rancong in Lhok Seumawe and Pos Sattis Aron in Pidie Region.
During the TPF visit, local newspapers, in particular Banda Aceh’s based Serambi Indonesia and Waspada in Medan, gave extensive coverage to the horrific testimony of hundreds of Achehnese presented to the fact-finding team.
A month after the team returning to Jakarta to report the result of their visit to the area, the Indonesian government immediately appointed and sent out to Acheh a four member National Human Rights Commission, headed by Baharuddin Lopa, to further investigate the existence of mass graves and other atrocities.
Mass grave after mass grave were excavated, that eventually forced the government to stop the process, saying that accusation of human rights abuses in Acheh ware "stories" and the mass graves dated back to "Dutch times or to the killing of communists in 1965." Responding to the government’s denial of the existence of mass graves, the commission’s secretary general, Mr Bahruddin Lopa, said:
"It is clear there has been a massacre in Acheh. I don’t want to hear any government official pretend the widespread killing of civilians during the operations in Acheh never happened."
One of the commission members, Kusparmono Irsan, also a former national police chief, put it this way:
"Now we know there is something that can be proved, that certain soldiers are guilty of atrocities."
This irresponsible attitude of the government, unwilling to respond to the grave violations of human rights committed by its army, had distanced Achehnese even further from the Jakarta regime and shifted their total support for the Free Acheh Movement.
Assert Authority 99 (Operasi Wibawa 99)
Unable to resolve the past atrocities, the situation in the beginning 1999 has become intense and even more warlike. The Indonesian government then introduced a new way of controlling the people’s anguish and anger through ‘Operasi Wibawa 99’ - Assert Authority Operation - a joint military-police operation.
The following are some chronological events of massacres as a result of ‘Operasi Wibawa:
Kandang Tragedy, North Acheh (January 3, 1999)
On 3 January, Operasi Wibawa started its first bloodthirsty operation to "hunt" down Ahmad Kandang - the so called GAM leader - and his followers. Early in the morning the security forces entered Blang Kandang, Pusong and other villages in the vicinity to search for Ahmad Kandang and an army Major who was supposed to have been kidnapped by his group.
As the operation was in progress, hundreds of villagers from Pusong and the surrounding marched into Lhok Seumawe to protest the military operations in their villages. But soon after that the military began to fire indiscriminately on men, women, children on the streets of Lhok Seumawe. The similar action was also carried out in subdistricts Kuta Makmur and Muara Dua.
An estimated 40 civilians were killed in this massacre, and almost 200 were arrested. And dozens of the arrested had to be hospitalised for having been tortured by the army.
The army tried to blame the massacre on GAM, but vehemently denied by eye-witnesses, saying that it was the soldiers who shot fleeing civilians in the back.
The following day, the Indonesian soldiers returned to Pusong, launching an ambush on the villagers who had taken refuge in mosques. Fifteen young men were arrested, without any resistance whatsoever, accused of being the followers of Ahmad Kandang.
These arbitrary arrests and unlawful killings by the Indonesian army have not been investigated, either by national or international human rights organisations. Thus, encouraging the army to kill more Achehnese civilians in future.
Five Detainees Tortured to Death (January 9, 1999)
On 9 January, the army launched another bloody attack on civilians in Blang Kandang village and Muara Dua subdistrict, in search for Ahmad Kandang. Within hours, the security forces had arrested and detained 40 villagers suspected of being sympatisers of Ahmad Kandang.
The detainees were immediately taken and held in a youth group’s building, while two were taken to hospital for treatment. For the whole day, the 38 detainees were interrogated.
Suddenly, around 70 soldiers Kopassus led by Major Bayu Najib, ambushed the building and began to beat and tortured the detainees. As a result of the beatings and torture, five died and another 23 were taken to hospital for treatment of serious injuries.
Massacre in Idi Cut, East Acheh (February 3, 1999)
Another brutal massacre, maybe the worst so far, is the tragedy of Idi Cut in East Acheh. Almost one hundred were gunned down, hundreds were injured and dozens are still unaccounted for.
This massacre happened in the village of Idi Cut, East Acheh, Wednesday 3 February. About five thousand people were returning home from a social gathering, mostly on foot and some on motorcycles. Suddenly the crowd were pelted with stones by ‘troublemakers’ - army provocateurs - as they neared the headquarters of the military command in Idi Cut.
As this was occurring, three army trucks drove up and without warning, opened fire from their raised vantage point, killing and wounding a large number of people. Witnesses said gunfire continued to be heard for several hours while blood was flowing everywhere. Soon after massacre, the area was sealed off by the army while loading the bodies into the trucks.
The following day, it became known that dozens of the bodies had been taken by the military to a bridge spanning the River Arakundoe, 30 km away, and thrown into the river. On the same day, huge crowds flocked there to search for relatives and friends. At least ten bodies were fished out in the river, and all the bodies had their hands and feet bound with wire and weighed down with stone in sacks tied to the bodies.
It is obvious that the way the body were disposed was an attempt by the military to conceal the scale and nature of the atrocity, and to lie about the number of casualties and deaths.
Almost one hundred were brutally killed and dozens disappeared, but neither national nor international human rights organisations has ever managed to independently investigate about this atrocity!
Massare Dewantara, North Acheh (May 3, 1999)
The massacre of Dewantara happened in the village of Cot Murong, Dewantara subdistrict, where the soldiers opened fire on thousands of men, women and children in an unprovoked attack. Over sixty civilians were killed in cold blood and hundreds were seriously injured.
The nature of this massacre is almost the same as in Idi Cut tragedy. The incident began with a peaceful open-air religious gathering to celebrate the Muslim new year, Muharram on 30 April in Cot Murong. Thousands of people had assembled, and an intelligent army sergeant from a nearby Guided Missiles Detachment, Denrudal, armed with a pistol and a walkie-talkie, was found in the crowd. After questioned by angry villagers, he was ordered to leave, but the army alleged that he had gone missing and sent hundreds of troops to search for him.
During the two day search, villagers were combed and dozens of villagers were beaten up. Angry villagers protested to military as well as authorities to stop the harassment. The situation was highly tense and talks were held between the leaders of the villagers and the military chief, but as this was in progress, more troops arrived.
With tempers rising, some people - army provocateurs - started throwing stones at the military headquarters. Then, two more truckloads of troops turned up and blindly fired their guns on the crowd. Witnesses said that the troops were squatting and firing indiscriminately at fleeing civilians, as clearly shown on the video film taken by a cameraman who happened to be in the vicinity when the atrocity took place.
Over 60 civilians were killed and many more injured, but calls for an independent investigation into this massacre, have gone unheeded.
Massacre Beutong Ateuëh, West Acheh (July 23, 1999)
This is the most blatant massacre, the worst so far, and the latest in a series since the beginning of this year.
Over one hundred soldiers had discreetly come from Central Acheh, Takengon, passing difficult mountainous regions, to a small and isolated community of Blang Murandeh in West Acheh, to purposely perpetrate a bloody massacre on religious students led by Teungku Bantaqiah.
After having committed indiscriminate killings on Some 75 unarmed civilians, the bodies were simply dumped into a pit, while dozens who were injured and still alive had been taken away to be executed. The news of the killings reached out after two days, when a couple of villagers managed to escape from the place and exposed to the local press about the horrible tragedy.
The Banda Aceh’s based regional army commander, Col.Tippe, defended the massacre as saying: "It is true Teungku Bantaqiah and his 30 followers were killed because our intelligence unit knew he has armes." Another army commander, Col. Safnil Armen, put it this way: "Those who were killed are trouble makers and ganja - hashes - farmers, but we are still checking."
Survivors said that most of those killed were first arrested and then took to a field to be executed.
This massacre and other massacres that have been previously mentioned, have been committed by the Indonesian army with impunity: Not a single perpetrator of these flagrant violations of human rights against innocent Achehnese civilians has been brought to justice, signalling that such violations are allowed to be violated in Acheh.
Today, as every inch of the land of Acheh is being occupied by the Indonesian marauding army, over 140, 000 Achehnese refugees live in terrible conditions.
There is no end in sight how to solve this problem, unless the International community would immediately intervene to stop this intolerable situation.
Acheh and International Community
For almost two decades Acheh has become a slaughter-house for the Indonesian Armed Forces; massacre after massacre has been committed against Achehnese civilians with impunity; and the International Community has totally failed to respond to this very grave violations of human rights.
The perpetrators - the Indonesian army- who have been accountable for tens of thousands of civilian deaths in Acheh have never been brought to justice for the past crimes and there is no indication that they will be in future. The silence of the world on the atrocities in Acheh has been used by the Indonesian army as a "licence-to-kill’, thereby making future
violations even more likely to occur.
It is now accepted as a civilised principle that there is ‘The Right to Intervene’ belonging to International Community to stop situations which are intolerable from a humanitarian of view. The UN Security Council’s Resolution 688 has become a precedent. It authorised the UN intervention in Iraq to protect the Kurds.
The violations of human rights in Acheh are the direct consequence of the Indonesian regime’s denial of the right of self-determination of the people of Acheh.
Therefore, the UN is duty-bound to intervene immediately in Acheh, first to stop forthwith Indonesian crime of genocide against the people of Acheh; second, to recognise the independence of Acheh in the same manner the independence of the Baltic states, the former territories of Yugoslavia; and thirdly, to supervise a free plebiscite in Acheh to insure that the people of Acheh have exercised their right of self-determination. By further delaying in taking these necessary actions, the UN is giving the impression of practising ‘double-standard’ in its international dealings.
On November 8, 1999 almost two millions people attended a massive protest in the capital of Aceh (Banda Aceh) demanding the Indonesian government to hold a Referendum to resolves the Aceh matter. What the world has done so far since to respond to the Achehnese demands? NOTHING! The world today full with hypocrites and coolblooded killers. NEXT MELLENIUM IS JUST FEW DAYS, WHAT THE WORLD WILL BE THEN?