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The Similarity of East Timor and Aceh Under Soeharto/ABRI Dictatorship
by Fernando de Araujo, Secretary -general of RENETIL

This paper was presented at the "Years of Living Dangerously: The Struggle for Justice in Aceh, Indonesia Beyond Suharto" conference, in a panel discussion on the Resistance of Aceh, held at New York University in New York, NY on Dec 12, 1998.


When talking about the suffering of people of Aceh under Soeharto/ABRI dictatorship every East Timorese will never face any embarrassment, because the hands which committed crimes in East Timor are the same those which have spread atrocities over Aceh.

The differences, of course, exist. While the atrocities occurred in Aceh fell often into ignorance of outsiders, whatever happened in East Timor was always a matter of international curiosity and even preoccupation. The reason is clear, Aceh is considering as an integral part of Indonesia while East Timor is a non self-governing territory under the supervision of international community through United Nations.

But, whatever the existing differences are, there is a commonality between Aceh and East Timor, that is, both are victims of a strange regime which in order to perpetuate its political and economical advantage over its neighbors acts in detriment of the superior interests of Acehnese and East Timorese.

Starting from this point of view, without any kind of pretension to reduce the East Timor status or to lift Aceh to a more prominent platform of its struggle, East Timorese and Acehnese should take position to make reciprocal references as a form to better understand the reasons which the atrocities of Soeharto/ABRI dictatorship lay on.

The Military in Indonesian Politics

There is too much knowledge about the engagement of the Nfilitary in Indonesian Politics. One could advance many explanations on this outdated regime of governance, but whatever the arguments used to justify the dual function of ABRI, the presence of military in governmental agencies has turned those agencies into military units along with its all possible and imaginary consequences: no room for democracy, no space for progress, no opportunity for changes, no change for social improvement and no expectation for a better civil society in the future. Despite the great popular demand for the cancellation of the dwi fungsi ABRI, it seems that ABRI will still be the most important tool of the Indonesian government machinery, because in Indonesia being a soldier is not a tour of duty, but a profession that has to be secured for longlife time. The presence of ABRI in all aspects of civil life is alleged as the guarantee of the unity of the heterogeneous population and the integrity of the dispersed territory. Of course, this is not the most recommendable approach to be used, because the cohesion of a people and the strongness of a nation are not the function of the military but, the results of healthy governance, an equal treatment for all citizens, ever learning-oriented leaders, etc. etc. Unfortunately, ABRI lacks those virtues. As historical product of liberation, ABRI thinks that it does not need any kind of progressive view to maintain its position in the political constellation because it still has a great past to evoke for. This is why, in order to guard the greatness of Indonesia, ABRI has adopted rigid and even brutal approaches and measures to convene People and Territories into the Republic.

Violence Against Women

In a recent international seminar in Jakarta, a speaker presented some terrifying pictures and illustrations about the violence committed toward Acehnese women by ABRI troops. There were stories about rapes, arbitrary detentions, tortures and even assassinations of women whose husbands were "said" as belonging to the Aceh Liberation Movement. Of course, this was a virtual allegation to justify the animalcule behavior of those troops. A healthy mind should never charge to a wife what becomes the responsibility of her husband. Besides it, a conscious " pembela bangsa" could never mitigate his "wild bravura" on defenseless citizens, the primary reason d'etre of any Army. However, seeing the systematic ways the ABRI use in its modus operandi, one can deduce that atrocities carried out by ABRI troops against Aceh women rest in a more deep strategy, to weaken the psychological structure of Aceh women in such a way that she becomes unable to grow her children normalcy. Children growing in an unstable environment are condemned to be bad citizens: no predisposition to respect laws and order, no positive appreciate of norms and values, no submission to parents and authorities, no empathy for other people, no internal driving for a personal improvement, in summa, a potential source of social disturbances and futureless person. Consequently, if those children become adults without a straight orientation of life they become useless for the struggle of their ancestors and easily become a source of social troubles and decease, which in turn, will provide reason to future arbitrary behavior of ABRI troops. Such arbitrary behavior will end in genocide of Acehnese People, because genocide is the elimination of a people or a part of it along with its identity and culture. This analysis seems to be so excessive, even demoralizing, but it is not.

What I am telling to you is what should exactly occur in East Timor, if in the beginning our leaders had taken no preventions by creating infrastructure to accommodate and educate politically our youth. Even so, nowadays, in East Timor we still deal with a turbulent young generation with diverse political tendencies, perversely some are even in favor of Jakarta.

Rape as a Weapon of War It seems to be mis-placed if one considers rape as a weapon of war. But, it is not! In fact, when committed by soldiers in an occupied territory where the use of violence is the true of the game, rape becomes a part of the battle against the local population. The objectives to be achieved through the practice of rape - besides the sexual motives are to undermine the defense mechanism of the most intransigent segment of the indigenous people, the women. In a story of rape experienced by an Acehnese woman, the victim after being raped had not longer courage to meet her husband, such guilty she felt. Of course, this event not only has damaged a home, but also dispersed the common efforts to resist against the barbarism of ABRI soldiers. In East Timor there are many cases of divorce and intra marital separation due to the rapes experienced by wives. Children of those broken families are maltreated, because their parents have to constitute new home with new responsibilities. In a climate of war and constant social disturbances where the propensity to grow economically is very weak, providing economical assistance to children of prior marriage are condemned not to have effective and sufficient resistance, if, for instance, those children who have experienced continuous financial assistance from their parents, their natural structure of morality should be deteriorating along the time. To add their disgrace, those children (especially boys) are frequently mobilized to serve as TBO (Tenaga Bantuan Operasi) for the troops in the front line. Those children are not in the position to refuse the giving job, because of the economic scarcity they face, and the lack of protection from their parents. This scenario is to say that a weak generation is in formation and this weakness constitutes a threat to the continuity of the struggle for freedom and national independence.

The Commonality of Victimhood Among Many Subjects of Soeharto/ABRI

The last bloody events in Trisakti University, Banyuwangi, Semangi and Ketapang have shown another feature the real character of Soeharto/ABRI dictatorship. It is already evident that Soeharto and his ABRI are not compromised with the existence of their own nation, in a whole or in a part, is the destruction of the Humanity. Like in the coup of 1965, Soeharto and his ABRI are not conscious of their destructive activities. 

It is the obligation of Peoples and Nations to end the adventure of Soeharto and his ABRI in order to keep the Humanity in the track of peace, freedom, progress and fraternity.

Thank you


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Last modified: October 05, 2000