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June 12, 1999
Mary Robinson
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations, 1211-CN
Geneva, Switzerland
FAX: 00-41 22 917-0212

Dear Mrs. Robinson,

Urgent Response Needed to Worsening Human Rights Situation and Refugees in Aceh

Aceh, a special territory of Indonesia located on the western most tip of Indonesia, is getting increasingly hot. Indonesian troops were on full alert in the restive of Aceh Tuesday (June 1, 1999) after an overnight clash between military and gunmen. The fresh violence erupted in Lhokseumawe, a hotbed of unrest in the Province.

Thousands of people have fled their villages in Indonesia's restive province of Aceh for fear of more armed clashes between Armed Forces and Aceh Freedom Movement (AGAM) and a large number of troops carried out patrols in many villages. They had packed the town of Bireun, Samalanga, and Ulee Gle, Mereudu because of rising tension in the surrounding villages. They are sheltered at schools, government offices, and mosque. The refugee's conditions are with the limitation of water supply, medicines, ransom, and proper sanitation facilities.

The Indonesian Armed Forces announced on August 8 1998 that Acheh was no longer a military zone and large numbers of Special Forces troops were withdrawn from Acheh. The Military Supreme Commander also went on record apologizing for the suffering of the Achenese people.

However, despite the supposed investigation in Acheh by the government appointed commission on Human Rights, and its recommendations that the military be disciplined and held responsible and accountable for its crimes, two things still continue and remain to this day: the military perpetrated violence against the Acehnese civilian, and the presence of a large number of military personals in Acheh. The killings have never ceased.

Systematic killings of the Achenese were going on without any hindrance whatsoever. It was truly a genocidal operation. Women were raped, properties seized at will and ordinary villagers that had no link whatsoever with the GAM (Aceh Liberation Movement) were tortured and killed, houses burnt, villages looted. Such are the uncivilized and lawless modus operandi adopted by the non-local units of the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI), sent to occupy Acheh. The imposition of the Military Operation Zone (DOM), from 1989 to 1998, produced many mass graves in three districts (kabupaten): Pidie, North Acheh, and East Acheh.

These massacres stands as unassailable proves of the large scale human rights abuses perpetrated by the Indonesian army against the Achenese people, with the full knowledge and authority of the Central Government who simply banned foreigners from visiting the Province without special permits, that were very rarely given.

The irony in this reformation era, after the lifting of the DOM on August 7 1998, is that justice for Acheh remains a vague dream. A new faceted military operation, code named Operasi Wibawa 99 (Authority Operation 99), was launched early January as a result of the assumed re-emergence of "Gerakan Acheh Merdeka" (Aceh Liberation Movement). The facts show that the increase in the number of troops in Acheh has only made things worse. Operasi Wibawa 99, which was launched by ABRI, has severe psychological shock, causing uncontrollable mass hysteria.

ABRI returned to Acheh with vehemence, armed with its traditional brutality and unimaginable cruelties, becoming worse than before, as this time they have no qualm of carrying out their inhuman acts openly in full view of several observers from the International Human Rights NGOs now present in Acheh. The assault and massacre by ABRI of a number of people already detained by the local police for questioning in a building owned by the North Aceh chapter of KNPI (National Youth Committee of Indonesia) on January 9th 1999 was a heart wrenching incident that cannot be accepted by any civilized society.

The number of civilian's deaths during the ten days of the operation proves that this is not the way to resolve the crisis in Acheh. On the contrary, it has created new problems, reopened old wounds, and provided the potential for more political violence by the state like that which gripped Acheh during the DOM period.

This has led to a very realistic and rational polarization of attitude from a people that has been inflicted with such wounds by those they had considered as their brothers. The continued betrayal, the brutal abuses of human rights, the perpetual injustices in the implementation of central economic and legal policies, have given the Achenese a very serious psychological trauma, acts that defy universal considerations, that prevent them from enjoying even the most basic of their human rights, to live in peace and free from fear.

In addition, increasing political demands, from the people of Acheh, to be self-reliant is a reflection of the distrust of the Achenese people have towards the Indonesian government. IFA (International Forum for Acheh) believes that the current and future armed forces presence in Acheh is a source of insecurity in Acheh. The doctrine which states that the "the military is the guardian of unity" in reality have shifted to becoming "the military is the cause of the disintegration." It is relevant then the presence of a neutral third party is needed to maintain the security in the Special Province of Acheh.

Base on the above problem, IFA calls on you as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to urge the Indonesian Government to respond immediately to the demands of the people of Acheh for justice and the right to live without violence.
- Pressure the Indonesian government to call for a halt to all military operations in Acheh.
- Pressure the Indonesian government so that the Army's Operasi Wibawa 99 should be immediately halted and withdraw all special forces from Acheh including the recently dispatched PPRM (Crack Riot Troops), as the first step towards the total demilitarization of Acheh.
- To take steps to dispatch a UN Human Rights envoy or appropriate UN special reporter to Indonesia. Impress upon the authorities the need for immediate action to be taken to remedy the human rights situation in Acheh.
- To urge the Indonesian Government to ensure that the perpetrators of human rights violation in Acheh should be brought to trial and punished. Mechanism must be established and processed, institutional order must be restored to guaranteed that each and every case of human rights violation in Acheh be investigated thoroughly and openly in order for the descent into anarchy be averted. The Indonesian Government must make every effort to respond to the trauma quite clearly being suffered by the people of Acheh. It is critically important that the people of Acheh begin to get a sense that justice will be done: justice will be attainable only by going back and prosecuting the worst abuses of the past.
- Finally, we urge you as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to put attention for what is happening in the Province of Acheh today.

International Forum for Aceh

Suraiya IT                                                                                        Rahmad Ardiansyah
Vice Chairman                                                                               Executive Director

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Last modified: June 22, 2000