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Who Says Aceh is Integral to RI?
By M. Yusuf Daud 

The Jakarta Post, November 27, 1999 
Editorial and Opinion

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (JP): The struggle of the oppressed peoples of the world for their right to self-determination has often been overshadowed by the notion of so-called "territorial integrity" and the principle of noninterference in the "internal affairs" of a sovereign state. 

The chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) read out a statement during the recent summit in Istanbul, Turkey, expressing deep concern about the terrible situation in Chechnya, but at the same time strongly supporting the "territorial integrity" of the Russian Federation. 

In response to Acehnese demands for a referendum to determine their own future, many Indonesian ministers and top politicians have bluntly echoed the importance of preserving the "territorial integrity" of Indonesia through any means. 

Is territorial integrity so sacrosanct it legitimizes the use of force against innocent civilians in order to prevent a territory from breaking away? 

The territorial integrity of a state is recognized by international law. But human rights, including the right to self-determination, are also an integral part of international law and by definition must be the legitimate concern of the international community. 

It is also a cardinal principle of international law that the legitimacy of a state's control over a territory depends on how it acquired that territory. In the case of Aceh, the territory was unlawfully occupied by the Dutch and then handed over to the newly created Republic of Indonesia after World War II without due process of international law and the laws on decolonization. 

A member of the International Court of Justice, Dillard, has said: "It is the population who decides the destiny of the territory and not the opposite." 

Furthermore, the concept of the "territorial integrity" of Indonesia arose during the era of colonialism as a means to prevent the artificial boundaries of conquered territories from becoming separate independent states. Therefore, the very concept of the "territorial integrity" of Indonesia is by no means sacrosanct or absolute. 

In the past months, the people of Aceh, non-governmental organizations and human rights groups have repeatedly warned the Indonesian government and international organizations, including the United Nations, of the extreme danger of the Indonesian Military's approach to solving the political conflict in Aceh. 

Despite that, the Indonesian Military is now planning to impose martial law in the area -- meaning more blood of innocent Acehnese will be spilled -- and the UN and western democracies still consider the Aceh conflict an "internal affair" of Indonesia. 

Here again, the notion of "internal affairs" is going to be used by the regime as a license to kill more Acehnese and prevent outside intervention. This irresponsible attitude of the international community is also a betrayal of the very principle of the Acehnese's right to self- determination to decide their own future through a fair and free referendum. 

The decades of flagrant violations of human and political rights by Indonesia in Aceh is neither an internal affair nor does it fall under the domestic jurisdiction of any state. It is an international concern that cannot be resolved without international intervention. 

Even if Indonesia succeeds in occupying Aceh militarily, and this will certainly result in many more deaths and casualties, the war will continue unabated. 

History shows that it took Dutch colonialists almost a century to understand the Acehnese cannot be defeated in war. It also took Indonesian colonialists 54 years to learn how resilient Acehnese are in struggling for their freedom. 

And a peaceful pro-referendum rally in Banda Aceh on Nov. 8, 1999, in which a quarter of Aceh's population (1.5 million people) from all walks of life participated, is further proof to the international community that the Acehnese are united and prepared to sacrifice everything they possess when their integrity, dignity and honor are downtrodden. 

Two decades have passed and tens of thousands of innocent Acehnese have either been killed or disappeared without a trace. How long will the international community wait before taking action to save those lives that can still be saved, or must there be many more bloodbaths before the international community will act. Help prove this is not the case. 

Given the tragic fact that the Acehnese have been subjected to centuries of oppression by Dutch, Japanese and Indonesian colonialists, it is not difficult to understand why an overwhelming majority -- if not 100 percent -- of Acehnese believe that independence is the only way forward and a referendum is the most democratic way to solve the Aceh conflict. 

Therefore it is the responsibility of the international community, including the UN, to support and uphold the right of the Acehnese to determine their own future through a free referendum or plebiscite. 

And it is also the duty of the UN to prevent the political and human rights of the Acehnese from being usurped by Indonesia on the grounds of "territorial integrity" and the "internal affairs" of the Republic of Indonesia. 

The writer is the secretary-general of the Free Aceh Movement in Europe.

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Last modified: June 22, 2000