Vol. 7, No. 1
Remembering Jafar Siddiq Hamzah
by Ben Terrall
International coverage of the militia killings of three UN workers in West Timor in early September overshadowed the equally chilling discovery of the badly mutilated body of Acehnese human rights lawyer Jafar Siddiq Hamzah. Jafar's corpse was found with four other as yet unidentified bodies in a ravine in Medan, Sumatra, one month after he had been kidnapped in broad daylight.
Jafar was studying political science at the New School in Manhattan, where he worked closely with ETAN and played an instrumental role in the formation of the Indonesia Human Rights Network. Despite death threats which would have stopped a less courageous activist, Jafar returned to his homeland in June 2000 to investigate atrocities committed by Indonesian military and police, and the complicity of Mobil Oil in repression there. (In October 1998, 17 Indonesian human rights organizations asserted that Mobil Oil Indonesia, Mobil's wholly owned subsidiary, provided crucial logistic support to the army, including earth moving equipment that was used to dig mass graves.)
Jafar started the International Forum for Aceh and helped found the first Acehnese language newspaper, Su Aceh. A forceful advocate for his people, Jafar criticized violence perpetrated by Indonesian military and police as well as by members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), while noting that the military was responsible for the vast majority of human rights abuses in Aceh, and that some violence attributed to GAM was actually perpetrated by military operatives.
Jafar was a fierce critic of the Suharto/World Bank development model. Of Jakarta's "transmigration" policy, which received considerable Bank funding, he noted that "In Aceh's industrial zones on the coast, and in the mountains of Aceh, the people are primarily Javanese transmigrants and workers. So the Acehnese have no access to the coast or to the mountains. We can't get to the fish and the rice, which are the basis for our existence. We're suffocating in the middle and are starving."
This experience with the downside of New Order development programs helped make Jafar an enthusiastic supporter of anti-WTO and World Bank organizing. A friend and colleague to many in ETAN, Jafar was very much an internationalist and a supporter of nonviolent change. For these convictions, he was disappeared and subsequently tortured to death. Many observers felt his killing was a message from the military that internationally-connected Indonesian activists no longer have a greater degree of protection. The killing of nonviolent activists like Jafar and Dr. Safwan Idris, rector of the State Islamic Religion Institute in Banda Aceh who was assassinated on October 5, indicates TNI has declared war on peaceful dissent. Such repression increases the appeal of armed resistance, which is then used as justification for the Indonesian security forces' "iron fist" approach.
Sidney Jones of Human Rights Watch/Asia responded to Jafar's killing by saying: "We find it odd that so many high-profile people can vanish or be killed, particularly in Medan, Indonesia's third-largest city, and yet the police have not been able to make a single arrest." In a vast understatement, Jones added: "it would seem to indicate incompetence or complicity of the security forces."
Jafar's family has received death threats as they continue to press for justice for their son and brother, and Indonesian journalists writing about the case have also been terrorized. But they continue to carry on Jafar's work, for as East Timorese Nobel Laureate JosŤ Ramos Horta commented, "Jafar's life and death will always inspire us to pursue justice with all our strength." The Indonesia Human Rights Network is dedicated to the memory of Jafar.
See ETAN's website for more information on Jafar's murder.
Return to Winter 2001 Menu