Vol. 11, No. 1
ETAN Assists Aceh
ETAN Assists Aceh
by Charles Scheiner
On December 26, 2004, a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck the Indian Ocean. Aceh, Indonesia, was hardest hit, with more than 128,000 people killed and a half-million left homeless. In one hour, this natural disaster took as many lives as the Indonesian military did in 24 years of occupation of East Timor. Natural forces destroyed more buildings and infrastructure than Indonesia-directed militias did in East Timor in “Black September” 1999.
The Acehnese people have endured brutal repression by Indonesian military (TNI) and police for more than a decade. After a brief ceasefire in late 2002, negotiations collapsed, Indonesia arrested the negotiators and restricted international access to Aceh. Martial law and civil emergency in Aceh have killed thousands and displaced tens of thousands, mostly civilians with no connection to the Free Aceh (GAM) independence movement. After the tsunami, GAM suspended military operations, but TNI has continued to fight, killing more than 120 people in January alone.
In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, Acehnese and U.S. friends turned to ETAN to facilitate emergency humanitarian relief. ETAN has worked with grassroots people under Indonesian occupation since 1991, and we understand how the Indonesian military works. ETAN quickly began to solicit and receive donations to directly assist grassroots Acehnese organizations. These local groups know the situation best and the Acehnese trust them.
Jakarta reluctantly admitted governmental and non-governmental international humanitarian agencies into Aceh a few days after the earthquake. Much-needed services were provided by UNHCR, the Red Cross, Oxfam, and even the Pentagon. But all international NGOs and agencies must work through the Indonesian government, with its famous corruption and less well-known adversary relationship to Acehnese civilians. Many Indonesian soldiers found it hard to assist people whom they saw as enemies before December 26, and many survivors are reluctant to trust the soldiers.
With publicity from Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” and other progressive media, ETAN donations for Acehnese organizations came in through our website and mailbox. These contributions went to local groups who have experience working with displaced people, especially children. ETAN’s Aceh relief is a genuine grassroots-to-grassroots effort. So far, we have received $200,000 from more than 1300 donors, most of whom had not donated to ETAN before. About 12% of the donors are from outside the United States. A comprehensive report on how the money has been allocated will be available in a few months.
The amount ETAN collected is tiny compared to the hundreds of millions collected by governments or the Red Cross, but all of it is going directly to local groups — not to high international salaries, airfares, or administrative expenses. Although we paid for emergency food and shelter in the first two weeks, other international agencies soon took care of those needs. At the suggestion of grassroots Acehnese leaders, ETAN held most of the money we raised until unfunded needs became clear.
The programs we have funded include:
Although ETAN was gratified to be able to respond quickly and directly to the emergency in Aceh, we are not a humanitarian assistance organization, and will soon phase out this work. However, we continue to educate people in the U.S. about human rights violations in Aceh and to encourage solutions to the conflict. We are also opposing efforts by the U.S. and Indonesian governments to exploit the disaster to resume military training and weapons shipments to Indonesia’s military.
In addition to op-ed articles written and talks given by ETAN activists around the USA, we prepared a CD-ROM containing a power point slide show intended to accompany presentations. It also includes the 32-minute video Anywhere but Fear: Inside the Martial Law in Aceh 2003-2004 and a collection of reports and documents on Aceh. Copies are available for $12 postpaid from ETAN. International attention to Aceh generated by the tsunami may have a collateral benefit. As of this writing, the Acehnese independence movement and the Indonesian government are discussing ways to end the conflict and “civil emergency” in Aceh. ETAN will continue to follow the human rights situation, especially the role of the United States government and military.
ETAN is still collecting donations for Acehnese groups, although we also need money for our advocacy work in the United States (see above). To donate to Aceh on-line via credit card, go to http://www.etan.org/aceh, or send a check payable to ETAN to our DC address; write Aceh in the memo line. Checks for tax-deductible contributions of $50 or more for the relief effort can be made out to “Nonviolence International”; write “ETAN/Aceh” in the memo.