Subject: Justice Delayed For Aceh's Human Rights Abuse Victims

The Jakarta Post Friday, August 01, 2008

Justice Delayed For Aceh's Human Rights Abuse Victims

Hotli Simanjuntak , The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh

Justice for victims of conflict and human rights abuses in once-restive Aceh could be a long time coming, with the government and the court yet to show any commitment to the establishment of a human rights court.

The settlement of unresolved human rights abuses during and after the Aceh conflict, an integral part of the reconciliation and reintegration program, forms a central clause in the peace agreement signed by the government and the then Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in Helsinki on Aug. 15, 2005. The agreement was also incorporated into the 2006 Aceh regional administration law.

The reintegration of former combatants and conflict victims has progressed slowly, with neither civilians nor servicemen implicated in the human rights abuses during the conflict and the military operation (DOM) being brought to trial.

Supreme Court chief justice Bagir Manan has stressed that the court has no authority to try people for past human rights abuses because the 2000 law on human rights trials did not apply retroactively.

"They (trials for human rights abuses) come under the authority of the Indonesian president and the government, which so far have not proposed to establish a human rights court," he said after swearing in the military court here Monday.

The implication is that the Supreme Court could establish an ad hoc court to deal with unresolved human right abuses if the government or the president proposed it.

The 2006 Aceh administration law orders that a human rights court be established one month after the law itself takes effect, meaning the court should have been established in September 2006.

Kontras Aceh coordinator Asiah Uzia has repeatedly criticized the government's slow work in handling the reintegration and the reconciliation program, which she said could undermine the 2009 general elections.

She said the majority of conflict victims and former combatants had yet to receive any compensation from the government, while military officials implicated in human rights abuses during the conflict, the military operations in 1989 and 1998 and the military emergency in 1999-2000 had not been brought to trial.

"The unresolved human rights abuses could be settled if the government showed the political will to set up an ad hoc human rights court," she said.

The Aceh provincial administration could establish a reconciliation and truth commission (KKR) to handle the human rights abuses despite the Constitutional Court's annulment of the law establishing a national commission for reconciliation and truth, she added.

Saifuddin Bantasyam, a legal expert at Syah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, accused the government of buying time in its attempt to protect human rights perpetrators in the province.

He warned that delays in establishing a human rights court would have political implications for the stability and credibility of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's government and the upcoming general elections.

"Local parties could take strategic steps for the upcoming legislative election and legislators who are former rebels will raise the unresolved human rights abuses as a national issue in the domestic and international arena," he said, adding this could worsen the vertical conflict between Aceh and Jakarta.

Ali Zamzami, chairman of the Solidarity for Conflict Victims Brotherhood (SPK HAM), stressed that conflict victims were still waiting for the government to settle the unresolved human rights abuses and that the current peace was not sustainable unless the human rights abuses were resolved.

He also said perpetrators of past human rights abuses could be brought to justice if the government had the political will to set up an ad hoc human rights court.

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