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International Human Rights Delegation to Aceh, Sept 19-26, 2000 

Findings and Recommendations

by Michael A. Beer Director, Nonviolence International, Washington, DC,

Mission Statement
Human Rights Groups
Human Rights Violations by GAM 
Human Rights Violations by Security Forces
Internally Displaced People
Jafar Siddiq Hamzah
Safwan Idris
Acehnese Vilified
Humanitarian Pause
Recommendations of the Delegation

"If you come here in a year's time, all of the human rights leaders sitting around this table will be changed" said Suraiya of Flower Aceh. "All of us will have been killed, jailed, or run away."

This was a remark made to an emergency human rights delegation, which visited Aceh from September 19 through September 26, 2000. The delegation included Dr. Karim Crow, of the Islamic Peace Forum (Malaysia); Michael Beer, Nonviolence International (USA); Alex Flor, Watch Indonesia! (Germany); and A.H. Semendawai, S.H., ELSAM (Indonesia). The international delegation was supported by the recently formed Indonesia Human Rights Network (U.S.), TAPOL, International Forum for Aceh, the Support Committee for Human Rights in Aceh, and the East Timor Action Network/U.S. The delegation traveled by car from Banda Aceh to Lhokseumawe to Medan.


"The purpose of this fact-finding delegation, comprised of human rights representatives from organizations in six countries, is foremost to offer our condolences to the family and friends of our dear friend and colleague, Jafar Siddiq Hamzah. We will also assess the current situation, and raise the issue of human rights violations in Aceh and against Acehnese. We will strive to draw greater international attention to the need for thorough and transparent investigations into Jafar's murder, and the murders of the four whose bodies were found with his on September 3, as well as the hundreds of others disappeared and killed over the past year in Aceh. We will specifically include questions pertaining to the abduction and murder of MP Nasharuddin and the disappearance of Ismail Syahputra, who was abducted during the Humanitarian Pause outside any combat zone. We will witness the progress of Indonesian police investigations, speak with friends and colleagues of Jafar, and bring our findings and conclusions to the Indonesian and international press. We hope in this small way to honor the memory of Jafar and to take us all one step closer to realizing justice in Aceh."

Human Rights Groups

Human rights groups are under increasing threat from armed groups. Beginning on Sept 21st, 2000, the delegation met with the many of the human rights groups in Banda Aceh, including Koalisi HAM, FP HAM, Cordova, RATA, Flower Aceh, and Kontras. The delegation also met at length with the governor and the deputy chief of police. The situation for human rights in much of Aceh is deteriorating. The Humanitarian Pause is not providing relief from the escalating war. The guerrillas and the Indonesian armed forces are caught in an escalating spiral of violence. The police and army patrol in a way that is perceived to be "non-routine" (and therefore a violation of the humanitarian accords) by the GAM (the guerrillas). GAM or locals attack the security forces, which in turn assail GAM and their perceived civilian supporters by burning down houses, killing, confiscation of money and property, and then GAM attacks police stations and the families of police. Indonesian authorities respond by patrolling more aggressively.

By all accounts, the security forces carry out the large majority of human rights abuses. According to members who serve on the security committee of the humanitarian accords, the GAM has many supporters but few guns and even fewer bullets. Thousands of civilians have been burned out of their homes. Many have been humiliated and harassed by soldiers.

The number of killings, disappearances, burnings, and torture are increasing. So is the number of reports and thus there are more perpetrators who may feel threatened by human rights groups. Human rights groups are perceived to be pro-independence supporters by the Army and police. There is some merit to this perception. In the current Koalisi HAM newsletter, for example, it proclaims the right to an independence referendum as explicitly guaranteed by UN human rights conventions. Referendum is best understood as a synonym for independence. Many human rights groups started by students are clearly supportive of the referendum and are at least sympathetic with the GAM. However, most of the non-student human rights groups achieve a substantial degree of non-partisanship and professionalism in their work.

There are enormous pressures upon human rights institutions (as all of the people of Aceh) to take sides in the conflict. Many of the reports about human rights abuses refer to actions taken by the military and the police. This is not surprising in that this is a typical pattern seen in most armed conflicts between guerrillas and state security forces.

Human rights groups are also finding the task of investigation more difficult. Some witnesses no longer trust human rights groups to achieve any results with the testimonies given. The cost of giving confidential testimony is usually modest but the benefits are perceived to be meaningless. There have been almost no prosecutions or consequences meted out to perpetrators based on survivor testimonies. Some witnesses no longer cooperate with human rights groups.

In Lhokseumawe, the delegation met with a range of human rights groups and journalists covering the conflict including LB HAM. Human rights groups also feel threatened. The number of armed groups appears more numerous. Gangs of various kinds are constantly extorting money, although this appears to have gone down in the last 6 months…apparently due to GAM consolidation of control.


Feminist women's groups face strong threats from both sides. GAM supporters have attacked women in various parts of Aceh for not wearing head coverings. Women's groups have been threatened for counseling and supporting women who have been raped (almost all by security forces). Flower Aceh, a women's group in Banda Aceh, has come under fierce criticism for helping organize an Acehnese women's conference that did not take a stand on the referendum.

There is no danger of an Afghani or Saudi oppression of women in Aceh. Women are strong figures, well educated, and proud of their brand of Islam. There is concern that the situation for women will become more restrictive under shariah law, and in particular law that is largely interpreted and implemented by men.

Human Rights Violations by GAM 

There are very few documented cases of human rights violations by the GAM. Some of the reasons are because the human rights violations are : 

  1. Not re-announced by human rights groups, since the state has easy access to the media and readily gets its allegations aired, 
  2. Not reported because of the difficulty in holding the guerrilla chain of command responsible for the actions of many of its members who operate largely on their own; violators are therefore most easily characterized as unknown agents or provocateurs. 
  3. Not surfaced because social pressures mask violators from explicit threats and actions. 
  4. The GAM requires the support of the people to survive. It does not carry out many violations against its supporters.

Human Rights Violations by the Indonesian Security Forces 

Human Rights violations by the Indonesian security forces are legion. Jafar Siddiq Hamzah, an Achenese human rights defender was kidnapped and killed in Medan in August. Interviews with family and friends indicate a strong likelihood that the Indonesian security forces were involved. In late August, Oxfam workers providing humanitarian assistance to internally displaced people were tortured and almost killed by a high-level police commander. Police and army are on hair-trigger alert. Civilians are killed daily.

The rule of law has broken down. Witnesses are scared to testify for fear of sanction. Human rights workers find it increasingly difficult to get cooperation from the victims because many conclude that the lack of results from previous interviews by human rights groups do not warrant continued cooperation. Assistant Chief of Police Ashukin says that police only receive 11,000 rupiahs a day: enough for food and cigarettes. He said that they typically get 7 months of training: 3 months of military training. 2 months of ideology (pancasila etc.) and 2 months of police procedures. Police training is clearly flawed.

Internally Displaced People 

Internally displaced people in Aceh fluctuate enormously. Certainly, tens of thousands, as of this writing, are camped out at mosques or schools. IDPs, according to Oxfam staff, exist for 4 reasons:

  1. Those manipulated by GAM to flee for publicity stunt reasons. 
  2. Those who feel threatened by TNI and POLRI and have suffered in the past. 
  3. Those whose houses have been burned and were forced to relocate. 
  4. Those who follow their neighbors, in part, out of solidarity.

The delegation saw numerous burned-out houses and shops on the main east coast road of Aceh. We observed IDP camps in the Lhokseumawe area. Most folks live under plastic tarps in difficult conditions on the grounds of schools, and mosques. Banda Aceh experienced a shock on the 20th of September as 15,000 IDPs arrived at the central mosque complaining of burning, looting and killing.

The delegation traveled from Banda Aceh by road to Medan via Lhokseumawe. We passed scores of checkpoints staffed by soldiers and police behind sandbags. We were not stopped as we traveled by day. Non-organic troops are quite obvious as Jawa Timor or Brimob Bandung is emblazoned on the barracks near checkpoints.

Jafar Siddiq Hamzah 

The delegation met with the family of Jafar on Sept 23rd, 2000 near Lhoksuemawe. We found the family in good conditions and in good spirits. The mourning of Jafar as well as fear and concern were nevertheless written in the face. The older sister was very reserved. Jafar's youngest sister, Cut Zahara, on the other hand, was assertive and works very actively. She is active with LBH APIK (the woman legal aid, whose chairwoman in Jakarta is Ibu Nursyahbani) and leads their office in Lhokseumawe. Cut was very calm, only once wiping a few tears from the face.

She has pursued the police and army repeatedly about his case but has progressed little. One of the many ways in which the investigation was botched was that the authorities refused to perform autopsies on the 4 other unidentified bodies found near Jafar. Activists in Banda Aceh claim that a person named Jafar Siddiq was arrested one week before the disappearance of Jafar. The Banda Aceh person was released when they realized they had the wrong Jafar Siddiq. Allegedly, the surviving Jafar is too scared to testify.

The police have yet to officially verify Jafar's body or to certify his death. Jafar's family felt sure and obtained the body and buried it. DNA tests are still pending. The police have refused to release the autopsy report even to the family.

Together with the family we visited Jafar's grave. He is buried with family members, only few meters from the family house. A gravestone has not yet arrived. The family was greatly touched by the visit of the international delegation.

Safwan Idris

Dr. Safwan Idris, rector of the IAIN university was shot in Banda Aceh on the 19th of September at his home at 7 am. He was one of the promising candidates for the post of governor. He was scheduled to speak at the wedding of delegation member Dr. Karim Crow later that day. Dr. Crow married Dr Asna Husin, a prominent Acehnese academic. Two young men claiming to be students came to Dr. Idris' house at 7am to talk. They spoke for a few minutes before shooting him and fleeing on motorbikes.

There is much speculation about the killing. Dr. Safwan Idris' father serves in the GAM leadership. On the other hand, students on campus had weeks before accused Dr. Idris of treason for "cooperating" with the Indonesian authorities. The killing of the relatively non-partisan figure has sent enormous shock waves particularly through the academic, intellectual and human rights community.

Acehnese Vilified 

A worrying trend is the vilification of Achenese in Indonesia. In Medan where hundreds of thousands of Achenese reside, Achenese leaders such as Nasharuddin Daud (member of parliament) and Jafar Siddiq Hamzah have been kidnapped, tortured and killed. Needless to say, the Achenese community in Medan is scared. In Jakarta, the police have accused 25 Acehnese and GAM for perpetrating the bombings at the Malaysia and Philippine embassies, the stock exchange, and elsewhere. Hundreds of thousands of Achenese live in Jakarta and are feeling marginalized. The large Acehnese communities outside of Aceh would likely include larger numbers of autonomy supporters. Recent events provide indication of a worrying trend of further alienating the Achenese people from Indonesian society.

Humanitarian Pause

The delegation met with the Henri Dunant Center facilitators and members of the security and humanitarian committees. All expressed a combination of encouragement and concern. Indonesian and GAM members of the committee seem to be communicating very well. They disagree about many things but have working relationships. The extension of the Humanitarian Pause was hoped for but with improvements. The enlargement of the monitoring committees was a high priority for the Dunant Center. The fact that UNDP (coordinator of foreign assistance in Aceh) had received no funding since the signing of the Humanitarian Pause in May has angered many. Advocates of peace wonder why a humanitarian pause was negotiated in the first place if no additional humanitarian aid was forthcoming.

The humanitarian pause had little violence in June, but since that time violence has increased greatly. The Indonesian Army and police have been more aggressive in their patrols even trying to wipe out GAM camps, while GAM has escalated attacks on patrols, police stations, government buildings and homes of "collaborators."

Referendum The idea of a referendum on Independence such as that witnessed in East Timor still has strong support among a vast number of Acehnese. The democratic notion of a referendum is very appealing. Most of the Acehnese leadership has not yet given up on the idea of a referendum even though the delegation believes the likelihood of Jakarta granting a referendum is nil. The Acehnese people suffer under a number of delusions that stems from a harsh, poor, cruel, and desperate and isolated existence. They manifest classic hopes of national people's struggling for a state: for example, belief in the possibility of US or UN or other international intervention; the belief that their intense morale will wear Jakarta down; that God will deliver them because they are devout (and the Javanese are not); and that they have an iron clad historical and legal claim to independence. Some Acehnese talk in terms of autonomy as a transition period leading to independence, but not many.


  1. We found shocking and systemic abuses by the Indonesian police and military, as well as some by the guerrillas. These include torture, extortion, burnings and killings. 
  2. The Humanitarian Pause is in crisis. 
  3. The use of the army for policing operations is a failure. The army is not trained or authorized to arrest and uphold the rule of law. 
  4. Civil society is shrinking.

Recommendations of the Delegation 

a) The government of Indonesia must allow international organizations to provide humanitarian support without fear of arrest, torture or death by the hands of the police or army.

b) The police of the Republic of Indonesia must follow legal procedures and respect the supremacy of the law in handling human rights cases in Aceh;

c) Human rights NGOs and humanitarian workers assisting IDPs must maintain their nonpartisanship in the conflict;

d) The international community must provide humanitarian and economic assistance to the Acehnese people during the Humanitarian Pause so that the suffering of the Acehnese people due to the sustained economic crisis is relieved.

Additional recommendations made by Michael Beer, Director of Nonviolence International to the international community and Jakarta authorities: (these views do not necessarily reflect the opinions of other delegation participants


1) Increase support to separate the police from the military (and intelligence) in structure, mission and practice in Aceh and all over Indonesia. 

2) Begin efforts to end small arm sales and transfers in Southeast Asia. Cambodia and Burma are sources of small arms for various armed actors in Aceh and elsewhere. It also just so happens that guns are also closely tied to trade in drugs, sex workers, and HIV. ASEAN needs to prioritize small weapons as a regional security issue. 

3) End or do not resume international financial or training assistance to the Indonesia army, navy, or air force. The costs outweigh the benefits. 

4) Oppose the imposition of civil emergency in Aceh.

Strengthen the rule of law 

5) Support the establishment of an International Tribunal to prosecute Indonesian army officials for crimes committed in East Timor. This will send a strong message to Aceh. 

6) Demand serious investigations into the murder of prominent civil society figures such as Jafar Siddiq Hamzah and Dr. Safwan Idris. 

7) Release the autopsy report of Jafar S. Hamzah. 

8) Support drastic reform in police training. Military training of all police candidates should stop immediately.

Economic assistance 

9) Encourage economic growth by calling on the Acehnese DPR (in January) and the GAM to exempt economic cooperatives from taxation for the next 2 years. 

10) Send in development assistance that focuses on education rather than physical infrastructure. 

11) Support the Humanitarian Pause with funding not just lip service. 

12) Send in numerous delegations, people, and observers to let every one know the international community is watching.

Support the decentralization of power 
13) Increase support for the DPR policies to decentralize power to the provinces and the people. 

14) Address the underlying needs for local political, economic and social control. 

15) Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, GAM leader Hasan Di Tiro, and civil society should sit around the table and talk. According to the former governor, Ramli Ridwan, SH, "A peace agreement is not completely utopian."

Press release of delegation

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