Letter about Aceh to Secretary of State Powell on ASEAN meetings
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Media Release

Powell Urged to Raise Aceh War at ASEAN Meeting

For Immediate Release

Contact: Kurt Biddle, Indonesia Human Rights Network, 510-559-7762 or 510-375-2114 (mobile) 
Karen Orenstein, East Timor Action Network, 202-544-6911

June 16, 2003 - U.S.-based human rights organizations today urged Secretary of State Colin Powell to raise Indonesia's war in Aceh at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Powell is expected to attend meetings there starting June 18.

"We believe it entirely appropriate to convey to the Indonesian Foreign Minister that U.S. cooperation with the Indonesian Government - including military-to-military cooperation and support for Indonesian debt rescheduling - is contingent on a prompt end to the military's human rights abuses and crackdown on civil society in Aceh, as well as on allowing humanitarian relief organizations, human rights organizations and journalists to function freely in the region," the organizations wrote in a letter to the Secretary of State.

"As Indonesia defies international will and continues to attack civilians in Aceh, it is critical that Secretary Powell convey the strongest message possible to Indonesia's leaders that they must put an end to this war and return to the negotiating table," said Karen Orenstein, Washington Coordinator of the East Timor Action Network.

Indonesia is using U.S.-supplied weapons, such as OV-10 Broncos, F-16's and C-130 Hercules aircraft, in Indonesia's largest military operation since the 1975 invasion of East Timor. The Indonesian military has already committed numerous human rights abuses. Human rights groups and journalist have reported extrajudicial executions of children as young as 12 by the military, as well as crackdowns on humanitarian relief organizations, journalists and human rights organizations. The military has announced plans for the forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of civilians; tens of thousands are reported to be internally displaced.

The letter signed by the East Timor Action Network, Indonesia Human Rights Network, International Labor Rights Fund, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, and U.S. Committee for Refugees, also called upon Powell to advance a multilateral ASEAN country effort to press Indonesia towards peace in Aceh.

"The people of Aceh must be part of any discussions about Aceh's future, not just the armed parties. We ask that representatives from Acehnese civil society be included in the negotiations," said Kurt Biddle, Coordinator for the Indonesia Human Rights Network. "After all, civilians have suffered the most in this war."

Background: Aceh, on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, is the site of one of Asia's longest running wars. For almost 27 years, the armed Free Aceh Movement (GAM) has been demanding independence from Indonesia. On December 9, 2002, an important cease-fire agreement (CoHA) was signed between Indonesia and GAM. Both sides were cited as violating the agreement. In February, Indonesian security forces began actively undermining the CoHA by targeting peaceful political and human rights activists for arrest. At talks in Tokyo, the Indonesian government demanded that GAM drop its goal of independence and disband in order to continue the talks -- conditions that GAM could not fulfill. On May 19, 2003, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared martial law in Aceh and a few hours later hundreds of Indonesian troops poured in and renewed the fighting. Numerous civilians and five GAM negotiators were arrested. Under martial law they are not allowed legal representation for twenty days; this can be extended to fifty days. Support in Aceh for independence from Indonesia is widespread and growing in response to a lack of benefit from Aceh's vast natural resource wealth and the brutality of the Indonesian military and police.

ETAN advocates for democracy, sustainable development, justice and human rights, including women's rights, for the people of East Timor. ETAN calls for an international tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity that took place in East Timor since 1975.

IHRN is a U.S.-based grassroots organization working to educate and activate the American public and influence U.S. foreign policy and international economic interests to support democracy, demilitarization, and justice through accountability and rule of law in Indonesia. IHRN seeks to end armed forces repression in Indonesia by exposing it to international scrutiny. IHRN works with and advocates on behalf of people throughout the Indonesian archipelago to strengthen civil society.

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PO Box 15744, Washington, DC 20003

16 June 2003

Secretary of State Colin Powell 
United States Department of State 
2201 C Street NW 
Washington, DC 20500 

VIA Facsimile: 202-261-8577

Dear Secretary Powell:

As organizations concerned with human rights and humanitarian affairs in Indonesia, we welcome your visit to Southeast Asia, which transpires in the context of a brutal military campaign underway in Aceh. We commend U.S. Government leadership of the international effort to preserve the December 2002 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA) between the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). In the wake of the collapse of that effort, we strongly encourage you to use the opportunity afforded by your attendance at the ASEAN Regional Forum on June 18 and the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference on June 19 to convey to Indonesian authorities firm U.S. opposition to the ongoing military operation in Aceh and U.S. protest of the crackdown against Acehnese civil society, including human rights organizations and journalists. We urge you to advance a multilateral ASEAN country effort to press Indonesia to end the military's targeting of civilians, to call a ceasefire, and to return promptly to the negotiating table with GAM.

The military operation entails indiscriminate attacks that have already inflicted many civilian casualties and includes plans for the forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Tens of thousands are reported to be internally displaced. We are concerned for their safety and ability to receive humanitarian assistance.

These operations are reminiscent of similar campaigns by the Indonesian military constituting crimes against humanity and war crimes in East Timor through 1999, a brutal campaign now underway in the central highlands in Papua, and operations in Aceh itself over several decades. As in previous campaigns, the Indonesian military is now employing U.S. weapons systems, including OV10-Broncos, F-16's and Hercules C-130 aircraft in assaults on civilian targets such as villages. We urge you to alert Indonesian authorities that U.S.-supplied weapons must not be used to attack civilians.

We believe it entirely appropriate to convey to the Indonesian Foreign Minister that U.S. cooperation with the Indonesian Government -- including military-to-military cooperation and support for Indonesian debt rescheduling -- is contingent on a prompt end to the military's human rights abuses and crackdown on civil society in Aceh, as well as on allowing humanitarian relief organizations, human rights organizations, and journalists to function freely in the region. Accusations of human rights violations against Indonesian security forces must be independently investigated and prosecuted. The Indonesian Government should return to the negotiating table and ensure that in future discussions Acehnese civil society, the principal victims of decades of war-related abuses, have a direct role in negotiations.

We thank you for your attention to these urgent matters.

Sincerely,

Karen Orenstein 
Washington Coordinator 
East Timor Action Network 

Kurt Biddle 
Coordinator 
Indonesia Human Rights Network

Bama Athreya 
Deputy Director I International Labor Rights Fund

Miriam Young 
Program Officer 
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights

Jana Mason 
Policy Analyst/Congressional Liaison 
U.S. Committee for Refugees 


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