U.S. Groups Urge Indonesian Government to Put People over
Humanitarian Catastrophe Adds to Human-Created Destruction in
Contacts: Michael Beer, NI, 202-244-0951 (w), 703-875-9482
Karen Orenstein, ETAN, 202-544-6911 (w), 202-319-1711 (h), firstname.lastname@example.org
Bama Athreya, ILRF, 703-328-1964 (cell)
December 30 -- U.S.-based groups with a long record of experience
in the region today called on the Indonesian government to not let
politics override the needs of people in tsunami-stricken Aceh. The
groups include the East Timor Action Network (ETAN),
International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) and Nonviolence International
(NI). Contact information for experts on
the region available for interview is listed at the end of this
"Delays by the Indonesian government in allowing
international access to Aceh may have needlessly cost precious
lives. The government's apparent opening of Aceh must continue. The
government must cut through its bureaucratic red tape so aid can get
through as quickly as possible. International and Indonesian
organizations must have unrestricted access to Aceh. International
media must be free to report on conditions and relief efforts.
Strict limits on internationals’ time in Aceh must be
lifted," said Michael Beer of NI.
"Politics must not be allowed to override the needs of the
Acehnese people in this tragic time," he added.
As many as 100,000 people may have been killed in the Indonesian
provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra as a result of an earthquake and
tsunami that struck the region on December 26. The government
initially kept the international community at bay as it apparently
debated whether to open Aceh up to foreigners. The province had been
almost entirely closed to any international presence due to military
operations there. The Indonesian government’s response remains
slow and uncoordinated.
The groups urged aid organizations and agencies to work as
closely as possible with local civil society groups and to resist
Indonesian government and military attempts to close
non-governmental local groups out of the process.
"The high level of corruption in Indonesia, especially in
Aceh, and the great distrust of Aceh’s central government make it
crucial that aid groups be allowed to distribute urgently needed
food, medical supplies, and other assistance outside of government
channels, distributing aid directly and through local NGOs,"
said Karen Orenstein of ETAN.
ETAN, ILRF, and NI further urged the government of Indonesia to
allow Acehnese outside of Indonesia -- many of whom fled political
repression -- to return to Aceh, if they so choose, to seek their
relatives and loved ones and assist the relief effort. Their return
should take place without burdensome visa restrictions and without
Finally, the groups pointed out that this tragedy caused by
natural disaster comes on top of an already devastating
human-created tragedy. Since May 2003, more than 2000 people, most
of them civilians, have been killed in Aceh while the province was
under marital law and then a civil emergency. During a previous
period of martial law from 1989 to 1998 some 10,000 Acehnese
perished. Despite the humanitarian catastrophe, there are still
reports of ongoing military operations against Acehnese rebels.
“We are gravely concerned about reports of cease-fire
violations by the Indonesian military, who are allegedly attacking
Acehnese guerillas instead of focusing on the humanitarian disaster,”
said Bama Athreya of ILRF.
"The world must not forget that the people of Aceh have
suffered massive human rights violations due to years of Indonesian
military repression and guerilla operations by the Free Aceh
Movement. Until very recently, the Indonesian government and armed
forces had virtually sealed Aceh from any foreign presence. The
ceasefires declared by the Acehnese guerrillas and the Indonesian
government this week are a crucial first step. All sides to the
decades-long conflict in Aceh must redouble efforts to find a
peaceful solution that strongly involves civil society,"
Two U.S.-based grassroots relief funds have been established for
the earthquake/tsunami disaster in Aceh: Nonviolence
and East Timor Action Network, http://www.etan.org/action/action2/23alert.htm.
Funds raised by these groups will be sent directly to grassroots
Acehnese humanitarian agencies and groups to save lives and relieve
suffering. Both have the full backing of the expatriate Acehnese
community in the U.S.
For interviews and other inquiries,
media are advised to contact the following U.S.-based experts on
Shadia Marhaban, Acehnese journalist living in Boston. Contact:
617-731-1621 or 857-234-6613
Riva Syamsuddin, Acehnese activist and graduate of Syah Kuala
University. Contact: 703-503-5272
Munawar Zainal, Acehnese student activist with the Acheh Center
in Pennsylvania. Contact: 717-343-1598, email@example.com
Allan Nairn, award-winning independent journalist who has spent
much time in Aceh, Indonesia and East Timor in the last few years.
Contact: 917-345-8020, firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Beer, director of Nonviolence International (NI). The NI
office in Banda Aceh was destroyed and several staff members remain
missing. Beer has been a frequent visitor to Aceh over the last 5
years. Contact: 202-244-0951, 703-875-9482, email@example.com
Patrick McInnis, former staff in Aceh for Peace Brigades
International and Oxfam. McInnis served with the Carter Center as an
election observer in Aceh in October and is proficient in the local
Acehnese language. Contact: 831-484-1318
ETAN advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for East
Timor and Indonesia.
The ILRF is a Washington, DC-based human rights advocacy
organization which has long been active on behalf of labor rights in
developing countries and which has brought
suit against Exxon Mobil under the Alien Tort Claims Act for
aiding and abetting torture and crimes against humanity in Aceh.
NI-USA is located in Washington, DC. Our affiliate in Aceh is the
Peace Education Program that teaches conflict resolution and
nonviolence to Islamic clerics and youth. NI serves as a resource
center for nonviolent movements around the world.
see also: Military offensive hinders aid to Aceh