Volume 1, Issue 1

  Impending Clash May Bring Crimes Against Humanity
The Acehnese independence movement (GAM) has its roots in Aceh’s 500-year history of independence. Aceh produces almost one third of Indonesia’s oil, but receives only five percent of those revenues from the government. Civil conflict in Indonesia has resulted in a seventy-five percent civilian casualty rate, with massacres having occurred at the hands of the government militia. An impending conflict for independence can be expected to produce further massacres.
Background to the Current Conflict
Key Players
Nature of the Abuse
Present situation analysis — Danger of the situation
Application of four standards of genocide
Works Cited

Background to the current conflict

Historic climate of resistance

Before becoming part of Indonesia, Aceh had been an independent sultanate with its own currency for several centuries. Even after being colonized by the Dutch, Aceh experienced a long, resistance history against colonial power. During the Indonesian war for independence against the Dutch, Aceh made significant contributions to Indonesia in terms of material and financial resources. (Siedel, UNHCR WriteNet Paper, sect. 2)

After subsequent independence of Indonesia in 1949, as a result of such contributions, Aceh was granted as a ‘special region status’ by President Sukarno after a series of rebellions. This treatment was supposed to give Aceh great autonomy with regard to religion, customary law and education in exchange of loyalty. (TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, “Aceh emerges from years of state of terror”)

Despite such an arrangement, however, the status gave autonomy in name only to Aceh. Its ability to control its policies was nominal. Local authority was taken over by Indonesian military officers sent from Jakarta. Traditionally in Aceh, religious leaders, called Ulama, had administered local districts they were seldom recognized by soldiers from Jakarta under Indonesian rule.

The discovery of natural gas reserves in Aceh has contributed significantly to the central government’s revenue since 1970s. However, Aceh itself has benefited little from its own resources in return. It is estimated that Aceh has contributed one-third of Indonesia’s oil and gas exports, as well as timber, rubber, gold and silver production. (Japan Times, May 25, 2000) On the other hand, Aceh itself in return has received less than 5 percent of the revenue earned from its own oil. (International Crisis Group, Asia Report No.17, 3) Oil-related, well-paid jobs were provided to people from outside of the province, mainly Javanese and foreigners. The government’s transmigration program exacerbated economic discrimination between Acehnese and non-Acehnese and helped broadly nurture a sense of their own resources being exploited by Jakarta.

Muslim Acehnese account for 98 percent of the population in the province. Indonesia, on the other hand, is not an Islamic country despite its largest Muslim population in the world. While 88 percent of the people are Muslim, Indonesian Islam has allowed liberal practice of Hinduism, Buddhism and other beliefs. (US Committee for Refugees, 9 September, 1999) This discontent with secular central government has seemingly remained in Aceh where the Ulama groups have been active. An independent movement aiming at establishing an Islamic independent state has grown where a showdown with the government appears imminent.

Political awakening and growth of anti-Jakarta sentiment

Economic growth after the 1970s has actually facilitated marginalizing much of the Acehnese, widening the disparity between the affluent and the poor. (Siedel, sect. 2) The GAM armed movement began to resurface again in the late 1980s and the 1990s with far wider support from the local Acehnese. Many exiles began to funnel money and weapons to the movement, and several hundred Acehnese returned from Libyan training. (TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, “Aceh Emerges from Years of State Terror”)

In 1989, the GAM resumed its armed struggle. GAM rebels carried out a series of attacks on soldiers and non-Achenese migrants in the region. The Suharto government responded to the GAM by mobilizing the military (TNI), carrying out counterinsurgency operations against suspected members of the GAM code-named Red Net in early 1990. Special elite forces of the TNI were sent to the province to hunt down GAM members. Moreover, the TNI designated Aceh as a special area of military operations (DOM). DOM means that it gives the TNI “an informal authority to take whatever measures are necessary to maintain security in the province.” (ICG, Asia Report No.17, 3, footnote 13) As a result, by 1997, clashes between the two waned, and GAM members began underground movements. (Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, January 2001)

The next phase of the conflict began in 1998 when, as a consequence of the demise of the Suharto regime, frustrations were unleashed across the archipelago. The fact that Suharto’s successor Habibie allowed a referendum for East Timor, and that he initially promised to redress past mistakes as well as the establishment of commission for human rights violations, raised expectations among Acehnese with the awakening of political liberalization. Even General Waranto, then minister of defense and commander-in-chief of the TNI, was forced to apologize the past abuses, withdrawing the DOM status from Aceh. However, thousands of TNI troops went into Aceh when student activists group SIRA (Central Information for Referendum Aceh) initiated a rally for a referendum on Aceh’s future on November 8, 1999. Aspirations for a referendum have rapidly gained support from Acehnese throughout the province, and the GAM has intensified its guerrilla activities. The prosecution against military personnel has virtually halted and the TNI’s counterinsurgency operations have resulted in significant deaths of Acehnese civilians, thousands of internally displaced people, and hundreds of Acehnese fleeing to Malaysia. Acehnese resentment towards the Indonesian central government and the TNI has significantly grown. Human Rights Watch reports:

Since Suharto’s fall, … a broad based coalitions of students, clerics, intellectuals, civil servants and entrepreneurs, though opposed to the violent methods of the rebels, have become outraged at the government’s failure to put an end to the military’s dismal record of abuses in the province and now share the insurgents’ anti-Jakarta sentiment…Greater political, social, and economic autonomy are objectives now widely shared among Acehnese. (Human Rights Watch, May, 2000)

Key Players

GAM (Free Aceh Movement)

The GAM insists that Aceh was illegally transferred to Indonesia in 1949 when Indonesia became independent. In 1976, the GAM (the Free Aceh Movement) was formed under Hasan di Tiro, who has been in exile in Sweden since 1980, proclaimed independence and initiated an armed struggle. The GAM was then backed mainly by some of the local population and supporters in Malaysia. (Sidel, sect. 2) However, since the GAM lacked major support from Acehnese, its movement at that time was limited to small-scale guerrilla activities for several years, accordingly being suppressed by the Suharto’s authoritarian government. After the defeats by the Indonesian government, some of the radical members fled to Sweden and Malaysia. Initial GAM activities had therefore failed to become influential among many Acehnese.

Recently GAM’s guerrilla activities have intensified with massive support from local Acehnese in terms of information, weapons and money. The TNI is experiencing difficulties in suppressing GAM movements. The GAM is currently assumed to have control over 80 percent of villages in Aceh (ICG, Asia Report No.17, 5), where marriage licenses, property transactions, and tax collection are under its control. (Washington Post, 18 April, 2001)

The GAM originally rejected the concept of special autonomy within the framework of Indonesia, claiming that its goal was independence to the end. Recently, the GAM seems to resist whatever measures the central government takes.

However, the GAM is not a unified organization. GAM members have different motives. For example, some members loyal to their leader are participating in the movement with pursuing independence; some are out for revenge for murders of their families committed by the TNI; others are doing so simply because of the desire to commit banditry at the conflict sites. (ICG, Asia Report No.18, 18) The GAM is also alleged to be divided about what system the independent Aceh should take, such as democracy, sultanate. (Inside Indonesia, No. 62)

The GAM is sometimes described as a Muslim extremist group, it appears to have the aspects of a guerrilla group seeking Aceh independence. The GAM is especially active in Pidie, Bireuen, and North and East Aceh, where major oil reserves are concentrated. Especially, Lhokseumawe, where Indonesia’s leading oil and gas producer Exxon-Mobil is located, is one of the famous oil sites under GAM’s control in Indonesia.

The Indonesian government and the TNI

Both the government and the TNI have no intention to allow independence for Aceh. Here lies the biggest disparity between the two forces and difficulties of the resolution to this conflict.

The Wahid government adopted several approaches other than military crackdown in order to deal with Aceh problem. As for the TNI, however, a call for a referendum has even been rejected on the ground that it would cause similar conflicts in other restive regions of Indonesia, finally causing the disintegration of the entire archipelago. “Anything that threatens or is believed to threaten the borders, from within or without, is conceived as a threat to the state that TNI is sworn to defend. The problem in Aceh can be likened to a family where the father is responsible for the behavior of his children.” (ICG, Asia Report No.17, 19)

The traditional strategies of the TNI have been sending overwhelming number of its troops to rebellions. (ICG, Asia Report No.17, 12) As the GAM intensifies its guerrilla activities, the TNI has responded to GAM with more troops. The death toll in the past three years is said to be about the same as during the decade under Suharto. (Far Eastern Economic Review, 05 July, 2001) In 2001 alone, more than 900 people, 75 percent of whom are civilians, are estimated to have been killed. (UNOCHA, 6 July, 2001) According to BBC, the death toll this year is already about 1000. (BBC, 7 July, 2001)

Moreover, the TNI has carried out some intelligence operations so that its missions and authority could be justified. Among them are secret operations in industrial areas like Lhokseumawe with intent to blame disruption of production and human rights abuses for the GAM, and ‘civic action programs’ in GAM controlled areas in order to discourage local population from supporting the GAM. (ICG, Asia Report No.17, 17)

Nature of the abuses

TNI atrocities

The independent commission on violence in Aceh, created in 1998 by former president Habibie, assessed that over 90 percent of human rights abuses in the area were committed by the TNI and the police during the period 1989-98. (ICG, Asia Report No.17, 8) Recent data, covering August 1998 to 1999, the Care for Human Rights Forum (FPHAM), reveals that 534 were killed, 83.7 percent of which, 447, were civilians, and 15.7 percent of which, 84, were military and police members. (Jakarta Post, 11 January, 2000)

TNI’s target has been, and still is, GAM members and its supporters. However, the TNI seems to have targeted civilians as well, who may be seen as GAM sympathizers. Among other atrocities, a particularly gruesome instance gained wide press attention when a local man, not a GAM member, had his kidney taken out for a military officer after 20 days of detention with almost no food. (BBC, 30 January, 2001) Moreover, humanitarian workers have often become victims of the violence committed by the TNI and the police. ICG warns that such aid workers are targeted regardless of their objectives, because the TNI deems them as helping the GAM. (ICG, Asia Report No.17, 15-16) In fact, many NGOs working in Aceh are viewed ‘not to be neutral’. (Far Eastern Economic Review, 05 July, 2001) Even journalists are often threatened or tortured. According to the Jakarta Post, 53 cases of crimes against the media were reported between 1999 and June 2001. (Jakarta Post, 09 July, 2001)

Special security forces, which had virtually been identical to the TNI under the Suharto era, were separated from the TNI in 1999. Yet, the police are stationed at local districts, and their units called Brimob have still carried out military-like operations or actual joint operations with the TNI. Therefore, the police and the TNI can be said to remain virtually the same. The units Brimob are alleged to be less disciplined and to commit various abuses including murder as well.

The following are examples of likely crimes against humanity, massacres and discovered mass gravesites indicating the potential danger for future genocidal activities.

Date 21 July, 2001
Place Aceh Timur
Victims 21
During a military-police joint operation, at least 21 people were shot dead after a raid in a village in Aceh Timur seeking a GAM member. The TNI spokesman claimed that the victims were all GAM members, but the GAM denied the allegation, saying only one belonged to the GAM and the rest were civilians. Witnesses said the troops opened fire on residents who were trying to flee. (Jakarta Post, July 22, 2001)
Date 31 July, 2001
Place Menderek village, Central Aceh
Victims 27
A gunfight between security forces and the GAM, in the middle of the peace talks in Geneva, left 27 people dead. Nineteen of the victims were burnt in two houses, while others were shot. The TNI stated the dead were all GAM members. (AFP, 02 July, 2001)
Date 6 December, 2000
Place Lhokseumawe, North Aceh
Victims 3
The military members abducted three humanitarian volunteers working for Rehabilitation Action for Torture Victims in Aceh (RATA). Washington Post states they showed their written authorization to travel freely through the province when they were forced to stop their car. (Washington Post, 17 December, 2000) They were then taken to military posts, stripped, beaten and finally shot in the head in an execution manner with their hands tied up. They were working in a GAM controlled area, thus supposedly being deemed as GAM supporters. (Amnesty International, 31 January, 2001)

A survivor testified to Human Rights Watch that TNI officers were involved in the killings. (Human Rights Watch, 13 December, 2000)
Date 3-10 November 2000
Place Banda Aceh, provincial capital
Victims Up to 30
The security forces opened fire on convoys in which Acehnese trying to participate in a peaceful pro-independence rally were on board, killing up to 30 people. Those who were prevented from going to the rally were tortured, or treated in brutal ways or intimidated not to join the rally by the security forces. BBC states that about 100,000 people could not enter Banda Aceh. (BBC, 10 November, 2000) At least five involved in organizing the rally were detained. (Amnesty International, 31 January, 2001) The rally was to be held to commemorate the first anniversary of a pro-referendum demonstration participated by half a million Acehnese in November 1999.

According to Jakarta Post, the police blamed the deaths on the crowds, claim that the masses forced their way to Banda Aceh, and the police tried to block the men shooting at the troops. The police and the military joint forces shot 9 more people in other provinces. (Jakarta Post, 12 November, 2000)
Date 23 July, 1999
Place Beutong Ateuh, West Aceh
Victims Up to 70
The military-police joint forces surrounded a religious school, which was led by a religious leader who was a political prisoner. Not only the leader himself, but also his wife and his students were shot dead. The number of students killed were assumed to be about 70. They were also believed to be unarmed.

Human Rights Watch states that the forces attacked the school, suspecting weapons were hidden, but four weapons were found on the site. (Human Rights Watch, 27 August, 1999)

Jakarta Post reports that the TNI spokesman claimed that its soldiers opened fire for self-defense after an exchange of fire. 21 bodies of the victims were later found in ravines, seven kilometers away from the school, by a group of journalists and human right activists. (Jakarta Post, July 31, 1999)

Note: 24 TNI soldiers were convicted for murder of 57 people later in May 2000, sentenced to up to ten years in jail. (Radio Netherlands Wereldomroep, 17 May, 2000)
Date May 3, 1999
Place Kreung Geukueh, North Aceh
Victims At least 31 (unconfirmed)
At least 31 Acehnese were killed and 102 were injured when security forces fired on a mass gathering to protest the TNI. Some people were shot in the back as they attempted to flee. The TNI claimed that it intended to intimidate local Acehnese.
Mass Grave Discoveries
Date 2-6 July, 2001
Place Lhokeseumawe, North Aceh
Victims Approximately 30
BBC reports that humanitarian workers found about 30 bodies in a village near Lhokeseumawe at the beginning of July, 2001. Some of the victims had been shot. However, who killed these people is unknown. (BBC, 7 July, 2001)
Date Mid-June 2001
Place Bandar subdistrict, central Aceh
Victims Estimated 50
On 01 July 2001, at least 31 bodies were found. Those victims were believed to have been killed during a raid by the TNI in mid-June where 45 people were killed and dozens of buildings were burned down. (AFP, 02 July, 2001)
BBC reports the same discovery, saying that fifty bodies were found at various places in western parts of Aceh, especially in central Aceh. (BBC, 2 July, 2001)
GAM tactics and abuse
Unlike the TNI, the GAM shows less military prowess. Most armed members are armed themselves with homemade firearms or explosives. The GAM seems to have acquired weapons by stealing from the TNI, in addition to the smuggled arms through Malaysia and Thailand provided from its expatriate supporters. For funding, the GAM engages in marijuana cultivation and trading, in addition to monetary contributions from Acehnese within and outside of the province. Local Acehnese have also helped the GAM with “an extensive network of informers and lookouts,” which enables the GAM to obtain and thereby anticipate TNI’s intelligence movements. (ICG, Asia Report No.17, 7) It is estimated that these supporters exceed GAM’s armed members by two or three times in numbers. (ICG, Asia Report No.17, 7) Moreover, even the political vacuum in some local districts has been filled with GAM members or its supporters. (TAPOL, 23 April, 2001)
The GAM employs guerrilla strategies, such as ambushes and raids on military posts. The GAM has also destroyed government facilities and police spots with handmade bombs. Washington Post describes the GAM as “a motley assortment of several hundred camouflage-clad guerrillas hiding in the jungle and several thousand ordinary villagers who take up arms at night.” (Washington Post, 18 April, 2001) However, GAM’s activities are not confined to such guerrilla attacks against the TNI, security forces and suspected informers. The GAM has also committed human rights violations against local civilians in order to blame such violations on the TNI to discredit its authority. Furthermore, the GAM has disrupted Exxon-Mobil’s production by, for example, cutting pipelines, putting pressures on the central government. (ICG, Asia Report No.17, 9) More recently, USAID introduces GAM’s new tactic, where the GAM is targeting “Javanese trans-migrant communities in Central Aceh, claiming that their victims were TNI-supported militias.” (USAID, 30 June, 2001) The GAM has internationalized the Aceh conflict and elevated it to the most prominent problem in the archipelago. (WFP, August 2000, 2)
Date 19 December, 1999
Place Geureutee, near Banda Aceh
Victims 3-20
About 2:30 pm, GAM members ambushed a convoy of trucks carrying police officers, firing on them. At least three policemen were reported to be killed. The GAM claimed that it killed at least 20 people, saying the ambush was retaliation for the TNI’s military operations. The policemen were on their way home from a patrol. (Jakarta Post, 20 December, 1999)
Date 29 May, 1999
Place Meulaboh, West Aceh
Victims 9
About 30 armed GAM guerrillas assaulted security soldiers returning from a deployment and killed 9 of them. (Jakarta Post, May 31, 1999)

In the same article, it also reports that 450 transmigration families were threatened by the GAM, fleeing to resettlement areas in Lhokeumawe on the same day.
Present situation analysis — Danger of the situation
Aceh represents a potentially very volatile situation. Several approaches to deal with the Aceh problem have been attempted by the central government.

Peace Talks

First is the peace dialogue between the two forces. Their previous negotiations in Switzerland ended up with a pause called “The Joint Understanding on Humanitarian Pause for Aceh”, which was signed in May 2000, came into effect in June 2000 and finally extended until 15 January, 2001. This pause failed to abate violence on either side, however. On the contrary, the violence has further escalated since last year with both sides blaming either the other or unknown third parties. The Jakarta Post reports that after the humanitarian pause came into force, the violence did intensify, leaving at least 100 people dead, 86 of who were civilians, and 11 police officers and 3 soldiers. (Jakarta Post, 12 September, 2000) After the pause expired, a moratorium was agreed upon, but the violence did not cease. The humanitarian pause was then replaced with a ‘Peace through Dialogue’ approach including a ceasefire and consultations to end armed conflict in Aceh on 10 March 2001. At the beginning of July 2001, peace talks were held again in Geneva. Although both sides agreed on pursuing a peaceful resolution and continuing to have another talks again in September, there was no major progress that could lead to the improvement of the situation. As a matter of fact, even during the peace talks, the TNI is alleged to have carried out killings, in which at least 27 people were killed. (AFP, 02 July, 2001)

Because the GAM is a diverse organization, the peace talks with the GAM do not necessarily bring about a solution that satisfies all the various interests of the GAM. Another difficulty of the peace talks is who represents each side to attend the talks. The GAM did not send the chief commander of its armed wing, AGAM. The government officials criticized the GAM, saying that the peace talks could not be productive unless the GAM sent him to the negotiation table in order to stop violence on the ground. On the other hand, the government’s chief negotiators are Coordinating Minister for Political, Social and Security Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General for Political Affairs. This has been also controversial among government officials because sending people from Ministry of Foreign Affairs implies the government has recognized the GAM at the diplomatic level. Under such circumstances, as the past failed truces demonstrate, it is unlikely that this dialogue would work out a solution leading to a ceasefire in Aceh.

Special autonomy

The second method is the special autonomy, which was by the Indonesian parliament, and finally passed on, July 19, 2001. The government’s objective of giving autonomy to Aceh is to alleviate Acehnese resentments over economic exploitation of the province, thereby reducing supports for independence. (ICG, Asia Report No. 18, ii) The draft requested 85 percent of the revenues generated from Aceh’s natural resources would be allocated to the province, but the number was settled at 70 percent in the final law. Other than that, the law allows Aceh to deal with all legal matters based on Shariah (Islamic) Law for Muslims and Indonesian criminal law for non-Muslims in the province as proposed in the draft. Aceh is also allowed to raise its own provincial flag alongside the Indonesian national flag. (Jakarta Post, 03 July, 2001; 16 July, 2001)

Unlike other regions where separatist movements are active, Acehnese have sent leading politicians into the national political stage since the Sukarno era. The draft was a deliberate product of such Acehnese elite in Jakarta. The elite has been solidly integrated into the Indonesian rule, some of which hold basically the same view with the central government, that is, keeping Aceh within Indonesia. (Inside Indonesia, No.62) Even though it was passed, there still remains skepticism among Acehnese that the central government will faithfully implement it. (ICG, Asia Report No.18, 13). There remains a possibility that the government might withdraw it later. The GAM announced that it did not accept the law on the ground that such elite does not represent the entire Acehnese. (Jakarta Post, 20 July, 2001) Actually, given that the GAM has significant influences over most of the Aceh’s province, it is assumed possible for the GAM to disrupt the implementation of the law. Some Acehnese interpret this law as a first step to facilitate the peace talks, yet it is unlikely that the GAM will accept the new law as it is.


The election of the President Wahid contributed to the renewed hope in the struggle for independence. Although he had reiterated the idea of the referendum for Aceh, he never carried it out. In fact, Wahid himself did not want Aceh to be independent at the time he announced the possibility of a referendum. It is believed that he made such statement assuming that Acehnese would vote for remaining within Indonesia if the referendum is carried out. (PBS online NewsHour Report, 12 November, 1999) It is clear that the government’s objective is still to uphold the sovereignty of Indonesia. In Aceh, students groups like SIRA, and Ulama groups have expressed their supports for a referendum, assuming the result would be independence. Even the GAM has shifted its position into supporting referendum as a precursor to independence after Ulama groups publicly sustained a referendum (Inside Indonesia, No.66). Currently, most of Acehnese require a referendum for the right to self-determination.

A parallel is often drawn between the recent independence activities in East Timor. However, there are some significant differences between the two cases: Aceh lacks a strong, charismatic leadership as East Timor had; there is no widespread international supports for Aceh (TIME, 13 December, 1999); GAM has received weapons and training from foreign countries, while East Timor had not; and most importantly, Aceh has much more abundant natural resources than East Timor has. (Human Rights Watch, 27 August,1999) Without doubt, the rich resources in Aceh have been a substantial swing factor in the central government’s resistance to Aceh independence, in addition to the fear of the disintegration of the archipelago. Accordingly, given the hard-line view among the TNI and the central government’s firm rejection of granting independence for Aceh, the possibility of a referendum that may lead to independence is quite unlikely.

Military operations

The government has emphasized that military operations are a last resort and will be limited to action against the armed members of the GAM. However, the TNI soldiers seemingly prefer continuing the current state of fighting rather than making concessions to the GAM. There is an allegation that TNI’s individual soldiers have benefited from the military operation in terms of money, reputation and promotion. (ICG, Asia Report No.17, 12) Certain levels of conflict could justify military operations at the conflict sites, which serves not only to justify its authority, but also to ensure the benefit from the link with local economic activities so that individual soldiers can supplement their meager income. (ICG, Asia Report No.17, 13)

On the other hand, some GAM members have a self interests in continuing fighting as well. As noted earlier, the GAM is fragmented in that the disparity between the government-in-exile and its armed wing on the ground exists. Only a loose affiliation with GAM’s objectives have some members participating in GAM activities out of pure economic interests. Even gangsters claim themselves as GAM members in order to extort money from local Acehnese. Amnesty International further points out that the GAM sees the aggravation of the conflict as an opportunity to recruit members. (Amnesty International, November, 2000)

Wahid had resisted mounting pressure from the TNI and other politicians to declare a state of emergency and to launch military operations. Instead, on 11 April 2001, he released a decree called Presidential Instruction 4/2001, under which the police was responsible for security and order with assistance of the TNI. (ICG, Asia Report No.17, 9) Wahid issued it with an intent to stem violence in Aceh, by letting the police, not the TNI, maintain order on the ground since the police had been seen less aggressive than the TNI. Despite its objective to cease violence, however, this decree set another stage of military operations. The decree has served as coordination of both the TNI and the police forces under single authority. (Serambi, 21 April, 2001, quoted in ICG, Asia Report No.17, 9) A special intelligence unit trained for anti-guerrilla operations was sent to Aceh in late April. Consequent military operations have intensified from May, leading to further deterioration of the situation with more human rights violations in Aceh. As a response, the GAM declared ‘a state of emergency’ of its own in May. (BBC, 11 May, 2001) An attempt to establish peace zones in the North Aceh and Bireun districts where Exxon-Mobil is located had already failed by that time. (The Times of India, 19 March, 2001) The Wahid government finally declared to freeze the joint committee on security matters with the GAM in July.

Application of four standards of genocide

In considering whether the present situation in Aceh constitute genocide, four standards adopted by the Genocide Prevention Center must be examined. When all these standards are met, the situation can be recognized as genocide. These standards are: 1) the human rights violations meet the UN definition of genocide; 2) the abuses are intentional; 3) the abuses are habitual in nature; 4) killing must be the primary characteristic of the abuses.

Genocide Standard 1: Do the abuses in Aceh meet the UN definition?

To consider this first standard, whether or not the GAM falls on one of these definitions should be examined. The United Nations acknowledges genocide according to the definition in Article III of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide (1948), which states genocide is “actions committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”

This conflict has occurred largely between the TNI/police and the GAM. The Acehnese are an ethnic group recognized by the Indonesian government and therefore could be considered under the UN 1948 Convention on Genocide. The crimes that are occurring presently could be considered crimes against humanity or war crimes. However, the abuses are not of the magnitude or of significant number to constitute genocide as construed by the UN. The danger in Aceh is in the potential for unchecked escalation with a proven specific danger to the civilian population largely at the hands of the TNI. In this regard, a clash, which appears to be imminent, could prove to be a human rights catastrophe with possible genocidal ear markings.

In a more positive vein, both the TNI and GAM appear to be taking pains recently to concentrate attacks on military targets. As of late, the GAM’s main targets have been the TNI and the police, and informers working for them. On the other hand, the TNI has mobilized its forces to suppress GAM members or its collaborators but not the entire Acehnese population. In fact, the TNI’s intelligence operations have a mission to manipulate the local population in order to turn them away from assisting the GAM.

The conflict can be seen as a civil conflict over control of natural resources with the growing call for justice for the victims of the TNI’s operations. (Inside Indonesia, No.64) In this sense, the GAM and its supporters could be seen as a group motivated by Aceh nationalism, which has a “ready-made set of historical myths of national struggle and sacrifice” in addition to Islamic identity. (Inside Indonesia, No.62).

Genocide Standards 2 and 3: Do the abuses intentional and habitual?

As for the second and third standards, there is no doubt about their applications to Aceh regarding massive human rights violations. However, few of the abuses that have occurred recently have the clear-cut distinction of wholesale massacres at the hands of either party. Most of the incident have been clouded by military action in or around the specified area. The TNI has long been suppressed Acehnese systematically since the Suharto era using its weapons and consequent violence, with a clear intention to destroy, or dissipate insurgents groups.

One estimate says that the killings have occurred at a rate of one hundred a month since the beginning of this year. (TAPOL, 23 April, 2001) Also the violence on both sides inflicted about casualties of hundreds of local innocent civilians with thousands of Acehnese displaced or expelled from homes. In fact, most of the victims are civilians, which is substantially incidental to this conflict in Aceh.

Genocide Standard 4: Is killing the primary characteristic of the abuse?

TNI’s objective in Aceh has been eliminating GAM members and its supporters and thus bring Aceh under the control of the central government. TNI soldiers are raiding houses or blocking main roads with checkpoints looking for GAM members. Suspected as GAM members or its collaborators, people including women and children, or sometimes babies have been killed by the TNI operations; systematically harassed, physically abused, tortured, or eventually murdered. Taking the growing death tool and increasing number of the TNI troops and its missions into consideration, killing GAM members and thereby terminating its activities from the province could be the primary characteristic of the TNI operations. A humanitarian worker told the Washington Post, “before, the government would arrest people and put them in prison. Now there are no more court cases. They just kill people right away.” (Washington Post, April 18, 2001)

In sum, after the four standards of genocide are consulted, the conflict in Aceh is not constitute genocide. While there are serious human rights violations including massacres, the military aspect of civilian casualties combined with some intentional civilian casualties, sufficiently clouds the picture to deny a clear-cut indication of genocide present in Aceh. However, since historically both Indonesian government and the TNI have been used to the means of quelling insurgent movements by killing rebels and civilian population, given the fact that the violence has intensified with few possible solutions found, the possibility of mass slaughter is extremely high.


In Aceh, the situation has worsened since Wahid issued the Presidential Instruction 4/2001 as a result of his political weakness, which has led to TNI’s launching of offensive operations. Wahid implied that he would declare state of emergency by July 20th unless the parliament stopped impeachment against him. (CNN, 12 July, 2001) However, opposition to him from the parliament, especially from the TNI, had been strong in Jakarta, finally forcing him to resign. Now that Wahid has been replaced with Megawati, some fear the involvement of the TNI in the central government, since she is alleged to have a closer relationship with the TNI than Wahid.

Both the acceptance of the law by the GAM and Acehnese, or its proper implementation by the government is doubtful at this moment. If this autonomy option fails, the only alternative would be a prolonged military operation. (ICG, Asia Report No.18, 20) Given that the ongoing brutal abuses by the TNI, and virtually little chance of the prompt prosecutions of those who committed abuses in the past, the possibility of mass killings by the TNI continues to be high in Aceh.

In conclusion, human rights violations in Aceh do not constitute genocide, although the future of Aceh is still in danger of deteriorating into further violence. It is likely that the situation in Aceh will not be resolved to the satisfaction of either the TNI or the GAM. In either case, a prolonged struggle, which appears to be escalating, will result in serious civilian casualties and possible further crimes against humanity. If the experience with East Timor is any indication, a strong international awareness of the situation may result in proper resources being directed toward a preventative strategy for the resolution of the conflict.

At present, the violence in Aceh does constitute crimes against humanity largely at the hands of the TNI including murder of civilians. The following crimes against humanity are being committed in Aceh: extra-judicial killings and execution; torture; other inhuman treatments of people; abduction; forcible disappearance of people; arbitrary arrest and detention; destruction of property; enforced transfer of population; rape; disruption of transportation; death threats; disruption of the media.
Works Cited
International Crisis Group
International Crisis Group. “Aceh: Why military force won’t bring lasting peace.” ICG Asia Report No.17, 12 June, 2001. http://www.crisisweb.org/projects/showreport.cfm?reportid=308 (August 2001)

International Crisis Group. “Aceh: Can the autonomy stem the conflict?” ICG Asia Report No.18, 27 June, 2001. http://www.crisisweb.org/projects/showreport.cfm?reportid=331 (August 2001)

Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch. “Indonesia: Civilians Targeted in Aceh,” May, 2000. www.hrw.org/press/2000/05/aceh05-back.htm (June 2001)

Human Rights Watch. “Why Aceh is Exploding,” 27 August, 1999. http://www.humanrightswatch.org/campaigns/indonesia/aceh0827.htm (June 2001)

Human Rights Watch. “Indonesia:Sole Survivor of Attack on Humanitarian Aid Workers Speaks,” 13 December, 2000. http://www.hrw.org/press/2000/12/acehtest.htm (June 2001)

Amnesty International
Amnesty International. “Briefing on the current human rights situation in Indonesia.” ASA 21/ 06/2001, 31 January, 2001. http://web.amnesty.org/ai.nsf/Index/ASA210062001?OpenDocument&of;=COUNTRIESINDONESIA (June 2001)

Amnesty International. “Activists at risk in Aceh.” ASA21/61/00, November 2000. http://web.amnesty.org/ai.nsf/Index/ASA210612000?OpenDocument&of;=COUNTRIESINDONESIA (June 2001)

Online News Sources
Agence France-Presse(AFP). “Death toll from Aceh violence rises to 66.” 02 July, 2001.
http://sg.news.yahoo.com/010702/1/1816y.html (July 2001)

The Jakarta Post. “Bill on special autonomy for Aceh proposed.” 03 July, 2001. http://www.thejakartapost.com/Archives/ArchivesDet.asp?FileID=20010703.A01 (July 2001)

The Jakarta Post. “House passes bill granting special autonomy for Aceh.” 20 July, 2001. http://www.thejakartapost.com/Archives/ArchivesDet.asp?FileID=20010720.@03 (July 2001)

The Jakarta Post. “Two explosive devices rock Aceh, police officer says.” 12 September, 2000. http://www.thejakartapost.com/Archives/ArchivesDet.asp?FileID=20000912.A02 (August 2001)

The Jakarta Post. “More deaths as Acehnese arrive for huge rally.” 10 November, 2000. http://www.thejakartapost.com/Archives/ArchivesDet.asp?FileID=20001110.@01 (August 2001)

The Jakarta Post. “Impunity increasingly a habit in Aceh.” 11 January, 2000. http://www.thejakartapost.com/Archives/ArchivesDet.asp?FileID=20000111.C02 (August 2001)

The Jakarta Post. “Three policemen killed in Aceh.” 20 December, 1999. http://www.thejakartapost.com/Archives/ArchivesDet.asp?FileID=19991220.@01 (August 2001)

The Jakarta Post. “52 die, five missing in recent Aceh violence.” 31 July, 1999. http://www.thejakartapost.com/Archives/ArchivesDet.asp?FileID=19990731.@01 (August 2001)

The Jakarta Post. “Aceh rebels kill nine more people.” 31 May, 1999.
http://www.thejakartapost.com/Archives/ArchivesDet.asp?FileID=19990531.@01 (August 2001)

The Times of India. “Aceh rebels agree to set up peace zones.” 19 March, 2001.
http://timesofindia.com/190301/19aspc5.htm (June 2001)

BBC. “Aceh rebels declare ‘state of emergency’.” 11 May, 2001.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/asia-pacific/newsid_1325000/1325159.stm (June 2001)

BBC. “Bodies discovered in Aceh.” 7 July, 2001.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/asia-pacific/newsid_1427000/1427475.stm (August 2001)

BBC, “Fifty bodies found in Aceh.” 2 July, 2001.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/asia-pacific/newsid_1418000/1418163.stm (August, 2001)

BBC. “Murder and rape in Aceh.” 30 January, 2001.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/asia-pacific/newsid_1078000/1078087.stm (August 2001)

BBC, “Death toll rises before Aceh rally.” 10 November, 2000
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/asia_pacific/newsid_1016000/1016880.stm (August 2001)

CNN. “Indonesia’s pain: the Peace Zone from hell.” 13 April, 2001. http://asia.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/southeast/04/12/indonesia.aceh.pzone/index.html (June 2001)

CNN. “Wahid outlines state of emergency plans.” 12 July, 2001.
http://www.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/southeast/07/12/wahid.impeach/index.html (August 2001)

Chandrasekaran, Rajiv. “A Rebellion Picks at Indonesia’s Seams – Intensifying Violence in Aceh Could Lead to Unraveling of Archipelago.”
Washington Post. 18 April, 2001.
http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A29663-2001Apr17.html (August 2001)

Chandrasekaran, Rajiv. “Aid Workers Targeted in Aceh Strife- Counselor Describes Execution- Style Slayings of 3 Co-Workers and Blames Indonesian Soldiers.”
Washington Post. 13 December, 2000.
http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A61258-2000Dec12.html (August 2001)

Washington Post. “Indonesia military asserts its autonomy.” 11 July, 2001.
http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A42463-2001Jul10.html (August 2001)

The Japan Times. “At long last, silence in Aceh.” 25 May, 2000.
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?ed20000525a1.htm (August 2001)

Radio Netherlands Wereldomroep. “Human Rights Convictions in Aceh.” 17 May, 2000.
http://www.rnw.nl/hotspots/html/aceh000517.html (August 2001)

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