v1i1 2b

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

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

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

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,

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,

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

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
Works Cited
International Crisis Group

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(August 2001)

International Crisis Group. “Aceh: Can the autonomy stem the conflict?”
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(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
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Online News Sources

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

The Jakarta Post. “Bill on special autonomy for Aceh proposed.” 03
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(July 2001)

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(July 2001)

The Jakarta Post. “Two explosive devices rock Aceh, police officer
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(August 2001)

The Jakarta Post. “More deaths as Acehnese arrive for huge rally.”
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(August 2001)

The Jakarta Post. “52 die, five missing in recent Aceh violence.”
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(August 2001)

The Jakarta Post. “Aceh rebels kill nine more people.” 31 May, 1999.

(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.

(June 2001)

BBC. “Bodies discovered in Aceh.” 7 July, 2001.

(August 2001)

BBC, “Fifty bodies found in Aceh.” 2 July, 2001.

(August, 2001)

BBC. “Murder and rape in Aceh.” 30 January, 2001.

(August 2001)

BBC, “Death toll rises before Aceh rally.” 10 November, 2000

(August 2001)

CNN. “Indonesia’s pain: the Peace Zone from hell.” 13 April, 2001.
(June 2001)

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(August 2001)

Chandrasekaran, Rajiv. “A Rebellion Picks at Indonesia’s Seams – Intensifying
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Washington Post. 18 April, 2001.

http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A29663-2001Apr17.html (August

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http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A61258-2000Dec12.html (August

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http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A42463-2001Jul10.html (August

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(August 2001)

Radio Netherlands Wereldomroep. “Human Rights Convictions in Aceh.”
17 May, 2000.

http://www.rnw.nl/hotspots/html/aceh000517.html (August 2001)

Copyright (c) 2001 by The Genocide Prevention Center.
All rights reserved.