Despite increasing the volunteers score, the human right defenders’ struggle in post conflict of Aceh continues heavier.
KAMARUDDIN has been going from Banda Aceh, the Aceh capital, to Langsa in East Aceh district more than three times. Each trip, and vice versa, took for a day by bus. The vice deputy of Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) in Banda Aceh must attend the Langsa district court every week. Local attorney accused him of causing instigation publicly.
“The court has been in session for seven times, but the decision is not released until today. The attorney is still questioning the witnesses. There are five court sessions remaining,” he said, exhausted.
Since 4 August 2007, Langsa Police Resort suspected him in instigation case. He was not alone in the case. The police was also suspected his seven colleagues in LBH, Mukhsalmina, Yulisa Fitri, Sugiono, Muhammad Jully Fuady, Mardiati, Mustiqal Syahputra, and Juanda.
The case was triggered by the LBH team advocacy toward villagers in some villages in East Aceh district. The villagers protested Bumi Flora Company as its expanding the oil palm plantation through the villages. Then, villagers together with the LBH team ran a mass rally on 3 July 2007.
In responding to the rally, Bumi Flora charged the LBH staffs for libel to the police. Five days later, either the company or LBH team agreed to carry out the dispute by extra judicial course and reconciliation. Thus the company determined to withdraw the charge. The Langsa police, however, continued the investigation. The report has been sent to the attorney district. The police suspected the team for distributed leaflets contains of accusation that the company, local administration, Indonesian military and the police engaged in illegal occupancy of villagers’ land.
Kamaruddin declined it. “We never did instigation,” he said. What he did with his colleagues, he continued, was advocating the villagers as the victims to get their rights of land around the oil palm plantation. “The regulation of land compensation which given out by the government to the company was illegal. It employed intimidation and terror. As the villagers resists, the land dispute was continuing until today,” he argued.
Bumi Flora is an oil palm and rubber plantation enterprise. In 1990s the company had concession for more than 8,000 acre until 2024. The land hampered to some sub-districts in East Aceh. The company obviously occupied some of the villager’s land for about 3400 acre in different sub-districts. The villagers were pushed to sell its land at low rate that they could not reject as Indonesia military backed the company. In fact, at the time, such course was also happened from Aceh to Papua during Suharto dictatorship.
In addition, the plantation area of Bumi Flora had another gloomy record of human right violation. In August 9, 2001, a mass killing occurred at Bumi Flora workers settlement in Afdeling IV, near the plantation. According to National Commission of Human Rights report, 31 found dead and seven were severely injured. Witnesses said that groups of men, wearing military uniform with rifles, came to the settlement early in the morning. They searched number of men of the villagers and shot them down. The commission formed an ad hoc team and investigated the massacre, but the perpetrators have been living in impunity.
Hatred article in the past
“I am worried that it (instigation charge) would be a bad precedent for us. The hatzaai artikelen (hatred articles) is always used to catch human rights defenders and the press,” Kamaruddin said adding that there are various articles of hatzaai artikelen in the Indonesia Criminal Code. For example is article 160 that regulates instigation. Article 161, meanwhile, contains of prohibition act of causing humiliation to the legal government.
The articles tended to oppose freedom of expression regardless any consideration of the citizen’s rights. For example, when Indonesia government declared military emergency status for Aceh during 2000 to 2004, the articles were used to arrest students and human right defenders in Aceh that criticized Indonesia government policies that propels to human right violation. Some of the victims are Muhammad Nazar and Kautsar bin Muhammad Yus. Nazar who is the vice governor of Aceh today, was put in jail for his speech on referendum for Aceh in 2000. Kautsar, meanwhile, was sent to prison in 2001 for his protest to ExxonMobil Company, a US company operating in North Aceh, for its engagement in human right abuse toward local villagers.
Kidnapping and killing of activists was daily threat at the time. Musliadi, coordinator of Aceh Students Coalition in West Aceh, was another victim. The 26 year old man was known for criticizing Indonesia military abuse to civilians in Aceh. In November 2002, he was found dead. The Aceh Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (Kontras) reported that Musliadi was killed by Indonesia military. William Nessen, a US freelance journalist, had recorded Musliadi corpse at the local hospital morgue in his documentary film entitle The Black Road; On the Front Line of Aceh’s War.
After the peace accord, kidnapping, killing, and torture cases to the human rights defenders in Aceh are not sounded publicly. Other threats, however, have still haunted its works.
Hendra Fadli, coordinator of Kontras Aceh, said that the Indonesian military and police still considering human rights defenders as enemies of the state and troublemakers. “Indeed, there is an evolving trend. Extra judicial execution was the supreme risk in the past, while today the apparatus is mostly using multi-interpretation articles of the Code to arrest human right defenders. The pattern is to criminalize the human right defenders,” he argued.
Late Yap’s Struggle
The criminalization against human rights defenders is opposing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration provides specific protections to human rights defenders, including the right to seek the protection and realization of human rights at the national and international levels; to seek, obtain, receive and hold information relating to human rights. Otherwise, the Declaration insisted that State has a responsibility and obligation to protect, promote and apply all human right considerations. The State must also responsible to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of everyone against any violence, threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights as referred in the Declaration. United Nations, therefore, considers that human rights defenders are important actors in promoting democracy and respecting human rights in any country. As one of the member of the organization, Indonesia must ensure to apply the Declaration.
One of the most prominent human rights defenders in Indonesia who fight for poor people’s rights is Yap Thiam Hien. He was born on 25 May 1913 in Kuta Raja, now publicly known as Banda Aceh, the Aceh capital. His grand-grand father was an immigrant from South China in 1844.
In Aceh, Chinese are minority. Yap, however, studied in Dutch premiere school along with Acehnese and other children. He made friendship with them.
In 1960s he joined Indonesia Advocates Association. Later, Yap became New Order opponent while advocating the suspect of the September 30, 1965, Movement in military court on 1966. In 1970, he helped Adnan Buyung Nasution setting up Legal Aid Organization to advocate the poor rights by law.
He used to write articles in Indonesian newspapers relating human rights and law enforcement issues in the country that is run in flaw direction and discriminative. He criticized the kidnapping, arresting, and killing of activists, students, and academics during Suharto’s dictatorship. These were brave acts during the New Order times. In one of the articles Yap wrote, “It is not true that the New Order is respecting human right and constitution. A denial of this statement is a deceitful action. And deceitful action is worthless to everyone.”
Yap died in April 1989 while attending a meeting session of InterNGO Conference on Indonesia. Since 1992, then, Center of Human Rights Education Foundation has been arranging national award called Yap Thiam Hien Award. It is to appreciate his service and commitment in promoting human rights. The award is given annually to the human rights defenders in Indonesia who fights consistently for the poor and victims of human right violation.
Daniel Saul Lev, in his article on “Yap Thiam Hien and Aceh” published on Indonesia journal in October 2007, recalled that people who knew Yap Thiam Hien finds difficult to ignore the relationship between Yap’s character and Aceh. “Yap Thiam Hien was indeed stubborn, uncompromising, blunt, principled, and outspoken; so it must be, of course, because he was from Aceh,” Lev wrote.
Kamaruddin is one of the few Acehnese youth who admire the struggle of Yap Thiam Hien. This Moslem and Aceh-born youth had read Yap’s articles and his profiles while he was acollege student. “I read his book entitle State, Human Right and Democracy. Pak (Mr.) Yap was inspiring me a lot.”
The book contains Yap’s article collection that printed in many publications. It was reprinted in a book by Indonesia Legal Aid Organization in 1998 to dedicate Yap’s works.
Kamaruddin considered the court session that he attends several times as one of the risks for human right defenders. Compare to Yap’s struggle to help the poor and weak by law in the past, Kamaruddin feels that his efforts along with his colleagues to advocate for villagers and victims of illegal land occupation in East Aceh are worthless. He was amazing and respecting Yap because he prefers to work where the income is less, and the challenges are heavier than other jobs. Even though Yap was Protestant, he did not discriminate his clients, either Christian, Moslem or coming from different ethnics.
“I thought that he hold humanism spirit which is in line to Islam, because Islam hold high the humanity,” he admitted.
There, however, only a few of young generation of human right defender in Aceh who know Yap Thiam Hien.
“Yap what? Who is he?” Sulaiman Gade replied. He is a coordinator of Peace and Democracy Monitoring Committee (KMPD) in Pidie district. KMPD was organized by 14 human rights defenders on 20 December 2002. Its work is to advocate the rights of victim’s community in Aceh regarding law enforcement and democracy principles.
Even though he knows nothing about the late Yap’s service in promoting human rights and encouraging law and justice reform across Indonesia, Sulaiman had similar aspires to bringing back the rights of victims of human right violation. The aspiration is also shared among his colleagues and human right organization network.
Hendra added the new organizations of human right defender are needs to support each other. “It also helped us (KontraS) to reach and advocate the victims in remote places that we could not cover,” said Fadli referred to the rising of human rights organization recently in Aceh.
“Have you notice any conflict of interest one to another?” I asked Hendra.
“Yes, of course,” he replied.
If the organization had a vision for change and commitment in law enforcement, Hendra continued, there will be strategically network cooperation. What public need to watch over is when the organization was develop merely to chase the project grant as plenty of donors came over to Aceh after the tsunami. This could undermine beneficiary’s trust toward human right defenders.
“The victims would considers that human rights NGO’s is … money. Advocate program is … money,” he added.
According to him, there were a few local human right NGOs during the conflict era in Aceh. One of its biggest challenges at the time was lack of financial support and human resources. Dozens of international NGOs had descent to Aceh and poured the region with aid and cash. Besides supporting the reconstruction in Aceh post-tsunami, the international aid organizations were helping Aceh to recover after years of conflict.
Hendra, however, emphasized the current condition would not last for long. The international aid organizations will leave soon. In the end the aid will evolve to decrease, including the financial support to the local human right defender organizations.
Otto Syamsuddin Ishak sees another challenge. The critical point, he said, is lying within the human right defender individuals and each organization’s commitment. Ishak is sociologist at Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh. He set up Cordova, one of the local NGOs for human right monitoring in Aceh during 1990s. He is also a senior researcher at Imparsial, Jakarta-base NGO that is monitoring, investigating, and reporting human right violation across Indonesia.
“Firstly it is about ego. Secondly, about conflict of interest within human rights defender individuals whether mobilizing victims for political interest (some of the human rights defenders were also served as member of political party) or preparation to advocate for victims. Another challenge is there are human rights defenders who developed mutual-alliance with the perpetrators that were responsible for the past human right violation. These factors have been undermining the human right movement in Aceh,” explained Ishak.
After the peace accord between Government of Indonesia and Free Aceh Movement signed, he continued, the challenges for human rights and law enforcement against impunity in Aceh are heavier than before. The victims of violence were demanding either Human Right Court or Commission of Truth and Reconciliation establishment in Aceh.
“The test is to reveal the cases and develop resolutions in regards to the crimes against human right during three decades of war in the past,” Ishak said.
Yap’s dedication to be a mirror
Three years after the peace accord, Kamaruddin, Hendra, Sulaiman and victims of conflict that were demanding justice feels they are facing a great wall-stone. The struggle to uphold human rights is always impeded by the judicial system.
“Indeed, there is no concrete resolution, especially when the perpetrators of the violence are military,” Hendra said adding that he often to hear victims complaining human right defender works.
Sulaiman had similar experiences. When he was advocating victims of human right violation, they always asked whether the case will end in the criminal court. In general, after he and his team had complete the investigation and sent it to the law apparatus, the victim noticed that it will end to nowhere. The challenge has made victims of human right violation lost of hope to seek truly justice.
When he advocate finding out why the military shot, kidnapped, or tortured villagers, it just ended after the case reported to the law apparatus. There is neither result nor follow up as the victim wish for. Victims considered what he did just for the sake of running activity.
“Now our main challenge is to ensure the state institution of law, such as police, district attorney, and National Commission of Human Right, to resolve any human right violation according to local human rights defenders, organizations, or the victim’s reports for the sake of justice,” Hendra concluded.
Amidst flawed of law in Aceh and across Indonesia, Kamarrudin also encourages the human right defenders to do not surrender. He remembers the elder of Aceh-born human rights defender commitment that has inspired him.
“(The late) Yap Thiam Hien should be a reference (of fights),” he said. *** END