Desperately Seeking Justice

Victims of conflict in Aceh demand that the government of Indonesia establish either a Human Rights Court or a Commission for Truth and Reconciliation in order to prevent future crimes against humanity.

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This Acehnese woman wants to know who killed her relative. (Courtesy of Tarmizi Harva)

SUKMAWATI stood with her right fist pointed up to the cloudy sky. Her clothes and veil became wet as a light rain began to fall.

“Long life to victims of conflict!” a woman shouted through a megaphone. She stood in front of Sukmawati and other women. The victims of conflict from different districts across Aceh province, united in protest in front of the local parliament building on Monday, July 23, 2007.

“Long life …!” Sukmawati replied in a loud voice, and then she began to cry. At 52, she is a widow from Kabu Tunong village, Nagan Raya District, Aceh province. She has been teaching biology for years in a junior high school at Nagan Timur sub district, where she has around 160 poor students.

The teacher is one of thousands of conflict victims in Aceh. Her house was burned down by the Indonesian military on October, 2002. That afternoon, she said, troops ran a military operation in the village seeking Aceh Free Movement (GAM) guerillas. They ransacked every house, and when they did not find any guerillas, they began to burn the villagers’ houses. A few months later, she managed to rebuild her home by borrowing a small amount of money from a local bank since she does not earn enough as a local teacher to afford the cost. She also, at the same time, managed to finance her three childrens’ education.

”We’re here demanding justice,” said the woman with the megaphone, addressing Sukmawati and the other women. The speaker’s name was Nurma, another victim of conflict. She was pouring out her disappointments and resentments to the parliament members for ignoring the victims’ agony.

“We’re here demanding that the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity be taken to the Human Rights Court. They must be sentenced!” Nurma said with gusto.

Several women held up posters that said, “The black history of Aceh MUST be disclosed through KKR (Commission for Truth and Reconciliation)”, “In the conflict era we were the VICTIMs, while in the peaceful era we are the FORGOTTEN”.

“Otherwise, we will continue to pray to Allah,” Nurma said. “We were being oppressed and Allah the Mighty will grant our request immediately. May His judgment soon come to you!” A number of photographers took Nurma’s picture when she cried out.

Moments later, Sukmawati moved out from the mass and asked permission to use the megaphone. She preferred to sing a song than to speak as Nurma had. She began to sing a sad song with a soft voice. The song described how she lost her husband, the brutality of the Indonesian military operation in her village, and about her only house that was burned down by the military.

Friends in agony
Among other protesters, there were victims of human rights violations from Java, Papua, and other regions in Indonesia, as well as the former Indonesian province of Timor-Leste, now an independent nation. Prior to joining the rally, they were invited to Aceh to participate in a national meeting for victims of crimes against humanity. It was a national forum to strengthen solidarity amongst the victims.

One of them was Lestari (76) who became a victimof national tragedy in 1965. She was arrested in 1968, at the the beginning of the Suharto dictatorship. She was detained in a special prison for women in Malang, East Java. The government alleged her activity had a strong association with an illegal party at the time. Instead of relying on a fair judicial process to provide evidence, the government determined her to be a political prisoner. Besides forcing her into prison, the military also ransacked her house.

“They had put me in jail for eleven years without any juridical considerations. Until they freed me in 1979, they never let me know what my fault was,” she said adding that now the prison where she was arrested had already become a giant shopping center.

After being freed, Lestari could no longer go to her home as the government had taken it over. She had no choice but to live in a house for old folks in Jakarta.

“I want my house back, because I did nothing wrong. I’m demanding fairness and justice,” the old lady told me adding that she would continue to fight until the government returns her rights.

Unlike Sukmawati, the aged woman did not have the strength to make fists or point to the sky or shout. Her movements were so slow that Ruminah, another victim of human rights violations, had to help her to stand and walk.

Ruminah is a mother who lost her beloved son, Gunawan, during the biggest mass riot in the country on May 13 – 14, 1998. She lived in Klender, East Jakarta, close to Yogya Department Store, a five story building which burned down in the riot, killing hundreds.

“Here, we stand and share together to support all Achenese as victims of crimes against humanity. We are together to demand the enforcement of truth and justice,” Ruminah said.

Demanding Justice
While having full support from her colleagues, Sukmawati believes that both the parliament and the government will grant the victim’s demands to set up either a Human Rights Court or Commission for Truth and Reconciliation. If it is established in Aceh, it would be possible for other victims of human rights abuses outside Aceh to demand similar bodies in their province.

The body itself is one of the mandates of the peace accord between the Indonesian government and Aceh Free Movement that was signed in Helsinki in 2005. The government will resolve the three decades of conflict in Aceh by maintaining the Commission. It aims to enforce law and order in Aceh. This mandate is emphasized in National Law No 11/2006 on Government of Aceh. The Commission establishment, as delineated in the chapter regarding Human Rights, is a prerequisite to another related regulation.

“In fact, the Commission performance could prevent further crimes against humanity and human rights violations,” said Faisal Hadi, coordinator of the Human Right NGOs Coalition.

There are thousands of victims of human rights abuse in Aceh who are demanding justice for violence committed by the military. Either the Commission or Human Rights Court is a reasonable and concrete solution for these victims for it could also prevent another conflict in Aceh.

“Most of the victims aspire to know exactly where his or her sons, parents, or relatives were lost. If they are already dead, where are the graves? Otherwise, where does he or she lives now?” he explained.

The Commission, in fact, could be formed in Aceh regardless of the Law No 27/2004 consideration. According to Bahrum M Rasyid, secretary of commission in Aceh house representative, there were two schemes to establish the Commission. The first, said the member of the local legal draft team, is a regular procedure in which the government assembles and proposes a draft regulation to the local parliament to be legalized. The second scheme, meanwhile, is rooted in civil society groups’ initiative to complete and propose the draft. If it is approved at least by five legislators from three different parties, the local parliament would legalize it.

Up to now, however, the house has been overwhelmed incorporating 20 drafts of local regulation from Sharia Law into the Regional Budget. But, none of the drafts specifically concern victims of human rights violations, not even the Commission establishment plan.

“We haven’t yet received such a draft from the government,” Bahrum said. *** END

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Desperately Seeking Justice

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