ACEH: Update on situation

Dear Friends

We refer you to the Press Release below on the disastrous situation in Aceh, forwarded by OMCT:


Geneva, July 2nd, 2003

The International Secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), the world’s largest coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) engaged in the fight against torture, would like to express its deep concern about the ongoing conflict in the province of Aceh, which, to a great extent, is being ignored by the international community. 

Reports indicate that between 200 and 1000 civilians have died as a result of the new phase of this 26-year old conflict, which began on May 18th, 2003, when Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared a state of emergency and imposed martial law in the province. This included closing the Acehnese borders off to all foreign media and humanitarian organisations, and an augmentation of the military and police presence to some 40’000 to 50’000 men, who are now reportedly engaged in committing widespread human rights violations against civilians and members of the nascent and fragile civil society in the country. An estimated 40’000 civilians, mainly thought to be women and children, are reportedly displaced in Aceh, and are without sufficient food, water and medicine, in what can only be described as a serious humanitarian crisis. There are also reports surfacing of the discovery of at least one mass grave in the province. 

One example of the scale of the violations being perpetrated is the reported burning down of some 507 schools by unidentified persons in ten districts in Banda Aceh since May 19th, 2003, which has resulted in 70’000 students no longer having a place to study. Some 60 schoolteachers have reportedly been killed in the last four months. Both the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) have blamed each other for the destruction and killings. According to eyewitnesses, the arsonists were wearing plain clothes when then carried out these destructive acts. 

According to reports, 30-year old Muhammad Nazar, an activist campaigning for an independence referendum in Aceh province and head of the Aceh Information Center for a Referendum, was sentenced to five years in prison for sedition on Tuesday July 1st, 2003, based on three speeches that he made in January and February 2003, allegedly in support of self-rule and the separatist rebels. This arrest and sentencing is symptomatic of a wider campaign of repression against civilian political activists and represents a crackdown on the freedom of speech in the country. Furthermore, requests for visas from around ten foreign journalists wishing to cover the conflict have been denied. Additionally, foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been banned from working in the province by the Government in Jakarta, and all local NGOs are to be listed by the military, with several of them having been banned altogether. A number of the members of these organisations have gone into hiding. A list of some 600 names has been drafted, including many of these activists, who are now wanted by the authorities for alleged connection or sympathy with the separatist rebel group – GAM. A number of students have also been arrested as part of this crackdown on alleged GAM supporters. 

OMCT notes with concern the ongoing threats to members of the human rights organisations that are established in Aceh and recalls the vital nature of their work in recording and relating violations that occur during this period, notably given the current absence of international organisations in the province. The latest reports indicate that human rights defenders are being subjected to harassment, arrest, torture and face execution for pursuing their activities. For example, on June 28th, 2003, seven plainclothes police officers, thought to be members of the Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob), visited the offices of the Legal Aid Institute – Aceh (LBH-Aceh) in Banda Aceh on two occasions, initially looking for Asiah, the Coordinator of Investigations for human rights organisation Kontras-Aceh, and later for two LBH-Aceh lawyers, Afridal Darmi and Syarifa Murlina. As they could not find them, they kicked the door down and proceeded to throw books around and threatened to come back to the offices later, which they have reportedly not done yet. These events give rise to serious fears for these persons’ personal integrity. 

OMCT recalls that members of NGOs have become the victims of forced disappearance and extra-judicial killings in recent weeks, which give credence to the fears mentioned above. Examples include Mr. Abdussalam Muhamad Deli, a member of Human Rights and Legal Aid Post (PB-HAM) who was abducted by plainclothes persons on May 11th and has not been located since, and Mr. Raja Ismail, a member of Peace Brigade International (PBI) who was found dead on May 13th, having allegedly been assassinated for his activities in defence of human rights. More recently, a number of activists have been arrested. These include several members of PB-Ham, who were arrested during a raid on the NGO’s offices on June 8th, 2003, including: Chairman Yusuf Puteh; Miss Nursyamsyiah (who is also the Director of the Acehnese Women Empowerment Organisation of East Aceh); volunteer worker Mr. Marnus; and staff member Miss Nadariah.

Reports indicate that the Indonesian military have threatened the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights not to publish their findings concerning events in Aceh, and there have been attacks on the offices of several NGOs, including Kontras on May 26th and 27th and PBHI (the Association of Law and Human Rights Advocates) on May 27th. 

The harassment, attacks, arrests and killings to which members of the civil society in Aceh are being subjected is of significant concern, as it represents an attempt by the Indonesian authorities to stifle the voice of those dedicated to protecting the rights of civilians and presages a worsening of the abuses that the civilian population face, notably the use of arbitrary arrests and detentions, rape, torture and extra-judicial killings. 

OMCT notes that the GAM also stands accused of having committed serious human rights violations, notably killings, unlawful detentions, forced expulsions of Javanese people and of making use of dubious justice systems. 

OMCT welcomes the Resolution that was adopted by the European Parliament on June 5th concerning the “Situation in Indonesia, particularly in the Aceh province,” in which the Indonesian authorities are called upon to: return to the negotiating table in order to resolve the current crisis; bring to account those responsible of human rights violations; ensure protection of human rights defenders, releasing those currently being detained; allow the UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders to visit; enable humanitarian organisations to deliver aid to the population; and to guarantee the respect for the freedom of religion and the freedom of the press. 

The International Secretariat of OMCT calls on the Indonesian authorities to immediately implement the recommendations made in the afore-mentioned resolution. OMCT further urges the Indonesian authorities to guarantee the respect for economic, social and cultural rights in Aceh province and the country as a whole. OMCT would also like to request that the Indonesian Government issue standing invitations to visit the country and its provinces to all of the United Nations human rights mechanisms, notably the Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on Summary Executions, and the Working Groups on Arbitrary Detention and on Force Disappearances. Finally, OMCT calls on President Megawati Sukarnoputri to order an end to the state of emergency and the martial law that accompanies it; and calls on both the Indonesian authorities and the GAM to immediately put a halt to the perpetration of human rights violations and return to the negotiating table in order to resolve their differences through dialogue. 

For further information, please contact: Michael Anthony – tel: + 41 22 809 49 39, e-mail:

Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture (OMCT)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Organización Mundial Contra la Tortura (OMCT)
8 rue du Vieux-Billard
Case postale 21
CH-1211 Geneve 8
Tel. : 0041 22 809 49 39
Fax : 0041 22 809 49 29
E-mail :


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Desk 
Asian Human Rights Commission

Document Type : Forwarded Urgent Appeal
Document ID : FA-26-2003
Countries : Indonesia,
Issues : State of emergency & martial law,