162, August 2001
Bulletin no. 162
3. Peace talks sabotaged [text unavailable]
5. EDITORIAL: Prospects for human rights in Indonesia [text unavailable]
6. Rights trial still a distant dream [text unavailable]
7. Police crackdown on seminar [text unavailable]
9. Mama Yosepha wins environmental award [text unavailable]
10. Rights commission accuses police [text unavailable]
11. Wamena campaign [text unavailable]
13. Massacre by TNI in Ambon [text unavailable]
14. New forms of terror against workers [text unavailable]
On 23 July, Vice President Megawati was installed as Indonesian president after the People's Assembly sacked the man it had appointed two years ago. The same state organ that intrigued against her then has now promoted her, with the full backing of a regenerated military. Though former President Wahid fought to the bitter end, the odds were stacked against him: mutiny by the armed forces and large sections of the police who openly defied his orders, a huge majority in the People's Assembly bent on ousting him and a largely hostile press.
While Megawati Sukarnoputri's party, the PDI-P, holds the largest block of seats in the People's Assembly, the MPR, and has mass support in the country, her assumption of power bodes ill for the principles of reformasi that were supposed to have been at the core of Wahid's policy.
Most will agree that it was not realistic to expect anyone to carry out a comprehensive pro-reform policy in Indonesia in the short term, having inherited a country damaged almost beyond repair by 40 years of autocratic rule and a paralysed economy. In hindsight, it could be said that Gus Dur, as Wahid is known, was bound to fail. Will Megawati Sukarnoputri do any better? Will she face the array of foes who were determined from the word 'go' to stab Gus Dur in the back? Only time will tell.
But Indonesia's present political crisis is not merely a crisis of the presidency. The deep economic crisis, the absence of the rule of law and the lack of democratic institutions cannot be blamed on the president. These are the results of a long term strategy during the 'New Order', when the population lived in a perpetual state of fear. Virtually nothing has been done in the three post-Suharto years to change all this.
A huge power vacuum
As the new regime takes over, it is salutary to examine why Gus Dur failed to function effectively as president and promote the policies expected of him by civil society. As soon as he tried to dismantle the power base of the old forces, they rallied against him, sabotaging his every move. The irony is that, under the authoritarian 1945 Constitution, the president of Indonesia has enough powers to become a dictator, but Gus Dur was not given the chance even to implement a modest reform programme. Isolated and maligned by the very political elite who catapulted him into power, he become a pathetic figure, hoping against hope that his huge religious following could rescue him, while being afraid to bring them out onto the streets for fear of clashes and bloodshed.
In the closing months of Gus Dur's presidency, there was a power vacuum in Indonesia, while regional conflicts and military crackdowns in many places continued unabated. The fact is that none of the political forces in Indonesia has been able to cope with the debilitating crisis. The old New Order gang, with massive resources stashed away and a bevy of supporters, has been mortally wounded. At the apex is Suharto and his cronies and family; they have lost much of their political clout and no one believes for a moment that they will ever make a comeback. But their staggering wealth is being used by sinister forces to finance covert and overt operations to sabotage the government and create instability. They have done everything possible, often by acts of terrorism, to frustrate efforts to bring about change and accountability. Their basic aim is to retain the system of privileges that was one of the hallmarks of the former regime.
The army has once again become a formidable political force and a killing machine, dedicated as always to the 'security' approach, but it too is incapable of coping with the present crisis. The 1997 economic meltdown also delivered a severe blow to the TNI as the armed forces are known, forcing many TNI companies to close shop. In compensation, the TNI has become mired even deeper into mafia type activities in the regions. The escalating conflicts in Aceh and West Papua and ongoing problems in Maluku, Kalimantan and Sulawesi have overwhelmed the capacity of the security forces, even though they are themselves largely responsible for the mayhem. Troops have joined forces with the warring parties in some of these local conflicts, but as the power struggle in Jakarta reached a climax, the TNI top focused their attention increasingly on these events. Whilst it was not predicted that the army would try to grab power, Indonesia's rudderless government suited them admirably. They have recently been claiming to be 'force for peace' as civilian politicians fight it out in total disregard for the ailing economy and lawlessness everywhere.
The vast majority of parliamentarians in the DPR (Parliament) and the MPR (People's Assembly), were united in their determination to get rid of Gus Dur but apart from that, each of the parties have their own political agendas. Golkar, the former ruling party, is a shadow of its former self in Java, where they are despised as part of the old regime. But outside Java, the party is more or less intact, with its people occupying virtually all the positions of power, from governors and district chiefs down to village heads. The bureaucracy outside Java is still a Golkar stronghold which explains why it was more interested in keeping control of regional spoils than in the power struggle in Jakarta.
The politics of Islam are far more complex today than during the Suharto era. The first two post-Suharto presidents, President Wahid and his predecessor, President Habibie, represent the two major streams in Indonesian Islam, the urban-based and the more rural-based Islamic communities, but they are both secular Muslims. It was once widely accepted that political Islam in Indonesia is a majority with a minority mentality, but this is no longer true. The top Muslim politicians, including Gus Dur, show distinct Machiavellian tendencies in their attitude towards state power and having tasted the sweetness of power they show the same credentials as any average politician on this globe .
The rift between the pro and anti Gus Dur camp ran largely along urban and rural lines. Gus Dur still enjoys support in the rural hinterland of East and Central Java where the organisation that he led for years, the Nahdatul Ulama, enjoys a huge following. Elsewhere, the NU is relatively small among urban-based Muslims outside Java. Political Islam was always quite plural and are at least seven Muslim political parties competed in the general elections, each with their own agenda and distinct political subculture. Political Islam in Indonesia remains very divided, with no prospects of unity. As with all the other parties, clientele and money politics are still the dominant feature.
Poisoned by intrigue from the start
There have been many examples in the world of transitions from autocratic regimes to democratic government, but they have varied enormously from place to place. In some cases transition has been accompanied by disintegration. Cynics will say that, despite the profound crisis in Indonesia, the country has not reached such a stage for the simple reason that the main components of the old New Order are still largely intact.
From the start, Gus Dur's presidency involved many compromises with these components. He was catapulted into the presidency through an unholy alliance of Muslim parties which included two components of the New Order: Golkar and the PPP. This unholy alliance was strongly represented in his first cabinet: military and New Order politicians held important posts and as a result of numerous reshuffles, (at least fifteen up to the time he was sacked) in less than two years, New Order elements became even more prominent. The military gained richly from the chops and changes, even winning back the post of defence minister. The deadly alliances saved the skin of many officers who should have faced indictments for corruption and abuse of power.
During the first two years of his presidency, Gus Dur pursued a puzzling two-pronged strategy, trying to take the path of reformasi while trying at the same time to please everybody, including New Order forces. The strategy soon backfired as the army and the New Order politicians and bureaucrats managed to regroup in such a favourable climate. The strategy forced Gus Dur to zigzag his way along creating yet more enemies at every turn. Let's take a look at this broad alliance, starting with the TNI-AD, the army.
A military comeback
The Suharto regime was basically a military regime. A junta in the early years, with Suharto at the top, it was later changed to be ruled by the same Suharto assisted by a small group of cronies and members of his family. The role of military intelligence remained important throughout with the army functioning more and more as an oppressive force to crush rebellions and opposition in the cities. When Suharto was forced to stand down, there were very few top officers capable of functioning as politicians. The army was in a bad shape, with its image in tatters. They had suffered humiliating defeat in East Timor and their acts of gross human rights violations were now widely publicised.
Sad to say however, things changed dramatically after Gus Dur became president.. In 1998, the atmosphere was favourable enough to expect that General Wiranto, then the TNI commander-in-chief, would be charged for his role in mass murder in East Timor, Aceh and elsewhere. These days, Wiranto feels confident enough to go onto the offensive. In May, he and several other senior officers filed a lawsuit against Dr. Thamrin Tomagola for 'falsely' accusing them of involvement in the Maluku riots. The chances of indictments against senior officers are now very remote (see separate article) and the former president's faltering efforts to reform the army backfired and only helped to unified the several army factions.
The 1999 general election helped to clip the wings of TNI and its representation in the DPR was reduced to 38 seats (although they resisted any suggestion that unelected representation should end). In those days, TNI top-ranking officers were saying that the military would now take a back seat in politics but two years on, things are very different. The TNI parliamentary fraction voted in favour of censuring the president (their supreme commander) in May while adopting a position of 'neutrality' in the second vote. Being one of the smallest groups in parliament did not detract from that weight attached to their statements. The TNI spokesperson, Major General Hari Sabarno, was one of the most biting in his criticism of the president, thus clearing the way for impeachment.
While Gus Dur was forced onto the defensive in clinging on to power, the military made no attempt to conceal their intransigence. The second censure vote further eroded the president's position, though he continued to behave as if nothing could prevent him from holding on to power.
When he made moves to replace the top TNI leadership in preparation for declaring an emergency and dissolving parliament, the top generals took counter-moves. The bitter irony was that now, a democratically elected head of state was contemplating dissolving parliament while the military, an institution without a shred of democracy in its being, claimed the moral high ground in their determination to oppose such an authoritarian move.
The weaker Gus Dur grew, the more audacious the military became. In 2000, they had offered no resistance when General Wiranto was sacked and went along with the appointment of a civilian as defence minister. There was talk of gradually downsizing dwifungsi, which allows the military to run the political system and the bureaucracy. But as Gus Dur weakened, they saw this as their chance to strike back. With the army being the most solid and best organised political institution in the country and the political elite bickering furiously, the army paraded itself as 'a stabilising force'.
A creeping coup d'etat
On 24 May, General Endriartono Sutarto, the army chief-of-staff, convened a meeting of senior officers and key retired officers. The purpose was clear, to reject any move by Gus Dur to replace the TNI leadership and to reject any move to declare a state of emergency. As supreme commander of TNI, Wahid certainly had the powers to do all this so the meeting was an act of insubordination, in fact part of a creeping coup d'etat.
A new unity had been forged in the TNI while the event passed off without anyone condemning it as an act of mutiny. All the factions were now on board, including retired officers. This was not the first time that the Indonesian armed forces had forged unity after being torn apart by rupture and division. Gus Dur's efforts to overhaul the TNI had come to a sticky end; instead the TNI's position as 'a state within a state' had been reinforced without a shot being fired.
Since May one incident after another has only resulted in the erosion of civilian supremacy. On 28 May Gus Dur granted special powers to Lt General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), the then coordinating minister for political, social and security affairs, as a step towards issuing an emergency decree. The general was given powers to take 'all necessary actions, in co-ordination with the security forces, to handle the crisis and enforce order, security and the law as quickly as possible'. In effect, this made SBY the most powerful man in the land. But a few days after treating the general with such trust,, Gus Dur sacked him and appointed Lt.General Agum Gumelar in his place. Gumelar was soon to be appointed defence minister as well in a later cabinet merry-go-round. SBY, it turns out, was against issuing a decree so had to be removed.
Police chief refuses to go
The most bitter (and public) of Gus Dur's confrontations occurred when he announced the dismissal of Police General Bimantoro, the national chief of police. Bimanoro had made no secret of his intention to round up Gus Dur supporters, including members of the PRD.. Bimantoro rejected his dismissal and won the support of most top-ranking officers in the force. In his defence, the police chief of Jakarta, General Sofyan Yacub convened a rally of police and military units close to the presidential palace in defiance of the president, complete with tanks and armoured personal carriers. For the first time since the official separation of the police from the TNI in 1998, the two forces had been united and were pursuing a common cause.
When Gus Dur later ordered the arrest of Bimantoro, the order was ignored. His senior security affairs minister, Lt General Agum Gumelar urged the president to cancel the order while units of Brimob, the police crack troops, took up positions around Bimantoro's residence.
There were many shows of open defiance from the top of the TNI: a 'roll call' of Kostrad troops, with its commander making a speech atop a tank, the placing of troops round the residence of Bimantoro to protect him from being arrested, a joint press conference by the speaker of the MPR and the TNI commander-in-chief endorsing the holding of a special MPR session. These were moves that made a mockery of the TNI's professed neutrality.
Golkar and the other parties
The principle of pluralism was upheld in the 1998 elections but many of the parties that won seats were new kids on the block. Only Golkar, often described as the ruling party in the New Order, the PPP, the Muslim political federation and the PDI were old timers. Golkar had the advantage of a solid infrastructure and most of the bureaucracy. PPP enjoyed fewer advantages as did the PDI (now the PDI-P).who fought the election under a new leadership. As was to be expected, these three parties came out as the big three in the elections. The other relatively new parties had to struggle hard to win votes. For the vast majority of voters, this was their first experience of free elections.
The new parliament is a ragbag of old and new faces. Despite its image as the first parliament in the reformasi era, old-style politics have remained with the same old pattern of patron-client relationships. Becoming a member of parliament has turned out to be a privileged chance to climb the ladder of success and line the pockets of the 'people's representatives' Genuine reform has had little place in their endeavours following a few months of reform minded actions.
The declining national cake
The members of the unholy alliance of Muslim groups plus Golkar tha brought Gus Dur to power were expecting to have juicy bits of the national cake come their way. But Gus Dur had little to offer, and what he did have went to his own followers. Very soon he was at loggerheads with his former promoters and removed some of his key Muslim ministers who had been appointed to 'repay' members of the central axis for their support.
Two scandals were used against Gus Dur, the so-called Bulog-gate and Brunei-gate. Despite being cleared by the Attorney General's office of involvement in the two cases, it was evident that cronies within Gus Dur's inner circle were involved in these relatively minor scandals. Gus Dur, himself a product of the patron-client system, had allowed this to happen. It would appear to be true that deep resentment in certain Muslim circles towards Gus Dur was simply based on the fact that the 'trickle down' effect had not applied to them. On the other hand, one of the failures of the Gus Dur government was its inability to end corruption or at least to bring it to 'manageable' levels.
Megawati and the PDI-P
Two years ago it was widely expected that Megawati would become the president. A clear winner with 31 per cent of the votes, it was a matter of finding suitable coalition partners for her government. But a loose coalition of Muslim parties, the Central Axis, supported Gus Dur. History, it seems, has now corrected this injustice.
Megawati has proven ineffective as vice president and probably agreed to be second fiddle to calm down her supporters gathered on the streets. Although the two are always presented as being 'the best of friends', having known each other since childhood, she was clearly not comfortable as his deputy and often acted wearing her other cap as chair of the PDI-P to express her frustrations. Her 'good friend' Gus Dur often insulted her in public with slurs and 'jokes' about her femininity, suggesting that she does not have the qualities to run the government.
In the second year, the relationship between them soured and, apart from the formalities required by their offices, they were not on speaking terms for months. At the 2000 MPR session, Gus Dur was heavily criticised and agreed to concede day-to-day governing to Megawati, retaining for himself the broad outline of government policies and the power to appoint ministers and other state officials. But the division of labour never worked, leading only to indecision and confusion.
For her part, Megawati kept a low profile after losing the presidency. She kept her followers off the streets and retained the support of the majority of her party, while avoiding playing a direct part in the ousting Gus Dur. As the daughter of Sukarno, she inherited a huge following but has yet to prove her skills as a political leader.
Rifts within her own party have grown and the test will be whether she can keep the factions together or have to move to expel some people from the party. Broadly speaking, the PDI-P is the main secular party in Indonesia and is in essence a nationalist party. The nationalist wing within the party is quite conservative, representing the petty nationalist views of the past. There are two wings in the nationalist bloc: one wanted to preserve the Gus Dur-Megawati alliance while the other wanted to oust Gus Dur.
The military wing in the party has grown in importance, not only because of the retired TNI generals among its members but also because it enjoys the support of key active TNI officers. Previously Golkar was the political vehicle of the military but today's top echelon officers feel more at home in the conservative PDI-P.
Another small but important wing is the group of powerful businessmen around Arifin Panigoro, an oil tycoon who switched loyalties after 1998 from Golkar to the PDI-P. One of the few achievements of the post-Suharto era has been the requirement for key public office holders to reveal their personal wealth. Arifin Panigoro emerged as the richest member of parliament with over US$200 million, according to his own admission. Many reformers say people like him should be behind bars because of financial scandals and shady business deals with the Suharto family. Instead he has become a shining star in the PDI-P. Another key figure is Taufiq Kiemas, Megawati's husband, a self-confessed multi-millionaire. Known as TK, he is also a slick political operator who maintains good relations with the different wings in the party and will undoubtedly play a crucial role as 'the man behind the woman' now that she is 'RI 1', the president's number plate.
The PDI-P (then called the PDI) was one of Suharto's last victims when the PDI head office was stormed in July 1996 and has enjoyed much sympathy from the pro-reform movement. The reform wing, though small, is very active and continues to demand that military and New Order elements be ousted from the party. But these are the forces that will be Megawati's political base as she takes over the presidency for the coming three years.
Getting Indonesia out of the economic and political crisis is a Herculanean job and will take many years of ‘good governance’. Taking over the job from an impeached president isn’t the most elegant way of entering the state leadership. Political analysts assess realistically that the coming 3 years will be‘tropical years’ for Megawati.
Since the Indonesian armed forces launched new military operations at the beginning of May, conditions for the population of Aceh have rapidly deteriorated. A massacre in Central Aceh resulted in scores of deaths. The death toll in the first half of 2001 exceeded one thousand, most victims being civilians. NGOs working on human rights and humanitarian issues are in constant danger, forcing many activists to flee, in fear for their lives. Para-military militias are now being trained and armed by the army. Peace talks in Geneva did nothing to end the slaughter.
On 11 April, Presidential Instruction No IV, Inpres IV/2001, was issued providing for a six-point 'comprehensive programme' for Aceh, intended to restore the machinery of local government to the province. However, the 'security' aspect is the only one to have been put into action. Well before the Instruction was announced, units of the army's elite forces and cmpanies from various parts of the country were getting special training in counter-insurgency at the training base of KOPASSUS, in Batu Jajar, Bandung, ready to be sent to Aceh.
Three days after the Instruction was announced, the armed forces (TNI) commander-in-chief, Admiral Widodo, announced the creation of a special army command known as KOLAKOPS (Komando Pelaksanaan Operasi TNI), for Aceh under the command of a KOPASSUS officer, Brigadier-General Zumroni. The joint police/army operations are known by the name OPSLIHKAM (Operasi Pemulihan Keamanan), Operation for the Restoration of Security. The command went into action on 2 May and since then the level of military operations has steadily intensified. Counter-insurgency operations, mainly in the countryside, are in the hands of the army while the police confine their activities to the towns and cities.
Very early on, extra troops were sent to Aceh to strengthen armed protection of the gas field and liquefaction gas plant installations in Arun, North Aceh, following Exxon/Mobil's announcement that operations had been suspended from 9 March because of the security situation. The shutdown of one of Indonesia's primary sources of foreign exchange was an additional reason for new military operations to be conducted.
Jakarta's interests lie elsewhere
While Aceh descends deeper into all-out war, Jakarta's attention is focused on the scramble for power within the political elite. The national press devotes little attention to Aceh while most reports that do appear are based on army handouts. The lack of news reporting is partly the result of threats to journalists and pressure on local newspapers about how events are reporting, coming from both sides of the conflict.
The military operations have been conducted at the time of a virtual power vacuum in Jakarta. In June, parliament decided to call a special session of the supreme legislative body, the MPR, on 1 August to consider impeaching President Wahid. Vice-President Megawati is widely expected to take over as president.
As compared with Wahid who has been in conflict with the armed forces leadership over wide-ranging reforms and over his intention to issue a decree that would enable him to dissolve parliament, Megawati is very close to the armed forces. While Wahid was very reluctant to issue Presidential Instruction of 11 April (Inpres IV/2001) which gave the TNI the legal basis for renewed military operations, Megawati is known to unreservedly support the military and its declared aim of preventing the secession of Aceh at all costs. At a limited cabinet meeting on 14 June, she was quoted as expressing her confidence that this year's celebration of independence day on 17 August would be blessed by a 'special gift', the final solution of the Aceh question. The armed forces are working to her agenda (almost certainly designed by her TNI advisers), not Wahid's, which explains the intensity with which the operations have been conducted.
Another factor driving the TNI's determination to 'finish off' GAM is the need to provide conducive security conditions to persuade the giant US oil company, Exxon, to resume operations which were suspended on 9 March. The continued closure is having a severe impact on the economy in lost revenues and foreign exchange earnings and now poses a threat to Indonesia's overseas market for the LNG produced by the Arun natural gas fields in Aceh. [See separate article about Exxon.]
Deputy director of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, YLBHI, Munir said the decision to launch new operations ignored the fact, as history has shown, that military operations have never solved anything in Aceh, going back to the Dutch war against Aceh in the 19th century. He described the TNI's determination to 'solve' the Aceh question as an attempt to compensate for their defeat in East Timor. The military want to reinforce the myth that they, not civilian politicians, are the only ones capable of solving conflicts and restoring peace in Aceh. Munir said that if the TNI were really interested in resolving the Aceh situation and rolling back the growing distrust towards Indonesia, they could easily do this by putting past perpetrators of human rights on trial [Detik.com, 28 April 2001] This remarks applies with equal force to the situation in West Papua.
Massacre in Central Aceh
The day before talks between Indonesia and GAM were resumed in Geneva on 30 June, reports were received that twenty people had been killed in the village of Menderek, Timang Gajah in Central Aceh. While the security forces claimed they were all members of GAM, a GAM spokesperson insisted that only four of the dead were their members, and all the others were ordinary civilians. As the days passed, it became clear that the massacre in Menderek was the tip of the iceberg. The death toll mounted with reports from local hospitals and an Indonesian Red Cross team saying by 2 July that 62 bodies had been found, many with gunshot wounds and many charred beyond recognition. In mid July, TAPOL received a list of 184 people who had been killed in Central Aceh, along with the place of burial. The list was described as 'preliminary'.
Reports of serious disturbances in Central Aceh, of numerous houses having been burnt down, began to emerge earlier in June. On that occasion, the attacks appear to have come from GAM units, seeking to drive out the Javanese. Until then, Central Aceh was a region of calm; even during the DOM period (1989-1998), the district was untouched by the horrors that struck elsewhere.
There is a sizable Javanese population in Central Aceh, consisting not so much of recently arrived transmigrants but of people from Java and Tapanuli who settled in the province many decades ago. It is here that the security forces first began to set up and train para-military militias, recruited primarily from the Javanese. This is what seems to have angered local GAM units.
Central Aceh is also the home of a distinct ethnic group, the Gayo, who till recently, kept a distance from Acehnese aspirations. They have now been drawn into the conflict with some of their members joining forces with GAM.
According to reports from an observer in Central Aceh, Brimob and army troops have emptied three-quarters of the villages in some parts of Central Aceh. Gardens have been ravaged, animals killed and houses razed. Tens of thousands of Acehnese have fled their villages, suggesting a comparison with the huge displacement of the population of East Timor, in the wake of the ballot in August 1999.
On 7 July, AFP reported the discovery of 29 bodies in Matangkuli, North Aceh, scattered in a ravine in the Krueng Tuan and Salak Mountain range in Matangkuli, 31 miles west of Lhokseumawe. The bodies bore marks showing they had died violent deaths. The agency quoted a local journalist as saying 400 residents of Central Aceh had taken refuge in the Matangkuli area after being forced to flee their homes by military-led militias; they had taken a week to reach their destination. Other sources suggested that the victims were local residents who had fled their homes when troops made 'sweepings' in their villages.
These reports prompted TAPOL to call on the British government to press for the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions to conduct an investigation in Aceh.
Monitoring the mounting death toll
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Aceh, human rights NGOs have been attempting with great difficulty to keep a tally of the numbers killed. The Legal Aid Institute (LBH) in Banda Aceh said on 1 June that they had recorded 155 deaths since Inpres IV/2001 was announced on 11 April, an average of 25 deaths a week. Estimates of the number of deaths since the beginning of 2001 had reached one thousand by the end of June. Almost daily reports in the latter half of June suggest that there were on average five killings a day.
While all sources agree that the numbers dying are increasing throughout the province, it is not always possible to establish who was responsible. The security forces and GAM invariably give contradictory accounts. In those cases where monitors have been able to record the testimony of local people, the security forces are almost always to blame. Faisal Hadi of the Aceh Coalition of Human Rights NGOs highlighted the problem of accurate monitoring:
'In the field, the soldiers or the police seem like they regard all of the Acehnese as GAM. But when people make a report or complain to their (local) commanders, they always say that you have to give the name and the unit of the soldiers (responsible). But it's very hard… because they frequently don't wear their official uniform, just put on a black shirt.' [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 21 June 2001] Here are some examples of what has been happening. On 18 June, a couple and their 18-year old daughter were found dead on Lampu'uk beach in Aceh Besar with bullet wounds in the chest and their faces smashed beyond recognition. The police said they had died during an armed clash with the 'rebels' but GAM said there had been no armed clash. Local people said the family had been kidnapped by an armed group riding a Kijang vehicle. [Cordova Post, 30 June 2001]
In a widely reported incident, three schoolboys were killed on the same day as the above incident was reported. The killing occurred following the gunning down outside a school in Krueng Sabee, West Aceh of a member of Brimob by GAM. In revenge, police raided the school. Although it was a Sunday, schoolboys were there to register for a university entrance exam. During the raid, the police rounded up thirty youngsters and two members of staff. 'The three students died after being taken to the police headquarters which is about two kilometers (1.5 miles) from the school,' the source said, adding that several other students were injured. [AFP, 18 June]
On the same day too, five bodies were discovered by the roadside in Babah, Buloh, BlangPidie. The bodies had gunshot wounds and had been tortured. The security forces said they died in a round-up of GAM members, while GAM said the five men had been kidnapped by soldiers on 13 April. [Cordova Post, 30 June]
Such a confluence of reports on a single day is now becoming the norm in Aceh.
Ever since the abduction and brutal murder of Jafar Siddiq Hamzah, the founder and chairperson of the International Forum on Aceh, in August 2000, there has been a deliberate campaign by the security forces to undermine and destroy the community of NGOs in Aceh dedicated to alerting national and international opinion about the human rights situation in Aceh.
In December 2000, three volunteers working for RATA, the Rehabilitation Action for Victims of Torture in Aceh, were gunned down by a unit consisting of members of the security forces and civilian associates. The murders were widely condemned and eight men were arrested, including four soldiers. However, four have since escaped and there is no news about whether the others are likely to go on trial.
Three months later, a well-known member of one of the joint monitoring committees working for the Humanitarian Pause was shot dead twenty minutes after leaving a police station where he had been questioned. He had been summoned in connection with the case of five women who were given protection by Kontras-Aceh (Committee for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence), after they alleged that they had been raped by members of Brimob. The women were later taken into police custody where they reversed their story, according to the police, now accusing GAM of having ordered them to accuse Brimob members of rape. The murdered man, Al Kamal, killed along with his lawyer and their driver, was travelling in a car clearly marked as belonging to the joint monitoring team.
This incident has been used by the police to accuse Kontras-Aceh activists of maligning their force because they had caused the story to be reported in the press. Besides facing serious charges, Kontras has been forced to curtail its monitoring activities because local volunteers were not able to submit their findings about local atrocitices. Besides the dangers attached to monitoring incidents, they are also too scared to visit shops to fax their reports because of the proximity of the security forces.
Rare glimpse of Aceh’s horrors by journalist
Press reports by domestic and foreign journalists direct from Aceh are infrequent nowadays because of a deliberate policy by the security forces to keep the press out. A recent exception was a report in two leading Australian newspapers by a journalist who visited the village of Ujung Reuba, 20 kms east of Lhokseumawe, North Aceh. A young woman, Zubaidad, 25, told him troops had burst into her house, demanding to know where her husband was. He was not at home, she told them, clutching her four-month baby boy. They snatched the baby from her, threw him on the ground outside and poured boiling water over him. Warned that if they left their hut, they would be killed, neither she nor her 15-year old sister dared to go outside to rescue the baby ‘as the soldiers went on a killing, looting and burning spree through the village’. By the time the troops had left, it was too late to save the scolded baby who died next morning and lies buried in a shallow grave marked by a stone.
The village that was home to 385 villagers had been devastated by an attack 6 May. All the houses were burnt or trashed.The journalist, Lindsay Murdoch, no stranger to the murderous behaviour of Indonesian troops on his country’s doorstep in East Timor, wrote: ‘The arrival of hundreds of fresh troops in Aceh has seen the military unleash a wave of largely unreported violence that in some areas is worse than the 1999 atrocities in East Timor. [The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, 14 May 2001]
Later that month, a Norwegian journalist, Torgeir Norling, thought he would follow up this account with an investigation of his own in North Aceh. When he arrived, with two Acehnese activists in Peudada, they were ordered off the bus, held at the local police station for 24 hours and then told to leave the area, ‘because they had no official documents’. Norling reports widely for Scandinavian and East Asia newspapers. [The Nation - Bangkok, 27 May 2001]
According to Dini Djalal, writing in the Far Eastern Economic Review [5 July], Acehnese journalists are routinely threatened and beaten by the police. ‘Yarmen Dinamika, of the local newspaper Serambi, says his office was bombed twice and seven office cars set ablaze in the last two years.’ Commenting on army press releases that routinely identify civilians killed in crossfire, even children and the elderly, as ‘GAM members’, Dinamika said: ‘In a conflict like this, the first victim is the truth.’
NGOs forced to leave
Under intense pressure and facing constant threats or worse, many local activists have left Aceh for the relative safety of Jakarta or gone abroad. The International Crisis Group, in a special report on Aceh published in June, quoted a witness to the killing of three volunteers of the torture NGO, RATA, as saying that the killings were the work of intelligence operatives who told their victims: ‘Anyone who works for an NGO is GAM.’ Another rights activist was warned that the military only trusts half a dozen out of the 300 NGOs in Aceh. [Far Eastern Economic Review, 5 July 2001]
On 26 June, the head office in Banda Aceh of an NGO devoted to protecting the interests of children, Yayasan Anak Bangsa, was raided in the night by heavily-armed members of the special police unit, Brimob, some of whom were wearing black T-shirts. A man guarding the premises was forced to open up all the rooms and watched helpless as the intruders ransacked cupboards and confiscated diskettes. They refused to believe that YAB focuses on the plight of children and wanted to know whether it was linked to the Henri Dunant Centre (which oversees the peace talks).
Three days earlier, the Banda Aceh office the Legal Aid Institute (LBH) was raided by unidentified men who destroyed a notice board on which were displayed photos of people who have been kidnapped by the security forces. [Tempo Interaktif 27 June 2001]
International presence crucial
It is widely acknowledged that international observers and the permanent presence of international humanitarian agenciesare crucially important to overcome Aceh’s isolation, to provide protection to human rights activists and to the population at large. But the intensity of military operations is causing some agencies to leave.
The decision by two UN agencies, the UNDP amd UNICEF, to leave Aceh is a serious setback because the presence of UN agencies is so critically important for Aceh. The UNDP says it decided to leave because the situation was ‘not conducive’, following the collapse of the Humanitarian Pause agreement. OXFAM has an office in Lhokseumawe but conditions in North Aceh are too dangerous for it to venture beyond the city. A Peace Brigades International team of volunteers give what protection they can in several cities to targeted NGOs and activists.
In a letter to the British government in July, TAPOL called for UN monitors to visit Aceh, in particular the Special Rapporteurs on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary and Summary Excutions and on Torture, and the Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders.
Strong warning from Australia
In July, the Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer issued a strong warning to the Indonesian military not to commit the kind of human rights abuses that were seen in East Timor in the past, in West Papua and Aceh, because this could lead to outrage by the international comunity. Launching a government publication about East Timor, he said he was concerned over reports from Aceh that pro-Indonesian militias were being formed. ‘If the TNI go down that path, they will be making an enormous mistake’, he said. [AP, 17 July 2001]
Exxon, the world's largest oil company, has been taken to court in a US court, accused of complicity with the Indonesian military in egregious human rights violations in Aceh. The case, filed on behalf of eleven plaintiffs, makes grave charges against the company for its close collaboration with the Indonesian armed forces, employed by it to provide its installations with 'security'
The lawsuit was filed in the District of Columbia court on 11 June by the Washington-based International Labour Rights Fund and is based on two US laws, the Alien Tort Claims Act under which foreign citizens can sue corporations in the US for human rights abuses, and the Torture Victim Protection Act which allow foreign victims of torture to sue corporations or individuals in the US.
The eleven Acehnese plaintiffs, seven men and four women, are not named in the lawsuit, special dispensation having been granted by the court to allow the plaintiffs to remain anonymous. As the lawsuit states, 'if they complained to the military authorities, they would face certain retribution and punishment'.
The lawsuit charges that the plaintiffs 'have been subjected to serious human rights abuses including genocide, murder, torture, crimes against humanity, sexual violence in violation of the Alien Tort Claims Act ... and the Torture Victims Protection Act'.
Complicity with Suharto
ExxonMobil as the company is now known was created as the result of a merger on 30 November 1999 between Exxon Corporation and Mobil Corporation, owners of Mobil Oil Indonesia (MOI). 'Having reported approximately $210 billion in revenue for the year 2000, ExxonMobil,' the lawsuit states, 'ExxonMobil is now listed as the largest publicly held American corporation by the magazine Fortune. In calendar year 2000, ExxonMobil reported the world's largest corporate profits'.
Having discovered a large natural gas field in Arun, Aceh in the early 1970s, Mobil Oil obtained exclusive rights over the exploitation of these reserves 'from the brutal military regime headed by General Suharto ... in exchange for providing the Suharto family with "blank shares" in MOI as well as other forms of direct and indirect payment'. Since then, the Arun Project which incorporates the extraction facilities now owned by ExxonMobil, and the liquefaction plant owned by the state company, Pertamina (55 per cent), Exxon (35 per cent) and a Japanese company (10 per cent), 'has been one of the largest and most profitable natural gas projects in the world and has helped catapult Indonesia as one of the world's largest natural gas producers and exporters'.
The suit charges that because of the extreme unpopularity of the Suharto regime, security was an essential element and the Project's activities 'could not have been performed without a heavy military presence'. Hence troops were assigned for that purpose, for which the company pays a regular fee. Moreover, according to the suit, the company also controlled and directed the security forces, 'making decisions about where to place bases, strategic mission planning and making decisions about specific deployment areas. (Indeed, it is a recognised part of the 'duties' of the Indonesian armed forces to provide protection for so-called 'vital enterprises' which they have also been providing for three decades to the Freeport copper and gold mine in West Papua.)
By the time of the merger between Exxon and Mobil Oil, there was a 'clear public record of pervasive and systematic human rights violations perpetrated upon the innocent non-combatant villagers of Aceh by the TNI troops specifically hired to provide "security" for the Arun Project'. This included provision for two military barracks located near the installations, commonly referred to as 'Post 113' and 'Rancong Camp' which were used by Kopassus (special forces) units to interrogate, torture and murder Acehnese civilians suspected of engaging in separatist activities. It also included the provision of heavy equipment so that the Indonesian military could dig mass graves to bury their Acehnese victims, and the use of roads constructed by the companies to transport the military's victims to mass graves located near company premises.
Since the collapse of the Suharto regime, the defendants' 'security' service, the TNI, have continued without restraint to practice 'ethnic genocide', while the company has ignored pleas by numerous human rights groups to cease its operations in Aceh until it can make arrangements to operate without using the murderous TNI for security.
A litany of abuses
All the plaintiffs, referred to simply as John or Jane Doe, were subjected to abuses at the hands of troops guarding the company's premises. One plaintiff was shot in the wrist, had a grenade thrown at him and was left for dead. He lost a hand and his left eye. The second was forced onto a truck, beaten severely on the head and body, blindfolded and taken to Rancong where he was tortured for months. The third was shot three times in the leg then dragged to a post where he was tortured while his gunshot wounds bled, had his skull cracked and was burnt with cigarettes. He was finally released after a bribe was paid. The fourth was beaten by soldiers, accused of being GAM and had the letters 'GAM' carved on his back with a knife. The fifth was held in a building inside the company's complex, tortured with cigarettes and electricity, sustaining severe injuries to his head and body. His captors also beat his son and broke his leg. The sixth plaintiff was tortured then taken to his village and ordered to identify all villagers who were members of GAM. When he denied knowing any GAM members, he was beaten and shot in the leg. After hospitalisation, he was tortured again, suffering more severe injuries. Finally, his village head made a collection in the village and bribed the police to release him. Male plaintiff No 7 was taken by his captors to an office inside the company compound where he was beaten with the butt of a gun and a hammer, sustaining severe injuries.
The house of the first female plaintiff, who was pregnant at the time, was forcibly entered by a soldier who threatened to kill her and her unborn child, then sexually assaulted her. The second woman plaintiff's husband was shot dead while working in a field, while the third woman's husband was taken from their home at gunpoint and never re-appeared. Female plaintiff No 4 also lost her husband when he was working in a field where he was shot and killed.
The court was requested to award the plaintiffs compensatory and punitive damages and to enjoin the defendant from further engaging in human rights abuses against the plaintiffs and their fellow villagers in complicity with the Indonesian government and military.
Pertamina: 'We're responsible'
In response to the lawsuit, Exxon issued a statement 'categorically' denying any suggestion that it or its affiliate companies were involved in abuses by the security forces. For its part, Pertamina claimed that it was responsible for ExxonMobil security. 'The protection for all vital installations is the responsibility of Pertamina,' the company said, adding that it was common for the company to ask for assistance from the government if its vital installations came under threat. The president-director denied that they financed troops, but 'simply provided some health, housing and transportation facilities for the security officers ... in return for their services in guarding our facilities'. [Jakarta Post, 23 June 2001]
No one should expect early results from the lawsuit. Other cases, against Unocal in Burma and Shell/Chevron in Nigeria, are currently under consideration in US courts and it could take years for a verdict to be handed down.
Exxon and US policy
Three months before the lawsuit was filed, Exxon halted all its operations in Arun for reasons of security. Four days later, the Indonesian cabinet adopted a decision to declare GAM a 'separatist' organisation and set in motion preparations for an all-out offensive in Aceh. This came with Presidential Instruction No IV/2001 (Inpres/IV) on 11 April and the commencement of military operations on 2 May. A primary aim of the operations was the need to persuade Exxon to resume operations, as the shutdown was costing the Indonesian state $100 million a month in revenue and a possible meltdown of its guaranteed overseas market for liquefied natural gas. Even before specially-trained counter-insurgency troops were sent to Aceh from various parts of Indonesia with a mission 'to crush GAM', an additional 2,000 troops were sent to increase 'security' at the Arun field.
Since the shutdown, there have been several explosions and attacks on company premises for which GAM has been blamed. The GAM leadership says that their units were not responsible and indeed would not have been able to penetrate the security surrounding the installation, had they wanted to.As the months have passed, Jakarta's efforts to persuade Exxon to resume operations have become more and more frenzied, including threats from Pertamina to take over the company or to insist on a shake-up of its executives. As we went to press, operations were expected to resume in mid-July.
US government policy on the question of Aceh is heavily focused on safeguarding Exxon's continued existence in Indonesia. This holds true especially since George W. Bush took office; Exxon contributed $1.2 million to the Bush election war chest, one of the biggest donors.
During the talks in Geneva between the Indonesian government and GAM on 30 June/1 July, a key demand from Jakarta was for GAM to give a written assurance that it would not attack the installations; TAPOL understand that there was also strong pressure along these lines from the US shortly before the talks took place. For reasons known best to itself, GAM was not willing to give any such assurances, apparently because, to have done so would have meant acknowledging that they had been responsible for past attacks.
Widespread police operations have been underway since March this year in the district of Manokwari in the Bird's Head region of West Papua, following armed attacks on two logging companies. In the second of these incidents, five Brimob officers were killed. Retribution against the population has led to many civilian casualties and thousands of villagers fleeing to nearby forests. The area has been sealed off as sweepings continue undetected by outside observers.
Events in Manokwari district have been a matter of deep concern for human rights organisations in West Papua and church activists from the GKI, because of the intensity of sweepings and operations conducted since April by the police force, backed up by the notorious crack police unit, Brimob and the Indonesian army, TNI.
The intensity of the response by the security forces is also related to plans by the British petroleum company, BP, to exploit huge gas reserves in and around Bintuni Bay which lies close by, to the west of Manokwari district. The governor of Irian Jaya, Salossa, has warned that security disturbances in Manokwari must not be allowed to obstruct the progress of the BP project. [Cendrawasih Pos, 19 June] (See separate article.)
Dispute with logging company
Earlier this year, local people were in dispute with one of the many logging companies operating in the sub-district of Wasior in the southern part of Manokwari district over unsatisfactory compensation for their trees and ancestral land taken over by the concessionaire. Then, on 31 March, the base camp of the company, PT Dharma Mukti Persada (DMP), was attacked by an armed gang and three company employees were killed. Although this was almost certainly the work of a unit of the OPM's armed wing, the TPN, the security forces used the incident as the justification for bolstering their presence in the area, sending in reinforcements from the notorious crack force of the police, Brimob.
As so often happens, the local population bore the brunt of the crackdown. The police conducted sweepings in the area, entered villages and started shooting. Hundreds of terrified villagers fled into the forests, to avoid more acts of violence and intimidation. Alarming reports began to reach human rights groups in Jayapura about the catastrophe unfolding in Wasior.
Since most of the inhabitants in Wasior sub-district are members of the GKI, one of the leading Protestant churches in West Papua, the church decided to set up a Pastoral Team to go and investigate the alarming developments and do what they could to give succour to their flock. However, the local police chief refused to allow the Team to enter the sub-district and it was forced to return to Jayapura.
In late April, a group of 22 villagers from Nabire, which lies to the east, set out on a journey to visit a sacred site in Wasior. On their way home about ten days later, they were intercepted by a unit of Brimob troops who opened fire for no apparent reason as the group had shown no signs of wanting to resist the troops. Six of the men were shot dead and the other 16 who survived by taking shelter in the hold of a vessel which was to have taken them back home by sea, were all arrested. The detainees were beaten and tortured as they were being transported to the town of Manokwari, in the north. The two most gravely wounded detainees were transferred to a hospital in Jayapura while the other fourteen have been held in detention in Manokwari.
Yet another incident occurred when the security forces in Manokwari town pulled down the Morning Star, the West Papuan flag, which had been unfurled on 1 May in the grounds of the home of the local Papuan leader, Bernadus Mandachan. The troops opened fire on the flag-raisers when they refused to lower the flag, injuring seven men and arresting twenty. Two of the five who have been held in detention are likely to face charges, along with others whom the police suspect of being involved in the flag-raising.
Brimob members killed
As the sweepings continued in Wasior sub-district, another logging company was the target of an armed attack on 13 June. Five Brimob members and a company employee were killed. These Brimob troops had been brought into the area after the attack on 31 March to provide greater protection to logging company premises.
When members of the security forces are slain, the fury of their officers knows no bounds and Wasior has become the target of yet more operations, sweepings and intimidation. An even larger area has been sealed off, stretching in the south from Fak-Fak in the west to Nabire in the east. A number of people living in the vicinity of the logging company have been rounded up and transported to Manokwari to be interrogated about the 13 June incident. The security forces have also appointed informers in all the villages, under orders to produce the men who killed the Brimob officers.
To make matters worse, two Belgian television journalists disappeared in Puncak Jaya, to the south of Wasior. It soon became apparent that they had been abducted by a local OPM group and the Belgian authorities became involved in negotiations to secure the men's release. As we went to press, it was announced that two church leaders had agreed to negotiate with the abductors to secure their release.
Human rights activists are facing tremendous problems responding to the situation in Manokwari district. Lawyers sent from Jayapura to assist the many people now in detention there have been hampered in their work and their lives even threatened by police officers, in total disregard of the right of detainees to have the assistance of legal counsel during interrogation. A human rights volunteer working in Nabire who had drawn attention to a number of mysterious murders in the town, was summoned for interrogation by the police in a clear attempt to hamper his investigations. This was how the police responded to a plea from ELS-HAM to the police to investigate the killings.
The terrible retribution being visited on the population of Wasior is bound to have dire consequences for economic and social conditions, especially if villagers are forced to abandon their villages for any length of time and are prevented from tending their gardens or hunting and fishing. This could replicate the disastrous events that overcame villagers in Timika, in the south of West Papua in 1996, when the security forces imposed a clampdown, following the release of four British scientists who had been held captive by the OPM for five months. Later investigations revealed that more than two hundred villagers died, mostly of starvation and lack of medical care, after abandoning their homes. [See TAPOL Bulletin, No 144, December 1997]
If these security measures continue unabated, the people of Wasior and the Manokwari district are likely to have a very hard time for months to come, while more trials can be expected to take place.
On 6 and 7 June, the Indonesian government went ahead with controversial plans to register East Timorese refugees in West Timor and determine whether they wished to remain in Indonesia or return to East Timor. With militias still in control of the refugee camps and security conditions preventing the direct involvement of the international community, the process was a dangerous sham which has done nothing to contribute to the safe repatriation or re-settlement of the refugees.
The final figures for the registration showed that 295,751 refugees were registered of which 113,794 were over the age of 17 years. Of those over 17, 98.02 per cent opted to remain in Indonesia. These figures - both for the total number of refugees and the proportion wishing to remain in Indonesia - are far too high and clearly do not reflect the refugees' real wishes and long-term intentions. Local NGOs estimate that around 65 per cent of the refugees would prefer to return to East Timor at some stage.
The fact that the international community allowed the Indonesian government to go ahead with the registration is highly regrettable. Serious questions have to be asked about why the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) funded almost half the costs (using money provided by the European Union) and why the UN Transitional Administration for East Timor (UNTAET) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) lent credibility to the process by sending observers. Their involvement begs the question as to who will challenge the Indonesian authorities' handling of the refugee crisis and who is actually looking after the interests of the refugees. Almost two years after the East Timorese were forced into West Timor, it appears that the answer is nobody.
International diplomatic and media attention on the refugee crisis has waxed and waned since September 1999 when over 250,000 East Timorese were forcibly driven to West Timor following the post-ballot violence in East Timor. There was some renewal of interest after the murder of three UNHCR workers in Atambua, West Timor in September 2000, which resulted in the withdrawal of all international aid organisations and UN agencies. However, consistent and significant lobbying on behalf of the refugees has never materialised in either an international or East Timorese context.
Ironically, more international outrage was expressed over the light sentences handed out to those charged in connection with the UNHCR killings than was expressed over the plight of the tens of thousands of refugees who had been without significant humanitarian assistance for nine months. Never mind the fact that there has been no justice for the West Timorese also killed by militia in and around Atambua at the time of the UNHCR killings.
Indonesia presses ahead regardless
In this vacuum of international concern, the Indonesian government forged ahead with its own solution to the problem with very little resistance from any quarter. The registration process it conducted was deeply flawed. In particular, it did not address the rampant militia intimidation, corruption and aggression that would prevent the refugees making a free and informed choice.
In November 2000, a UN Security Council mission to East Timor recommended that a team of experts should assess the security situation in West Timor and that the registration process should not start until the team had verified that it could be carried out safely. That security assessment was only started on 8 July, after the registration was completed.
The official participation of organisations such as UNTAS (a pro-integration political organisation associated with the militias) in publicising the registration undermined the neutrality of the process and should have been prohibited at all stages. The fact that the actual outcome almost matched an UNTAS prediction that 95 per cent of refugees would indicate a wish to remain in Indonesia is a clear indication that the whole process was tightly controlled by the pro-Indonesia forces.
The criterion that refugees had to register with their 'heads of families' nullified any illusion that the process would provide a comprehensive and accurate survey of refugees' intentions, bearing in mind that the majority of families in West Timor are headed by males, who are either militia or associated with the Indonesian military (TNI) or under their influence. Many refugees were swept into West Timor from villages dominated by militia leaders and are still helplessly under the authority of those leaders. Whole families and communities would have had no option but to register according to the dictates of the militias or face violent retribution.
Only 12 international observers were present to cover 507 registration stations, 1,600 registration officials, 80 field supervisors and no less than 4,504 security personnel from the TNI and police. Even if the proposed number of 34 international observers had arrived and participated, they would never have had the capacity to comprehensively monitor the entire process. Several local NGOs with long experience of dealing with the refugee crisis were not given accreditation.
The fact that in the event the registration on 6 and 7 June was conducted in an orderly fashion and without any overt displays of violence or intimidation is largely irrelevant. The power and influence of the militias is far more insidious and operates at various levels above and below the surface. As the relative calm of the August 1999 East Timor ballot day demonstrated, the military and militias are able to turn the violence off and on at will. The atmosphere on the registration days says nothing about prior or subsequent intimidation and violence, which would have had a profound influence on the refugees' decisions.In stating that the "people had been able to express their wishes freely without fear, threat or intimidation" [see OCHA Consolidated Situation Report for Indonesia, No. 29 for 15 - 22 June 2001], UNTAET and IOM were at best extremely naïve and at worst complicit in the violation of the refugees' rights.
The report of the international observers - including UNTAET and IOM -is a disgraceful cop-out. Incredibly, the word 'militia' is not used once throughout the entire six-page report. In a perversion of language, the observers prefer to use the term 'refugee community leader'. There is no reference to the general security situation in West Timor and its impact on the process. The observers were more concerned with technical issues such as whether the registration started on time and whether proper ink marking was used. The only worthwhile outcome of the mission was the finding that 'the ballot should be viewed as a choice made by the refugees on the day, and not necessarily as an indication of their permanent intentions'.
A rushed and deeply-flawed process
The process was driven in part by the wish to complete the registration and repatriation in time for refugees to register for the East Timorese elections on 30 August 2001. That may have been a laudable objective, but the overriding objective of the process should have been to ensure that the refugees were able to make a free and informed choice about where they wished to live. The Indonesian authorities should not have been permitted to impose a timetable for registration unrelated to the situation on the ground in West Timor. If anything, the East Timorese authorities should have considered postponing the elections until conditions in West Timor allowed for the registration, repatriation and re-settlement of the refugees according to international standards for the protection of refugees.
Apart from the major problem of militia violence and intimidation, the process was seriously flawed in failing to take account of the complexities of the refugees' circumstances and intentions.
Frank Brennan, Country Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in East Timor wrote to Sergio de Mello, the head of UNTAET two months before the registration saying: 'Asking the simple question whether people 'wish to return to East Timor or whether they wish to settle permanently in Indonesia' will provide little guidance about people's real intentions.'
After the registration, he said: 'It is impossible to read any sense into the result of such a simplistic survey conducted with inadequate public education and security.' He pointed out that many refugees actually wanted to wait and see what happens after the elections in East Timor. Others were still awaiting assurances regarding their homes and land. Some who wish to settle in Indonesia want to do so only if they can stay in West Timor; others want to stay so long as their salaries are paid by the Indonesian authorities. He went on: 'Most East Timorese want to return home eventually. Most of those still in the camps want to stay in West Timor in the foreseeable future. We all knew that before the registration. The registration results will now be used by the Government of Indonesia, UNHCR and UNTAET to rationalise the abandonment of the majority of the people left in the camps on the basis that they have exercised a choice to stay. UNHCR described this registration as 'a necessary first step towards identifying and promoting durable solutions for East Timor refugees...'. It was nothing of the sort. It was a further step backwards after the international community's departure in September 2000 and will now be used as a step along the way of UNHCR's withdrawal from Timor before these people have pursued their preferred durable solution.
'Any registration of intention (to remain or return) in camps as insecure as those in West Timor is dangerous and imprudent unless the anonymity of the registrants can be assured. Even if anonymity be assured, there is a need for transparent, independent socialisation about the process, none of which was in evidence when I visited camps around Atambua two weeks before the registration. The international community should not have given any endorsement (let alone paid for) a registration process which could proceed in a closed environment where militia leaders and their political masters enjoy a campaign monopoly without independent scrutiny. In one camp, even I was seen as an apologist for UNTAET because I was giving both sides of the story.
There was little public understanding in the camps about the purpose or nature of the registration process. And yet UNHCR covered half the costs...UNHCR would never have conducted such a process itself in camps where it had open and secure access. Pragmatism dictated the funding of a flawed process' [Frank Brennan SJ, 'Bridging Diverse Issues and Converging Interests in the West Pacific', The Australian Studies Centre University of Indonesia International Seminar, Jakarta, 13 June 2001].
Confusion was also caused by the fact that the registration was publicised by many people - including the Indonesian task force responsible for its administration - as a vote. The outcome was described as the 'result' and those who failed to indicate their intentions were said to have 'abstained'. Dis-information was spread by some militia that this was a re-run of the 1999 ballot in East Timor; the intention being to scare people into 'voting' to stay in Indonesia in order to avoid a reprise of the 1999 violence and devastation.
The outcome of the process was also seriously distorted by people registering in more than one place and non-refugees registering in order to obtain food and aid from the Indonesian government. This explains the high figure for the total number of refugees.
The government's budget for the registration included plans for an extensive TV and print media socialisation campaign, registration of refugees outside of West Timor, try out registration runs in Tuapukan and Haliwen camps and money for indelible ink to be used on registration day. None of this was done and UNHCR must hold the government properly to account for the expenditure of the money it was given.
International community must now act
It is now incumbent on the international community to hold the Indonesian Government to account for all its decisions regarding the refugees and the results of the registration. Once re-settlement commences, it will be much harder to monitor the ongoing welfare of the refugees especially if they are taken to other parts of Indonesia against their will. There is increasing concern about what has happened to those who opted to return to East Timor.If the Indonesian government has neither the means nor the will to proceed with the re-settlement and repatriation then all other efforts must continue to ensure freedom of choice for all those who remain in West Timor. The myriad of reasons for the ongoing refugee problem remain and must be addressed.
There are signs that Jakarta wants to deal with the crisis, but is powerless to confront the militias who are holding the upper hand. The Indonesian Government is also unable to confront the problem of disgruntled TNI elements, which refuse to accept the loss of East Timor and are determined to prolong the refugee crisis as a source of instability and possible means of revenge against the East Timorese. In April, the OCHA stated: 'TNI spokesman Rear Marshal Graito Usodo said that a certain elite group is still attempting to motivate former militiamen of the pro-integration group to reoccupy East Timor. He did not elaborate.' [OCHA report No. 20, 20 April 2001]
While the militias and TNI elements are succeeding in their long-term objective of keeping the refugees in the camps, the Government appears to be concerned about the social and economic consequences of large numbers of refugees remaining in Indonesia. Security minister, Agum Gumelar has said that he hopes tens of thousands of the East Timorese refugees will return home [Jakarta Post, 21 June 2001], while minister of resettlement and infrastructure, Erna Witoelar, has admitted that Indonesia is unable to shoulder the burden of all the refugees who have said they want to stay [Jakarta Post, 18 June 2001]. The Governor of East Nusa Tenggara province, which includes West Timor, said that the province could accommodate only 6,000 refugees [OCHA, 15 - 22 June 2001].
Indonesia also has to cope with the massive problem of an estimated 1.25 million internally displaced persons in other provinces, such as Maluku [Jakarta Post, 12 July].
The problem of salaries and pensions remains an issue that affects up to 20,000 East Timorese refugees in West Timor. Negotiations during bilateral talks held in Denpasar, Bali in May between UNTAET and the Indonesian government made some progress regarding a planned severance or compensation fund for former state employees. In this connection, a consolidated appeal for West Timor refugees will probably be launched by Indonesia and the United Nations in July. However, a timetable for the scheme needs to be clearly defined and implemented as soon as possible.
Continuing disinformation regarding the security situation in East Timor and general confusion about the upcoming election and predicted violence are still major factors for non-return. Contact with family members and friends who have already returned to East Timor remains the most trusted manner in which refugees receive reliable information. 'Border Reunions' should be restarted in order for information from both sides of the border to be disseminated from and to communities who trust one another in the same manner that 'Go and See' visits and/or border meetings should be instigated at a grassroots level. A community approach to reconciliation and reintegration will be a much more effective way of fostering trust and successful return. Some local and international NGOs have been carrying out effective work in this area but do not have the capacity to bear this burden in full.
In this respect, there must be a more co-ordinated approach to reconciliation. High level delegations and visits do not impact at the grassroots level and can lead to more confusion and distrust amongst the ordinary refugee population. Reconciliation talks with militia leaders, although important for the future stability of East Timor, do nothing to encourage refugee return. They merely consolidate and legitimise the power militia leaders have in the refugee camps and increase the distrust refugees have of the UN, whom they see negotiating with the very people keeping them in West Timor.
UNTAET and the East Timorese leadership must take affirmative action to ensure the best possible conditions for return. Although foreign minister, José Ramos-Horta, publicly criticised the registration process as "an absolute farce" [AP, 8 June 2001], it is time for more than words. Motivated by financial and some international pressure, the Indonesia government has been the only body to take decisive action on the refugee problem in the last nine months; the registration being its solution. Not one of East Timor's new political parties has spoken about the potential refugee voters who are not being allowed the opportunity to participate in their country's future. If neither the international community nor the East Timorese show an interest, then who will hold the Indonesian government to account? If tens of thousands of refugees are forcibly resettled to other parts of Indonesia, who will take responsibility for their plight? Judging from recent history on West Timor, the answer, again, is nobody.