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INDONESIA: Amnesty's appeal for the people of Aceh

INDONESIA: Amnesty's appeal for the people of Aceh

The same human rights standards and scrutiny that applied during the Iraq conflict must be applied to the renewed war in the Indonesian province of Aceh, the New Zealand section of Amnesty International said today.

Following the breakdown of a cease-fire and intensified military operations against armed separatists in Aceh, Amnesty International has called on both sides to the conflict to take concrete measures to protect civilians, who have figured overwhelmingly in the estimated 10,000 deaths during the past 14 years.

The Indonesian government declared martial law in Aceh at midnight 19 May after last minute talks to rescue the five-month-old cease-fire between the Government of Indonesia and the pro-independence armed opposition group, the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) broke down the previous day. In the previous weeks thousands of troops were deployed to the province in preparation for renewed operations against GAM.

"The coming weeks will be a test of Indonesian Government commitment to meet growing international expectations that human rights are to be respected, even during war," said Amnesty's New Zealand director, Ced Simpson.

He called on the New Zealand Government to monitor the largest Indonesian military operation since the 1975 invasion of East Timor closely, and to convey the concerns of New Zealanders who feared the consequences for civilians in Aceh.

Previous military operations have been characterised by widespread human rights violations, and Amnesty International has documented serious abuses by both sides.

Statements by Indonesian government officials have indicated their intention to minimize civilian casualties during this latest operation against GAM. Amnesty International welcomes these statements and urges GAM to also make public its intention to take every step possible to protect the civilian population.

Last week former Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, special adviser on Aceh to President Megawati Sukarnoputri, urged Indonesia to "learn from the past" and "not repeat the same mistakes we made" during the 1989-1998 military operation in Aceh.

In today's Jakarta Post, Indonesia's representative at the failed peace talks, Wiryono Sastrohandoyo, said "Above all, military personnel in the field must not only actually respect the human rights of the people of Aceh even in the heat of the fighting, but must also be seen as doing so by an observant world that will be keenly monitoring the progress of the operation."

But, Mr Simpson said, it will take a significant change in Indonesian military culture and Government attitude, to demonstrate to the Acehnese people and the international community, that the Indonesian authorities are prepared to abide by international law.

In 2002 alone, local human rights monitors estimate that over 1,300 people have been killed, the majority of them civilians. "Disappearances", unlawful arrests, torture, destruction of homes and other facilities have also been commonplace, and the perpetrators have generally been government forces.

"The military build-up for the renewed government offensive has been overseen by Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri who is currently on trial before an Indonesian Human Rights Court, and has been indicted by the UN Serious Crimes Unit in Dili, for crimes against humanity in East Timor in 1999," said Mr Simpson.

There are already ominous signs that civilians are at risk and that those trying to defend their rights will be targeted. One local human rights organization estimates that there are currently over 15,000 people displaced by recent violence in Aceh and that food and medical supplies are not reaching them.

In the meantime, on 11 May two human rights defenders with the East Aceh branch of the Human Rights and Legal Aid Post (PB HAM) went missing in separate incidents. The body of one of them, Raja Ismail, was found in a river two days later. Abdussalam Muhamad Deli is still missing. These latest incidents add to a lengthening list of human rights defenders who have been unlawfully killed, "disappeared" or illegally detained in Aceh. As is the case in most previous incidents, the identity of those responsible for abducting the two men is not known.

"We urge the Indonesian authorities to immediately and effectively investigate these and all other allegations of human rights violations and to bring perpetrators to justice, in proceedings fully consistent with international standards for fair trial," Mr Simpson said.

New Zealand members of Amnesty International have campaigned on behalf of numerous Acehnese facing imprisonment, torture and death over the past decade. "We now call on the New Zealand public, and the NZ Government, to urge both sides to abide by international human rights and humanitarian law, and to work to ensure that independent monitors, both national and international, are able to monitor the adherence of both sides to these standards.

New Zealanders can make online appeals to the Indonesian authorities at http://www.amnesty.org.nz

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