Indonesian Army Unit Committed ‘Crimes Against Humanity,’ Rights Panel Says

Tria Dianti
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180906_ID_Aceh_1000.jpg Indonesian security forces search for rebels belonging to the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) at a village in Lhok Seumawe, in Aceh, Indonesia, May 21, 2003.

Military abuses during anti-insurgency operations in Indonesia’s Aceh province more than two decades ago amounted to crimes against humanity, the country’s National Commission on Human Rights said Thursday.

Members of the army’s Special Forces Command (Kopassus) were involved in rape, killings, enforced disappearances and torture between 1989 and 1998, an investigation team from the commission, known as Komnas HAM, found.

“We have enough preliminary evidence that crimes against humanity, such as rape and other forms of sexual violence, murder, deprivation of freedom, forced imprisonment and forced disappearances occurred,” team member Mohammad Choirul Anam told a news conference in Jakarta.

The alleged crimes occurred when Aceh was effectively under martial law after being designated as an “Area of Military Operations (DOM)” to end a separatist insurgency, investigators said.

Anam said Komnas HAM had submitted the results of its probe to the Attorney General’s Office on Aug. 28 for prosecution.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Santos Gunawan Matondang and the Attorney General’s Office could not be reached immediately for comment.

Officials of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) show copies of an investigative team’s report on the so-called Rumoh Geudong case, during a news conference in Jakarta, Sept. 6, 2018. [Tria Dianti/BenarNews]
Officials of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) show copies of an investigative team’s report on the so-called Rumoh Geudong case, during a news conference in Jakarta, Sept. 6, 2018. [Tria Dianti/BenarNews]


The seven-member Komnas team questioned 65 witnesses during the course of its investigation, which started in 2013, Anam said.

“The crimes were borne out of the policy to impose a military emergency in Aceh at that time,” he said, adding that those responsible include policymakers as well commanders on the ground. He did not elaborate and did not name names.

Many of the victims – suspected members of the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and their relatives – were held in a house in Pidie regency that has become known as Rumoh Geudong.

Under the martial law regime imposed on Aceh by the government of then-president Suharto, Kopassus members made up the majority of the elite Joint Intelligence Unit (SGI) with monitoring posts scattered across Pidie, including the notorious Rumoh Geudong.

“It is believed that most of the victims lived in Pidie,” Anam said.

Jakarta and GAM signed a peace pact in 2005, ending more than three decades of separatist conflict that killed more than 15,000 people, mostly civilians.

The peace deal was spurred by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that left more than 170,000 dead in Aceh, a devoutly Muslim province on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

The Komnas HAM investigation found that Rumoh Geudong did not only serve as a monitoring post, but also a place where detainees were tortured, killed and raped, Anam said.

In February this year, U.S. Defense and State department officials told BenarNews that Washington had started taking steps to resume training Kopassus after suspending military ties nearly two decades ago over human rights concerns.

“We are going through the process of what is called ‘remediation,’” Lt. Col. Chris Logan, spokesman for the Pentagon, said during a phone interview when asked to confirm reports that the U.S. military was restoring training with Kopassus. “[T]hat is the desire in the States. But there are regulations we have to follow to be able to work with them.”

The Pentagon comment came after U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis visited Jakarta.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta told BenarNews days after Mattis’ visit that Washington supported “Indonesia’s efforts to promote human rights and the rule of law.”

“We continue to discuss the importance of accountability of past abuses,” the spokesman said, explaining that Washington was committed to deepening defense cooperation with Indonesia and was “seeking opportunities for further engagement in various areas.”

Washington cut ties with Kopassus

Under the so-called “Leahy Laws,” which the U.S. Congress began to implement in 1998, Washington cut ties with Kopassus the following year over allegations that its forces had killed civilians and committed rights abuses in Indonesian-occupied East Timor as well as the Indonesian provinces of Aceh and West Papua.

The laws attach human rights conditions to congressional appropriations of U.S. military aid to foreign countries.

The newest case against Kopassus would join two other cases of gross human rights violations that had been proposed by the commission for prosecution.

The other cases are the May 3, 1999 shootings of protestors in North Aceh that killed dozens of people and the killings of 16 civilians in South Aceh during a military operation to capture rebels in 2003. None of the cases has been resolved.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s government has been accused of dragging its feet in solving past human rights cases, including the anti-communist purge in 1965-66 during which an estimated 500,000 people were killed.

“We hope the attorney general will respond swiftly and then we can proceed to the next stage, the establishment of a human rights tribunal,” Anam said.


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