Rukaiyah, 42, still remembers the night one of her brothers vanished 13 years ago.
At around 8 p.m. on May 29, 2002, Mahyuddin bin M. Yunus, 15, told his mother that he and another boy were going off to visit a friend.
The two Acehnese youths took off on a motorcycle.
Mayhuddin’s family never saw him again.
“After months of looking without success, my mother started becoming sickly, and often got a vacant look on her face,” Rukaiyah told BenarNews in Banda Aceh.
A year earlier, another brother – 17-year-old Muhammad Amin – had died in a shootout between government forces and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) guerrillas in the Cot Keu’eung region of Aceh Besar Regency.
“As far as we knew, Amin was not a GAM fighter, just a supporter,” she said, relating the loss of her two brothers with a stoic face.
A long vigil for justice
In 2006, a year after GAM and the Indonesian government signed a peace accord in Helsinki, which ended a three-decade armed conflict that cost 25,000 lives in the Indonesian province of Aceh, Rukaiyah and other relatives of people who disappeared during the war formed the Victims of Human Rights Violations Community (KKP HAM) in Aceh Besar.
She was chosen to head it.
Since 2009, she has also served as secretary-general of Kagundah Aceh, which stands for Families of the Missing.
KKP HAM and other such organizations educate local people about human rights. They train them to collect and record data about victims of rights violations – be they victims of the security forces or victims of GAM.
‘They want to know why’
Nurjubah , 40, of North Aceh Regency, also works alongside people victimized by the conflict. Back in 1990, the army detained her father for two weeks.
She began assisting families facing similar problems while the war still raged. She frequently visited security officials, seeking information from them about when local people had been kidnapped or arrested.
Before long, feeling under threat, she moved to the city of Lhokseumawe for five years, until the peace pact was signed in 2005.
Nurjubah, who also works for the Women’s Justice Network (JARI) of Aceh, said that even today, whenever she meets with families of the missing or killed, they all have a similar hope: for justice to prevail and the truth to be told.
“They want to know why their father was killed. Why their husband was killed, and who did it. They still hope that the perpetrator will be put on trial. But for ten years of peace, this right has not yet been fulfilled,” she told BenarNews.
The families of the missing are hoping that a bylaw calling for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and which was approved by Aceh’s provincial House of Representatives (DPRA) in late 2013, will soon be implemented.
Both regional law and the Helsinki accord call for the formation of such a commission.
The law says the commission will uncover violence that occurred, and support reconciliation between perpetrators and victims, so that victims can receive reparations.
Deputy parliamentary leader Sulaiman Abda said the TRC law had not yet been implemented because that depended on the Indonesian government in Jakarta.
“It’s true the law was already passed in the DPR Aceh, but implementation needs approval by the central government,” he said.
An April 1, 2014 letter from the Home Ministry, which BenarNews obtained, states that the Aceh TRC bylaw “is contrary to the public interest and higher legislation.”
In the letter, then-Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi said the bylaw could be implemented after the promulgation of national TRC laws. Indonesia’s Constitutional Court threw out an earlier TRC law in 2006.
Edrian, head of the provincial government’s legal bureau, said he never got the Home Minister’s letter, although rights activists received it more than a year ago.
“We have never officially received that letter. Usually clarification letters from the Home Ministry on local laws are delivered to the Legal Bureau because we are the ones who respond to them,” he told BenarNews.
Attempts to contact Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo for comment were unsuccessful.
Government not serious?
Zulfikar Muhammad, executive director of the Human Rights NGO Coalition of Aceh, says that delayed implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Aceh reflects the local government’s lack of seriousness, and “it could be that those now in power in Aceh were involved in rights violations.”
“The victims hope that there will be swift disclosure of the truth and reconciliation, because ten years of peace in Aceh has not brought a good impact for them,” he told BenarNews.
To assist in the TRC process, rights organizations and relatives groups have collected data and verified the number of victims, he said. Much of that data has been handed over to the DPRA and the national Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM).
If past rights violations are not addressed, it means the government has ignored the rights of victims to truth, justice and healing, in Zulfikar’s view.
Victims feel that perpetrators are enjoying impunity, because there is no deterrent effect, he said.
“The TRC and a human rights court must be set up soon in Aceh. For us, the victims, the law must be upheld. If there is no justice, it could be that families will bear grudges, and a new conflict will emerge,” Rukaiyah said.