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Jakarta Post

Eagerly anticipating the Aceh truth commission

  • Ahmady

    The Jakarta Post

Banda Aceh   /   Wed, December 18, 2013   /  11:20 am

After a six-year delay, finally this month the Aceh Legislative Council is expected to pass a provincial bylaw, paving the way for the long-awaited Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

It'€™s high time. On the surface, it appears the Aceh peace process has evolved smoothly. But dig a little deeper and you'€™ll discover anger is still raging. A small incident could easily light the fuse and trigger a renewed conflict. The Aceh TRC could go a long way toward defusing this potentially explosive situation. With its focus on creating a record of atrocities and restoring the dignity of victims, the TRC will help bring closure to the three-decade long conflict in Aceh that took 23,000 lives and traumatized tens of thousands of families.

But the successful establishment of Aceh'€™s own provincial Truth and Reconciliation Commission would not only be an important step in creating lasting peace in Aceh, it would also have significance for the entire country. Our nation'€™s history is marred by human rights abuses, including the massacre of nearly 1 million suspected communists in 1965, the 1984 Tanjung Priok massacre over religious divisions and assassinations of separatists in Papua, to mention a few. Aceh'€™s TRC could give new momentum to the controversial annulled national TRC law, and help victims across Indonesia finally bury old animosities.

The establishment of an independent TRC in Aceh was not envisioned when the government of Indonesia and rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) signed the Helsinki peace agreement on Aug.15, 2005, ending the conflict in Aceh.

The law that guarantees Aceh'€™s autonomy, passed in 2006, required the TRC be established within one year under the umbrella of a national TRC. But due to the controversy over how to redress crimes against victims of the anti-communist massacres, the national TRC has yet to be formed.

The Constitutional Court annulled the TRC law in December 2006, among others because of the provision of amnesty to perpetrators of human rights abusers.

The deadlock created by the court decision is only the latest frustration for the people of Aceh seeking justice for past abuses. Earlier they had hoped that the National Commission on Human Rights, established in 1994, would investigate past human rights violations.

But the commission has no power of enforcement. It can only make recommendations to the government '€” which have fallen on deaf ears. Human rights activists are lobbying for revisions of the Law No. 39/1999 on Human Rights to give the commission teeth, but there is no clear timetable.

These stalemates have set off a prolonged and heated debate in Aceh. Civil society demanded the Aceh administration to take the initiative to establish its own TRC based on its special autonomy law. They argued there was no need to wait for Jakarta to establish a national TRC.

But the government opposed these notions. Jakarta cited the conflicting Aceh governance law No. 11/2006 that first requires Aceh'€™s TRC to be under the legal umbrella of a national TRC. Nevertheless, this year the Aceh legislative council decided to forge ahead, and this time Jakarta seems to be on board.

In November, a member of the Aceh legislative council, Nurzahri, told activists in Jakarta and Banda Aceh that a local regulation establishing an Aceh TRC would be passed by the Aceh council '€œno later than December 2014'€.

Meanwhile, the director general for laws and regulations at the Law and Human Rights Ministry, Wahiduddin Adams, said the Aceh council could pass its own TRC provincial bylaw, as long as the regulation would be amended to comply with national legislation once there was a new law on the national TRC. This has given some hope to conflict victims in Aceh who have been long promised a reconciliation process to help them move on.

The focus of the Aceh TRC is to investigate and create a record of victims'€™ suffering, and in doing so respecting their experiences and underscoring that they are important members of society, deserving protection from the state.

According to the draft bylaw, the TRC will be a commission with representatives of the victims, women, academics and ulema. Members of the military (TNI) and former GAM rebels, as armed parties to the conflict, will be excluded. The commission will hold public hearings in areas across Aceh where the conflict was fiercest. It will then compile a public record including incidents of destruction of property and traumatic suffering, and seek to create an accurate and objective record of the history of the Aceh conflict.

In consultation with representatives from the government, victims and the community, the TRC would then establish a reconciliation process. The draft local law proposes that the central government compensate victims for material losses. In cases where there is adequate evidence, the TRC will have the authority to bring the perpetrators to court. As the regulation is only valid in Aceh, the commission will not be authorized to bring perpetrators outside of Aceh to court.

The Aceh TRC aims to encourage reform of institutions responsible for past human rights abuses, such as the police and the TNI, in a bid to prevent future violations. The commission will encourage people to let go of grudges that are ultimately destabilizing society.

If the Aceh TRC is a success, it will be an inspiration across Indonesia for the investigation and disclosure of all past human rights abuses. This could pave the way for greater peace, a goal worthy of support by the Indonesian government and the international community.

Previously, TRC'€™s have shown considerable success in South Africa, Argentina, Chile and Nicaragua, having the ability to uncover past human rights violations and to encourage some reconciliation between victims and perpetrators. The Aceh TRC is expected to emulate the success story of TRC'€™s in those countries.

The writer is a program manager at the Aceh Coalition for Human Rights.

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