INDONESIA: Aceh peace talks must put civilian protection first

The recent torture and killing of three high school students is a stark reminder of why human rights protection must be firmly on the agenda. Lukman (18), Azhari Iskandar (18) and Tarmizi (16) were shot dead on 18 June after they and 13 other school Children's rights, a teacher and the school head were detained by members of the Indonesian Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob). The Children's rights had been attending a ceremony to collect their graduation certificates when Brimob raided the school in Caleng, West Aceh after one of their members had been killed in an armed clash with GAM.

After failing to find the GAM members responsible, Brimob took the students and their teachers to Krueng Sabee police sector where they were interrogated, beaten and the three students were shot dead. Brimob refused to release their bodies without payment from their families.

'The peace talks won't bring back the three students or hundreds of other innocent civilians who have been killed in Aceh, but if human rights protection is prioritised the dialogue could prevent more unnecessary deaths', said Amnesty International.

The killings came just days after the announcement that talks between the Indonesian government and GAM would be resumed. Previous talks have focussed on reducing the level of violence to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered and more recently have made tentative steps towards exploring political solutions to the conflict.

'All efforts to resolve the situation in Aceh through dialogue rather than force are welcome, however too often human rights are sacrificed in the search for peace and security. Sidelining human rights will not lead to a durable and just solution to any conflict,' the organisation added.

The Indonesian government has responded to the deteriorating situation by sending more troops to the province. Military operations aimed at defeating GAM began on 2 May 2001. Troops trained in counter-insurgency operations by Special Forces Command (Kopassus), a military unit notorious for violating human rights in Aceh and elsewhere in Indonesia, are among those which have been moved into Aceh.

Human rights monitors and humanitarian workers are prevented from carrying out their legitimate work because of fear for their security. In late March a human rights worker, his lawyer and driver were shot dead in South Aceh. Teungku Al-Kamal was returning from being questioned by the police about his role in assisting a group of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights who alleged that they had been raped by Brimob last year.

Rather than investigate the rape or the killing of Teungku Al-Kamal, the Indonesian police have accused human rights activists who tried to help the Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights of defamation and kidnapping. Aguswandi, the Aceh Coordinator of the Commission for the Victims of Disappearance and Violence (Kontras), has been summoned to answer charges of kidnapping. Other activists who assisted the Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights to travel to the Acehnese capital of Banda Aceh to report their cases to the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) have also been summoned for questioning.

'While the dialogue is in progress, immediate steps must be taken on the ground to prevent further violations and to bring to justice those guilty of committing these crimes. Human rights defenders must be able to carry out their work without intimidation, including spurious criminal charges, and both sides must abide by international human rights and humanitarian law. Immediate orders should be issued to troops to respect these rights, including the right to life'.

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