Indonesia : Activist's arrest could undermine Aceh cease-fire

The organisation also warned that the detention of activists risks discrediting the two month old cease-fire agreement in the province.

'The cease-fire agreement, although fragile, has been successful in reducing levels of violence between the two conflicting parties in NAD, but ultimately it will mean nothing to ordinary Acehnese if they continue to experience human rights violations.'

Muhammad Nazar, leader of the Aceh Information Referendum Centre (SIRA) which promotes a referendum on independence for NAD, was arrested early in the morning of 12 February and is being held at the Police Resort in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh. Another member of SIRA, Abdullah, was detained by the police for four days after being arrested in Aceh Barat Daya District on 6 February 2002.

Muhammad Nazar's arrest is thought to be linked to his involvement in organizing a rally in Lhokseumawe, North Aceh District on 9 January 2003. Four men were reportedly shot and injured when members of the Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) opened fire, apparently to prevent people from attending the demonstration. Another leading activist, Kautsar, has also been threatened with arrest in connection with the same events.

'Muhammad Nazar must be immediately and unconditionally released,' Amnesty International said as it also called for effective and independent investigations of the shootings.

The Cessation of Hostilities (COH) Agreement, which was signed on 9 December by the Indonesian government and the armed opposition group, the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), explicitly requires the two sides to 'allow civil society to express without hindrance their democratic rights'.

Amnesty International is aware of the Indonesian government's concerns that the cease-fire is being used by GAM and its supporters to strengthen support for independence. However, the organisation is concerned that the arrest of political activists and the Brimob shootings represent a breach of this provision and is indicative of the limits on freedom of expression and association which still exist in NAD.

'If the peace process is to be successful and durable it will have to have the confidence of the civilian population. To build that confidence they must be given a meaningful role in the process and be protected from human rights violations,' said Amnesty International.

The COH Agreement makes no specific reference to human rights protection. A Joint Security Committee (JSC), which includes international members, has been established to oversee the implementation of the COH Agreement and investigate security violations. However, it has no mandate to investigate allegations of human rights violations. Amnesty International believes its role should be extended to include protection of human rights and that it should report publicly on any abuses that occur.

The COH Agreement also does not address the issue of justice for the many thousands of human rights abuses committed over the years in the province. The lack of justice for abuses, the majority of which have been committed by the Indonesian security forces, has fanned the conflict in recent years. The organisation appeals to both sides to address the issue of justice for abuses both past and present by cooperating with investigations and ensuring that those suspected of being responsible are brought to justice.

'Experience shows time and time again that where human rights are left out of peace processes they eventually falter and fail. There is currently a unique opportunity for peace in NAD which should not be lost because key issues, namely human rights, are considered too sensitive'.

Background

The COH Agreement is intended to bring an end to hostilities in NAD between the pro-independence armed opposition group, GAM, and the Government of Indonesia.

The province was designated as a Military Operations Area (DOM) between 1989 and 1998 during which time the Indonesian security forces operated with virtual impunity in the area. Thousands of people are estimated to have been the victims of human rights violations, including unlawful killings, 'disappearances', arbitrary detention and torture.

Peace talks were initiated by the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in 2000 and an agreement known as the 'Humanitarian Pause' signed in May that year. The agreement quickly collapsed and the violence intensified in the following years. Both sides were responsible for committing human rights abuses and human rights groups estimate that over 1,000 people were killed in 2001 and over 1,300 in 2002. 'Disappearances', arbitrary detention and torture also remained commonplace.

Political activists are among those who have been targeted. Both Muhammed Nazar and Kautsar have previously been detained. Muhammad Nazar was sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment in 2001 after being found guilty of 'spreading hatred against the government'. Kautsar, who is the chair of the Aceh People's Democratic Resistance Front (FPDRA), spent four months in detention before being acquitted also of charges of 'spreading hatred against the government, in late 2001. Both were considered by Amnesty International to be prisoners of conscience.

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