Indonesia/Aceh: UK arms may still be used for repression if assurances 'forgotten the next day'

In a letter to Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt, Amnesty International has called on the government to reveal exactly what end-use commitments were sought before licences were granted for arms exports to Indonesia.

The organisation also wants to know what monitoring is taking place in Aceh to ensure that UK-supplied equipment such as Scorpion tanks are not being used to violate people's human rights.

The Indonesian Department of Defence has reportedly stated that agreements to purchase Hawk jets and Scorpion tanks between the UK and Indonesia did not contain conditions prohibiting their use in domestic conflicts.

The Director-General of Defence Facilities, Marshall Aqlani Maza was quoted on 23 June as saying: 'If such an undertaking is not made in writing and only stated orally, then it will be forgotten the very next day' (1)

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Stephen Bowen said:

'We've always suspected that the UK government's end-use controls weren't worth the paper they were written on. Now we hear that they are not even written down at all. It is naïve in the extreme if the British government is relying on a 'gentleman's agreement' to ensure that UK-supplied arms aren't used for repression in Indonesia.

'The Indonesian government has an appalling human rights record and the conflict in Aceh is putting thousands of people's rights and lives in danger. Yet Britain still licenses exports of equipment to the Indonesian military. The UK government must be transparent and tell us what steps are being taken to prevent the use of UK arms to commit human rights abuses.'

The 2002 Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls reveals that the UK Government continues to issue export licences for components for combat aircraft, components for combat helicopters and components for unidentified armoured vehicles to Indonesia.

Amnesty International has also asked the government to reveal whether any of those licences were for Scorpion armoured vehicles, reportedly in use in Aceh.

Background

The military emergency in Aceh has been in place since 19 May 2003. According to military figures by the end of the first week of July 2003 they had killed 400 people who it is claimed were all members of the armed opposition group, the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM). This claim is contested by other sources, including the police, who claim that civilian deaths outnumber GAM deaths. (2)

Several hundred people are believed to have been arrested by the military or the police. All detainees, most of whom have no access to the outside world, are at serious risk of torture and other grave violations of human rights.

The population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) - forced from their homes because of the conflict - numbers tens of thousands. There are verified reports of shortages of basic assistance to the IDP population, including water, food and medicine.

The military emergency is also threatening local human rights defenders who have been harassed, intimidated, arrested and in one case killed. International human rights organisations are not permitted access to the province and access by international humanitarian organisations is severely restricted. Journalists are also facing increasing restrictions and dangers.

The combined effect of the threats and restrictions is that the civilian population is denied much needed protection and assistance. In the absence of credible, independent monitoring, the risk of human rights violations is dramatically increased, while the government's insistence that it should take sole responsibility for delivering humanitarian assistance is resulting in unnecessary hardships for the civilian population.

More about our campaign for tighter arms controls is available online.

Notes to Editors

(1) Tempo Interaktif, Jakarta, 23 June 2003. Translation by TAPOL.

(2) The weekly news magazine, Tempo, reported that information from the regional police command indicated that after 30 days of the military emergency, 108 civilians and 92 members of GAM had been killed. See Charges and Denials, Tempo, 30 June 2003.

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