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UA 330/91 - Malaysia / Indonesia: fear of refoulement: 200 Acehnese asylum seekers

, Index number: ASA 28/015/1991

EXTERNAL (for general distribution) AI Index: ASA 28/15/91
Distr: UA/SC
Please bring this to the attention of the Refugee Coordinator in your section.
UA 330/91 Fear of Refoulement 9 October 1991
MALAYSIA/INDONESIA: 200 asylum-seekers
Amnesty International is deeply concerned that an estimated 200 Acehnese currently detained
in the states of Kedah, Penang and Perak, Malaysia are in imminent danger of being forcibly
returned to Indonesia where they may risk torture, extrajudicial execution or "disappearance".
Fears of their forcible return increased after the announcement, on 7 October 1991, of an
agreement between the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia to return the Acehnese to Indonesia
as soon as possible. Amnesty International's Secretary General wrote to the government of
Malaysia on 9 October urging that the detained Acehnese not be returned against their will.
The asylum seekers fled to Malaysia from the Aceh region on the northern tip of the island
of Sumatra between March and October of this year. Since their arrival they have been held
in various detention centres in Malaysia. The most recent arrivals, a group of 24, arrived
less than one week ago, shortly after the return of at least ten who had been in Malaysia
for several months. From the outset, Indonesian authorities have pressured the Malaysian
government not to treat the Acehnese as refugees but as "illegal immigrants". Following the
announcement of the agreement to return the Acehnese an Indonesian Foreign Ministry official
said: "Basically we are thankful to Malaysia for the way it handled the arrivals. Malaysia
has not treated them as refugees but as foreigners having entered the country without proper
Indonesian armed forces have committed widespread human rights violations in Aceh and North
Sumatra since mid-1989 while attempting to suppress a separatist insurrection there.The
insurgency has been led by Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh), whose members have themselves reportedly
committed acts of violence. Amnesty International believes that more than 2,000 unarmed
civilians, and possibly many more, have been killed by Indonesian security forces in the area
within the past two years. The organization also knows of hundreds of suspected rebel supporters
imprisoned without charge or trial, many of whom have been tortured while in custody. At least
21 suspected rebel supporters, including academics, civil servants and journalists, have been
sentenced to lengthy prison terms in unfair trials during the year; Amnesty International
believes that many of them may be prisoners of conscience.
Amnesty International believes that, given the current situation in Aceh, there is good
reason to believe that some or all of the Acehnese currently facing return fled to Malaysia
to seek protection and would risk extrajudicial execution, torture or "disappearance" if
Malaysia is obliged, under the internationally-recognized principle of non-refoulement,
not to return anyone to a country where they would be at risk of serious human rights violations.
Malaysia would therefore be acting in clear violation of international law if it were to return
such persons to Indonesia without permitting a full examination of every asylum seeker's reasons
for seeking protection and the risks that he or she may face if forcibly returned. International
standards also require that all asylum seekers be given an opportunity to contact a
representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
In view of these principles, Amnesty International is gravely concerned that none of the
Acehnese have been allowed to present their case for asylum, and that the Malaysian authorities
have not permitted representatives of the UNHCR to visit them.
It is reported that the Indonesian Government has given assurances to the Malaysian Government
that none of those returned would be subjected to human rights violations. However, Amnesty
International believes that such assurances are of little value because there is no effective
mechanism to monitor the situation of those returned.
The Indonesian authorities have consistently denied the overwhelming evidence of serious
human rights violations in Aceh and they have restricted efforts of international and domestic
human rights organizations to conduct first hand investigations. In July 1991, the government
permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit political detainees
in Aceh. Amnesty International welcomed this decision and has learned that the treatment
of prisoners in certain detention centres improved immediately after the visit. However it
understands that there is currently no ICRC presence in the area, giving rise to concern that
conditions in prisons may once again deteriorate and that human rights violations will continue.
Despite repeated requests, Amnesty International has not been permitted to visit Indonesia
or East Timor for more than ten years.
Amnesty International's concern for asylum seekers arises from its impartial work for the
protection of human rights, notably for the release of prisoners of conscience, fair and prompt
trials for political prisoners, and an end to torture and executions. Following from these
concerns, Amnesty International opposes the forcible return of any person to a country where
he or she risks imprisonment as a prisoner of conscience, torture, "disappearance" or execution.
It therefore seeks to ensure that states provide such people with effective and durable
protection from being sent against their will to a country where they risk being subjected
to such human rights violations, or to any third country where they would not be afforded
effective and durable protection against such return. The principle of non-refoulement is
set out in Article 33 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The Government
of Malaysia is not a party to this convention, but the principle of non-refoulement is
internationally recognized as a norm of international customary law and as such is binding
on all states whether or not they are party to the Convention.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Telegrams/telexes/faxes/express and airmail letters:
- referring to the international principle of non-refoulement which is binding on all
- urging that the UNHCR be given immediate access to the estimated 200 Acehnese who are
detained in the states of Kedah, Penang and Perak;
- urging that the detainees be given access to a fair and adequate refugee determination
procedure as required by international standards for the protection of asylum seekers;
- urging that the estimated 200 Acehnese currently detained not be returned against
their will to Indonesia where they may risk serious human rights violations such as
torture and extrajudicial execution;
- expressing concern at the absence of any effective mechanism for monitoring the fate
of those who may be returned; and at restrictions on efforts by domestic and
international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the
ICRC, to investigate the human rights situation in the territory.
His Excellency Your Excellency
Dato' Seri Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad
Prime Minister
Prime Minister's Office
Jalan Dato' Onn
50502 Luala Lumpur, Malaysia
Telegrams: Prime Minister, Kuala Lumpur,
Telexes: 30091 LARAS MA, 33099 PERMA MA
or 30098 EPUPM MA
Faxes: + 60 3 238 3784; + 60 3 238 7214;
or 60 3 238 7215;
His Excellency Your Excellency
Datuk Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Jalan Wisma Putra
50602 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Telegrams: Foreign Affairs Minister,
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Ali Alatas
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Jakarta, Indonesia
Telegrams: Foreign Affairs Minister,
Jakarta, Indonesia
Faxes: + 62 21 36 0517; + 62 21 36 7781
or + 62 21 36 7782
Jakarta Post (Daily Newspaper)
Lembaga Bantuan Hukum
Jalan Diponegro No 74
Jakarta 10320, Indonesia
Faxes: + 62 21 549 2685
Islamic Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM)
Sekretariat ABIM Pusat
10-4 Right Angle, Jalan 14/22
46100 Petaling Jaya
Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia
Faxes: +60 3 756 8618
and to diplomatic representatives of Indonesia in your country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat or your section
office if sending appeals after 20 November 1991.

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