In Aceh there is peace but no justice

By Olof Blomqvist, Asia-Pacific Press Officer at Amnesty International, who recently returned from Indonesia

Simpang KKA was once known as a junction near a paper and pulp mill in Aceh, a region on the northern part of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island. But since 3 May 1999, its name will always be synonymous with one of the worst killings to take place during the brutal and decades-long Aceh conflict.

1999 was supposed to usher in a period of respite for many Acehnese after a decade of military operations which ended in August 1998 with the fall of President Suharto. The 29-year old conflict peaked between 1989 and 2005, leaving between 10,000 and 30,000 people dead, many of them civilians.

But on 3 May that year – almost exactly 14 years ago today – tensions were running high around the village of Cot Morong in northern Aceh. A soldier had reportedly gone missing in the area a few days earlier, and the military had entered Cot Morong several times since – searching houses and harassing the villagers.

When four military trucks entered the village that morning, residents became frightened and tried to direct them to a nearby crossing. Local political leaders also went to the crossing to negotiate with the army, and a large crowd gathered there.

Suddenly and without warning, and seemingly unprovoked, the military opened indiscriminate fire on the crowd. Thousands of people began to flee in panic, but not quickly enough – 21 people were killed that day, while scores were injured.

Faisal* was there on the day of the massacre.

“I was crawling to avoid the bullets – I could see people who ran away getting hit as the soldiers were firing. I was praying and praying while crawling, and finally managed to escape into a furniture shop – but some soldiers followed after me.”

“I screamed ‘Why is this happening, I did nothing wrong’, but the soldiers started hitting me. I was kicked so many times that I lost consciousness. I think the only reason I survived was that the soldiers thought I was dead, and because the body of someone they had shot landed on top of me and covered me.”

Faisal woke up three days later in a hospital his sister had taken him to. Their other brother had been killed by the army during the shooting.

Today, almost 15 years after the Simpang KKA killing, no one has been held responsible for the events.

On 18 April 2013, Amnesty International launched a report, Time to Face the Past, that examines how the Indonesian government is failing people like Faisal and his family, for whom the Aceh conflict is still an open wound.

Almost eight years after the conflict’s end, the Indonesian authorities have failed to establish a truth commission to find out what happened during the conflict – even despite promising to do so as part of a 2005 peace accord. Many families whose lives were torn apart by the violence are still struggling to get by, while a lack of proper investigations means that all but very few of those responsible for human rights abuses walk free.

Faisal is one of those who has received some government compensation following the 2005 peace agreement, but he feels it is far from enough.

“I only received some financial compensation in 2010, and that was after years of trying. I had to go to the government offices every week to ask – I was reduced to begging, even though it was my right.

“And the very little money I got felt more like a donation than compensation, which had nothing to do with what happened to me. The government has never acknowledged that human rights abuses were committed during the conflict.”

Although Faisal says he feels better today, the traumatic experiences of that day in May 1999 have never really left him.

But he has tried to use what happened to him as a way to help others in the same situation. Along with others he has joined a local victims’ association, which has provided counselling and psycho-social support over the last few years.

“Although we have peace in Aceh today, we do not feel that there is justice. I am afraid for the orphan children who grow up not knowing what happened to their parents. They will grow up asking why justice is not on their side.

“At the same time, as long as there is no justice, what is there to stop the government from declaring martial law sometime in the future once more? We are not vengeful, we are just afraid that what happened might happen again.”

* Name has been changed to protect anonymity

Read more:

Indonesia: Victims of the Aceh conflict still waiting for truth, justice and reparation (News story, 18 April 2013)Time to face the past: Justice for past abuses in Indonesia’s Aceh province (Report, 18 April 2013)