Mass Murder in Aceh; A Call for Action
from TAPOL, Dec 17, 1990
After trying for more than a year to put down widespread rebellion and protest in Aceh, on the north-western tip of Sumatra, the Indonesian armed forces, acting on the orders of regional military commander Major-General Djoko Pramono, have embarked on a campaign of systematic murder. Regular territorial troops have been withdrawn from the villages and replaced by four commando units. The number of troops in the area has been doubled, to 12,000.
According to AFP [The Straits Times, 16 August 1990], an airborne battalion of 600 men was parachuted into the districts of North Aceh, East Aceh and Pidie. This battalion, based in Bogor, West Java, is part of the notorious red-beret unit known as Kopassus. It is commanded by Colonel Prabowo, son-in-law of President Suharto, who saw service last year in East Timor and gained a reputation for extreme brutality. Earlier in August, 300 marines and about 100 men from the mobile brigade based in East Java were sent to Sigli, the capital of Pidie.
The military commander has called on the local population to take part in a mass murder campaign. In an interview with Tempo [17 November, 1990], Pramono said:
"I have told the people here: if you meet GPK members, you should kill them. No need to investigate.... Just shoot them or knife them. I have told people to arm themselves with sharp weapons, machetes or whatever. If you encounter the GPK, just kill them." ['GPK' or 'security disruptors' is the term used officially for the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka or GAM, known in English as the Aceh-Sumatra National Liberation Front.]
In the same interview, Pramono said many people had already been killed and that killings are occurring almost every day.
On 8 November 1990, Reuter quoted an Indonesian human rights lawyer, recently returned from Aceh, as saying that residents reported finding mass graves and a steady flow of decomposed corpses. The bodies of people not known locally have been found in plantations and by rivers; villagers working on a river bank found eight bodies tied together, weighted down and drowned. A mass grave was discovered in Akue Mira. Villagers troubled by a foul smell found an open pit with 200 bodies in it, according to a western human rights observer.
On 23 November, a Reuter correspondent who visited the area wrote:
"A trickle of deaths over the past year became a torrent in late September, three months before a deadline set by Pramono to end the conflict... Acehnese are being rounded up in their hundreds and taken to detention centres, often on the smallest suspicion, residents said. 'They are taken out of their houses at night. You often have a fifty-fifty chance of ever coming back,' said a non- government party politician."
A TAPOL contact in Jakarta was told by a senior intelligence officer that the security forces in Aceh face two options, either to arrest many thousands of people and deal with them in the courts of law which could take years, or engage in a shoot-to-kill campaign to exterminate the 'GPK' and strike fear into the entire population. Pramono has clearly chosen the second option.
Our source reports that many villagers suspected of sympathising with GAM have been rounded up, taken to nearby military centres and forced to pledge loyalty to the government; on their way home, some villagers have been set upon, killed, their bodies grotesquely mutilated and left on the roadside. There is strong evidence that bodies are deliberately left without burial for greater psychological impact. Many have been found with hands and feet tied together and a bullet wound in the head. In some cases, bodies have been buried with a foot or arm exposed. No-one has reported any attempts to identify the bodies or carry out autopsies to determine the cause of death.
It is not possible to quantify the number already slain this year.
The Reuter report [23 November] said that "hundreds of unidentified corpses have been found and hundreds of people have disappeared."
According to The Economist [15 December 1990],
"Some soldiers admit to killing unarmed people and leaving their corpses in public places as a 'counter-terrorist' measure.... a senior army doctor puts the toll at more than a thousand. Mutilated corpses litter the roadsides and ditches. Most of the victims are local civilians, though several members of the security forces and some of the rebels have also been killed."
The Aceh National Liberation Front believes that more than five thousand people have been put to death since the beginning of the year. In a press release issued on 10 December, it listed many large detention centres each of which are being used by the army to hold up to a thousand people at any one time; according to the Front, as many as a hundred people may be taken out from each of the camps and killed in a night. These centres are located in Lammeulo, Sigli, Keudah (Bandar Aceh), Lhok Seumawe, Rantjong, Tjot Girek, Reudeuep Lhok Sukon, Tualang Tjut, Peureulak, Langsa, Bindjai, Medan and Takengon.
The Front earlier compiled a dossier of reports naming hundreds of people who had been arrested or who had disappeared. The reports, most of which were written in June, July or August this year, before the campaign of mass slaughter began, also give details of torture methods which include:
- mutilating various parts of the body,
- using cigarettes or hot irons to inflict burns,
- electric shock,
- raping women and mutilating their breasts,
- squeezing a man's testicles with pliers,
- nailing down the hands as if for crucifixion,
- immersing the victim in boiling water,
- hanging the victim upside down,
- placing the victim in filthy water for hours or days,
- placing the feet under the legs of a chair on which a soldier sits until the bones are broken.
Need for action
The campaign of extermination now under way in Aceh is the latest in a string of crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Suharto regime. In 1965-66, it was responsible for the massacre of an estimated one million communist suspects or sypathisers. Its war in East Timor, launched in 1975, has left an estimated 200,000 people dead, out of a population of about 700,000. In 1983-84, army death squads killed at least 4,000 people, a campaign which Suharto described in his autobiography as 'shock therapy' against alleged criminals. Army troops shot at least a hundred Muslims in Tanjung Priok in September 1984 who were protesting against the arrest of mosque officials. Dozens, perhaps more than a hundred, villagers were killed in Way Jepara, Lampung, South Sumatra, in February 1989.
TAPOL most vigorously condemns this latest murder campaign against the people of Aceh.
It calls on governments and people everywhere to exert pressure on the Suharto government to put a stop to the slaughter.
It calls on human rights organisations in Indonesia (LPHAM and Infight) and abroad (Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists) to send observers to Aceh, and urges the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (LBH) and Asia Watch to make public without delay the findings of on-the-spot investigations already carried out by them. This information should be submitted to the February 1991 session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
Western governments should send officials to Aceh to assess the scale of the massacre.
The European Parliament should adopt an emergency resolution calling for an end to the slaughter.
Those responsible for the killings must be brought to justice. Since this cannot be done in Indonesia, an International Tribunal on Crimes against Humanity should be convened to hold the Suharto regime responsible for its campaign of death and mass intimidation in Aceh.
TAPOL calls on solidarity organisations throughout the world to exert pressure on their own governments along these lines and make their own approaches to the NGOs mentioned above.
London 17 December, 1990
[For background information, see TAPOL Bulletin, 94, 96, 100 and 102.]