Baby steps towards a Truth Commission for Aceh





Embassy Jakarta Medan Affairs Office # 02, 2007

E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Baby steps towards a Truth Commission for Aceh

1. SUMMARY: Authorities from Jakarta held a conference February 15
in Banda Aceh to discuss issues surrounding the establishment of a
Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for Aceh mandated by the
August 2005 Helsinki MOU and Indonesian law. Ministry of Foreign
Affairs Director for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Wiwiek
Setyawati Firman said the Commission must be temporary, official,
and non-juridical. Navy Colonel Soleman Ponto, formerly a TNI
liaison for the Aceh Monitoring Mission, cautioned that the
Commission should not endanger societal cohesion, lest Aceh could
become like East Timor. During a cameo appearance at the opening of
the conference, the head of Aceh's provincial Syriah department
denied human rights were a part of Islam. Though small, the
conference is the first step Jakarta has taken publicly toward the
establishment of a TRC for Aceh since the promulgation of the Law on
the Government of Aceh last July. END SUMMARY.

2. On February 15, MOFA hosted a one-day conference in Banda Aceh
to discuss human rights issues and the establishment of a Truth and
Reconciliation Commission for Aceh (Komisi Kebenaran dan
Rekonsiliasi, TRC). In addition to MOFA's Human Rights and
Humanitarian Affairs Office, representatives of Aceh's provincial
Syriah department and provincial women's empowerment office, the ILO
Indonesia Project Coordinator for trafficking and forced labor, and
the former GOI Deputy Secretary for the Aceh Monitoring Mission
presented material on specific areas of interest in the human rights

3. The first sessions of the conference were devoted to explaining
the various UN conventions on human rights that Indonesia already
ratified and the relevant Indonesian law implementing those
conventions. Ministry of Foreign Affairs Deputy Director for Human
Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Jonny Sinaga led the session and
explained Indonesia's human rights obligations as set forth under
international conventions and Indonesian law. The conference was
marketed as a preparatory conference for the upcoming visit by the
UNSG's Special Representative on Human Rights and the UN Special
Rapporteur on Torture, but Firman explained to us that all the
background needed to be given to the Indonesian audience because
most the civil servants did not know either Indonesia's obligations
under the conventions nor the Indonesian laws. She thought more
outreach was needed before a TRC could be established.
Specifically, she thought the Acehnese civil service needed to
better understand human rights so they could, in turn, help make the
TRC politically acceptable to the general public.

4. Al-Yasa' Abubakar, head of Aceh's provincial Syariah department,
argued in his address that human rights are not a part of Islam
because human rights are not mentioned in Islamic holy books.
Rather, he said, human rights are a new idea from Europe, though
this did not mean Syriah rejected human rights concerns. He argued
that some human rights problems that were still debated in the west
had definitive answers in Islam (e.g. euthanasia and capital
punishment). (NOTE: Immediately before Abubakar's presentation,
Sinaga traced the history of human rights back through ancient
Persia, Mesopatamia, and Hammurabi. Nonetheless, in a follow-up
question, someone asked whether human rights were only a European
concept with no applicability to Indonesia. END NOTE.) Abubakar
did not reject the establishment of a TRC and told us later
discussions of human rights in Aceh had to take place in the context
of Syariah law.

5. Navy Colonel Soleman Ponto, a respected former TNI liaison for
the Aceh Monitoring Mission and GoI representative to the Commission
on Security Arrangements (COSA), gave presentations on establishing
a KKR in Aceh, detailing problems and mechanisms for doing this.
Ponto said that after 30 years of conflict a TRC was needed to avoid
a breakdown in the peace process, besides which, it is mandated by
the August 2005 Helsinki agreement (MOU) and the Law on Governing
Aceh (LOGA). The problem, he noted, was to pursue the aims of the
TRC without breaking societal cohesion in Aceh. "Do you want to
become another East Timor?" he asked rhetorically.

6. In a question to Soleman, an audience member dismissed the MOU
as irrelevant to Aceh and demanded to know how the TRC would help
Aceh. Soleman answered that it would provide a mechanism to move
Aceh forward and away from its past. Without it, he cautioned
again, Aceh's peace process could be threatened.

7. In her presentation, Firman discussed the modalities of
implementing a TRC and pointed to the UNHCR publication,
"Rule-of-Law Tools for Post-Conflict States," as a guideline for how
to do it. She underscored the need for the TRC to be temporary,

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official, and non-juridical. Firman also stressed the need to
balance respect for local customs and traditions with upholding
international standards in the TRC.

8. Firman finished her presentation with photos and a video clip of
alleged Malaysian abuse of Indonesian detainees. The video clip
showed a fit-looking guard deliver a substantial cane stroke to a
prisoner bound to a frame. Although the conference audience reacted
initially with shock, during the question and answer session someone
asked what the difference was between the Malaysian caning and
Acehnese caning under Syriah. When was harsh too harsh? Clearly
discomforted by the question, Firman argued the severity of the blow
relegated it from punishment to abuse. She showed the video several
more times as evidence.

9. COMMENT: Consistent with the Helsinki MOU, the Law on the
government of Aceh promulgated last July specifically mandated the
establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Human
Rights Court for Aceh. Since that time, however, Jakarta has been
virtually silent about the TRC, leading some Acehnese to question
whether the TRC would be established at all. By holding a
conference on this sensitive matter in Banda Aceh, the GoI has taken
a small but significant step demonstrating commitment to
establishing a TRC. END COMMENT.