One problem after another? Disputes over Aceh’s proposed law?

Updated On: Jul 11, 2006

Intra-state conflicts remain one of Southeast Asia’s biggest problems.  As the political situation in Timor Leste calms down somewhat with Ramos-Horta appointment as Prime Minister, disputes over Aceh's proposed law seem to be leading to some sporadic outbreak of violence.

While the naming of Ramos-Horta as prime minister has brought relief to thousands living in displacement camps that an end has come to months of political uncertainty and street violence, raising hopes that the nearly 150,000 people displaced by recent violence may soon be able to return home, the future remains fraught with problems as displacement camps in Dili are filled with thousands of homeless amid fears that many areas are still unsafe.  Analysts say Ramos-Horta's appointment can usher in calm, but the road ahead will be challenging.  Mr Joao Mariana Saldinha, a commentator with the Timor Institute of Development Studies, said the new premier faces some opposition and will have a tough few months ahead.  He said Major Agusto "Tara" Araujo, a rebel who has reportedly said he does not trust Ramos-Horta, was planning to organise protests in the capital next week.  Saldinha said Ramos-Horta would need to focus on pressing security issues as well as high unemployment and preparing for elections. 

Over in Aceh, conflict resolution efforts, which picked up pace following the December 2004 tsunami, faced a setback as Aceh’s proposed law, long delayed, is being disputed by former separatists and human rights activists.  Fresh violence took place only days before the House of Representatives (DPR) passed the bill on Aceh governance into law.  The Jakarta-based rights watchdog Aceh Working Group (AWG) said the violence was part of a multi-pronged intelligence campaign underway to disrupt peace in Aceh.  The Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM) has dismissed speculations the violence was linked to separatist conflicts in Aceh.

Following the peace agreement signed last August by the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in Helsinki, Finland, the former separatists agreed to hand over all of their 840 weapons and gave up their demand for independence.  The Indonesian government agreed to withdraw more than half of its nearly 50,000 troops from Aceh and to give the province limited self-government and control over much of its mineral wealth.

With the help of the EU-led Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM), the deal has stuck so far.  But the DPR, has been slow to pass the law that is aimed at cementing the terms of the 2005 peace deal, with some lawmakers saying the former rebels are getting too much.

Last week, the government and DPR finally agreed on the final draft of the bill.  However, former separatists and human rights activists have condemned the final draft of the bill as unjust, saying several articles contradict the spirit of the peace accord signed on  15 August 2005

Munawarliza Zain, a spokesman for GAM, said articles about the role of the Indonesian military in Aceh and the extent of the central government's authority are unclear and could foster distrust, adding that it would disturb the democratisation and peace process.  Zain said the former rebels would oppose the bill through all legal means, but will not resume violence.  One article of the bill changes the wording from the peace deal, effectively limiting Aceh's say over decisions taken inJakarta about international cooperation in the province.

Human rights activists also slammed the bill, which they say exempts perpetrators of past human rights violations from facing justice.  The final draft would set up a human rights tribunal that could only hear cases that have taken place in Aceh after the legislation came into effect.  Choirul Anam of AWG said the refusal of the government and DPR to include retroactive justice principles in the bill allows those responsible for atrocities to remain free. "With such a stipulation, political factions in the House are officially promoting impunity for past human rights violators," Choirul said.  Fellow activist Rusdi Marpaung said the bill ignored the voice of thousands of Acehnese people who wanted justice.  Rusdi said the legislation's final form signaled that “ultra-nationalist” groups had won the political debate. These groups did not want to see the former military approach to Aceh scrutinised, he said. 

Two major factions in the House, the PDI-P and the Golkar Party, have from the outset balked at giving retroactive powers to human rights tribunals in Aceh.  Observers believe the lawmakers wish to protect military officers from prosecution.

Legislator Ferry Mursyidan Baldan, head of the special committee preparing the bill, sought to assure former rebels that the accord was being honoured.  He said lawmakers will meet representatives of the people of Aceh, including the governor, mayors, and local councilors, to explain the law.  “We want to know what parts of the law are seen as contradictory to the accord,” he said, adding that the former rebels' concerns may be based on a misunderstanding.  Another legislator, a native Acehnese, who was in the Subcommittee on the bill also called for compromise as a way forward.


Party to name Timor Leste PM candidates (The Straits Times/AP, 7 July 2006)]

Jose Ramos-Horta to be East Timor prime minister (Reuters, 8 July 2006)

Timor former premier summoned as suspect in arms case (Today, 8 July 2006)

Naming Ramos-Horta as E. Timor's premier brings hope to shelters (Jakarta Post/AP, 9 July 2006)

East Timor names Nobel Prize winner Ramos-Horta prime minister (Jakarta Post/AP, 9 July 2006)

ETimor's new PM readies for job (AFP, 9 July 2006)

Ramos-Horta sworn in as ETimor's new PM (Today/AFP, 10 July 2006)

'Systematic attempts' to shatter Aceh peace (The Jakarta Post, 8 July 2006)

Jakarta to pass vital Aceh governance Bill (Straits Times, 11 July 2006)

Related Article