May 13, 2002

Lawsuits Target Energy Giants: The Problem — Violence

By Jennifer Huang | World Power I: Business & Law

Page 4 of 11

Indonesia — an archipelago nation assembled in the wake of Dutch and British colonial rule — has never dealt kindly with independence movements. Its military invasion and occupation of East Timor from 1975 to 1999, for example, took the lives of at least 200,000 there.

In 1989 Jakarta designated Aceh as a military operations zone — daerah operasi militer, or DOM — initiating a 10-year period of martial law in which thousands of people were killed or disappeared.

“So many people were affected that, today, virtually every Acehnese in the hardest-hit areas can cite a family member who was the direct target of a human rights violation — and who had no link to GAM at the time,” Human Rights Watch reported in August 2001.

Although DOM was repealed in 1999, violence continues unabated. In a typical story, the Sydney Morning Herald reported in May 2001 that soldiers looted and burned almost all 385 homes in the Acehnese village of Ujung Reuba. One 25-year-old mother there said a soldier had thrown her infant son to the floor and poured boiling water on him.

The ongoing battles between the army, the police and GAM have in Aguswandi’s words “marginalized civil society,” with widespread political violence afflicting communities throughout Aceh.

According to a January 3, 2002, report from Inter Press Service, more than 1,700 were killed last year; by February 26, the Jakarta Post reported 200 more killed in 2002.

The U.S. State Department’s 2001 Annual Report on Human Rights Practices for Indonesia states, “Security forces were responsible for numerous instances of, at times indiscriminate, shooting of civilians, torture, rape, beatings and other abuse, and arbitrary detention in Aceh, West Timor, Irian Jaya (also known as Papua or West Papua), the Moluccas, Sulawesi and elsewhere in the country. Indonesian military personnel (TNI) often responded with indiscriminate violence after physical attacks on soldiers. They also continued to conduct ‘sweeps’ which led to killing of civilians and property destruction.”

“[Sweeping] just basically means that they go on the rampage,” said McCulloch. “Hundreds of houses were burned last year because the military are looking not only for armed members of GAM, but they’re looking for GAM supporters.”

“Today, 10 to 15 people are killed everyday,” said Aguswandi. His figure includes civilians, GAM rebels, Indonesian military and local police.

McCulloch said the number is closer to seven or 10 killed daily. New York-based Human Rights Watch estimates 50 noncombatants are killed every month.

On August 9, 2001, at least 30 people were killed at the palm oil plantation PT Bumi Flora, East Aceh. According to Tapol, a London-based human rights group, soldiers in the Indonesian military entered the plantation, ordered the men to kneel in rows, and shot them. A man emerged carrying his two-year-old toddler; both were killed. The child’s mother was wounded trying to save him.

The military blamed GAM, but CNN found witnesses who said the killers wore army fatigues, carried M-16s and could not speak Acehnese.

SIRA, as a coalition of Acehnese groups supporting an independence referendum, identified the shooters as members of the Indonesian military, including KOPASSUS, an elite unit widely held responsible for the violence surrounding East Timor’s referendum in 1999.

GAM’s conduct throughout the conflict has reportedly compounded Acehnese misery.

“[T]he rebels have never been particularly respectful of other people’s rights and are by no means universally well-liked in Aceh,” Human Rights Watch reported in May 2000. “There is evidence that GAM guerrillas, who have significantly stepped up ambush killings of police and military, have physically threatened non-Acehnese communities in Aceh, leading thousands to flee the province. The guerrillas have also reportedly summarily executed suspected informers and prisoners.”

According to Djalal of the Indonesian embassy in Washington, D.C., “On Indonesian independence day, August 17, 2001, GAM exploded 50 bombs in schools. It was a very bad move, they did it at a time when [Indonesian president] Megawati had extended an olive branch and apologized.”

Although news accounts at the time from the BBC, AP and Jakarta Post report 50 school burnings throughout the province — with GAM and government forces blaming each other for the damage — Agence France Presse reported on August 17, 2001, GAM’s claim of responsibility for 16 to 20 other explosions. GAM spokesperson Ayah Sofyans denied association with the attacks on schools.

Each side also fingered the other for a mass grave of 48 bodies that was unearthed during that time.

“The thing that you have to remember in Aceh is that everyone has their own agenda, their political agenda. So you will hear lots of conflicting stories,” said McCulloch. If an act is carried out by “guys in shorts and t-shirts carrying big guns … this is what makes it so difficult in Aceh, because we never know who’s responsible.”

ExxonMobil also claims to not know where responsibility lies. In an email correspondence describing gunfire and bomb attacks on its operations, ExxonMobil spokeswoman Trisha Perkins wrote, “We do not speculate on the reasons for, nor on the source of, these criminal acts.”

But for activists, ExxonMobil is the missing link in this deep-rooted cycle of violence, implicated by that very issue of responsibility.

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