Friday, December 31, 2004

Press Release urging Indonesian Government To Treat Acehnese Decently

I know very little about the Aceh situation, but International Labor Rights Fund is a fairly moderate, reputable international labor solidarity group. Two groups below are raising funds to be distributed to "grassroots" groups in Indonesia.

Contacts::Michael Beer, NI, 202-244-0951 (w), 703-875-9482 (h)Karen Orenstein, ETAN, 202-544-6911 (w), 202-319-1711 (h), Bama Athreya, ILRF, 703-328-1964 (cell)

December 30 -- U.S.-based groups with a long record of experience in theregion today called on the Indonesian government to not let politicsoverride the needs of people in tsunami-stricken Aceh. The groups includethe East Timor Action Network (ETAN), International Labor Rights Fund(ILRF) and Nonviolence International (NI). Contact information for expertson the region available for interview is listed at the end of this advisory.

"Delays by the Indonesian government in allowing international access toAceh may have needlessly cost precious lives. The government's apparent opening of Aceh must continue. The government must cut through its bureaucratic red tape so aid can get through as quickly as possible. International and Indonesian organizations must have unrestricted access toAceh. International media must be free to report on conditions and reliefefforts. Strict limits on internationals' time in Aceh must be lifted,"said Michael Beer of NI.

"Politics must not be allowed to override the needs of the Acehnese peoplein this tragic time," he added. As many as 100,000 people may have been killed in the Indonesian provincesof Aceh and North Sumatra as a result of an earthquake and tsunami thatstruck the region on December 26. The government initially kept the international community at bay as it apparently debated whether to openAceh up to foreigners. The province had been almost entirely closed to anyinternational presence due to military operations there. The Indonesian government's response remains slow and uncoordinated. The groups urged aid organizations and agencies to work as closely as possible with local civil society groups and to resist Indonesian government and military attempts to close non-governmental local groups outof the process."

The high level of corruption in Indonesia, especially in Aceh, and thegreat distrust of Aceh's central government make it crucial that aid groupsbe allowed to distribute urgently needed food, medical supplies, and otherassistance outside of government channels, distributing aid directly andthrough local NGOs," said Karen Orenstein of ETAN. ETAN, ILRF, and NI further urged the government of Indonesia to allow Acehnese outside of Indonesia -- many of whom fled political repression --to return to Aceh, if they so choose, to seek their relatives and lovedones and assist the relief effort.

Their return should take place without burdensome visa restrictions and without repercussions. Finally, the groups pointed out that this tragedy caused by naturaldisaster comes on top of an already devastating human-created tragedy. Since May 2003, more than 2000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in Aceh while the province was under marital law and then a civilemergency. During a previous period of martial law from 1989 to 1998 some10,000 Acehnese perished. Despite the humanitarian catastrophe, there arestill reports of ongoing military operations against Acehnese rebels."We are gravely concerned about reports of cease-fire violations by the Indonesian military, who are allegedly attacking Acehnese guerillas insteadof focusing on the humanitarian disaster," said Bama Athreya of ILRF.

"The world must not forget that the people of Aceh have suffered massivehuman rights violations due to years of Indonesian military repression andguerilla operations by the Free Aceh Movement. Until very recently, the Indonesian government and armed forces had virtually sealed Aceh from anyforeign presence. The ceasefires declared by the Acehnese guerrillas and the Indonesian government this week are a crucial first step. All sides tothe decades-long conflict in Aceh must redouble efforts to find a peacefulsolution that strongly involves civil society," continued Athreya.

Two U.S.-based grassroots relief funds have been established for theearthquake/tsunami disaster in Aceh: Nonviolence International-USA, and East Timor Action Network, Funds raised by these groups will be sent directly to grassroots Acehnese humanitarian agencies and groups to save lives and relieve suffering. Bothhave the full backing of the expatriate Acehnese community in the U.S.

For interviews and other inquiries, media are advised to contact thefollowing U.S.-based experts on Aceh:Riva Syamsuddin, Acehnese activist and graduate of Syah Kuala University.Contact: 703-503-5272Munawar Zainal, Acehnese student activist with the Acheh Center inPennsylvania. Contact: 717-343-1598, Allan Nairn, award-winning independent journalist who has spent much timein Aceh, Indonesia and East Timor in the last few years. Contact:917-345-8020, Michael Beer, director of Nonviolence International (NI). The NI office inBanda Aceh was destroyed and several staff members remain missing. Beer hasbeen a frequent visitor to Aceh over the last 5 years. Contact:202-244-0951, 703-875-9482, Patrick McInnis, former staff in Aceh for Peace Brigades International andOxfam. McInnis served with the Carter Center as an election observer inAceh in October and is proficient in the local Acehnese language. Contact: 831-484-1318

ETAN advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for East Timor and Indonesia.

The ILRF is a Washington, DC-based human rights advocacy organization whichhas long been active on behalf of labor rights in developing countries andwhich has brought suit against Exxon Mobil under the Alien Tort Claims Act for aiding and abetting torture and crimes against humanity in Aceh. NI-USA is located in Washington, DC. Our affiliate in Aceh is the PeaceEducation Program that teaches conflict resolution and nonviolence toIslamic clerics and youth.
NI serves as a resource center for nonviolentmovements around the world.