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Assessment for Acehnese in Indonesia

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Acehnese in Indonesia, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Indonesia Facts
Area:    1,919,440 sq. km.
Capital:    Jakarta
Total Population:    212,942,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Aceh province was hard-struck by the tsunami that hit the region in December 2004 and which killed an estimated 160,000 in the province alone. While conflict continued in the aftermath of the tsunami, in August 2005 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). THE MoU also established the Aceh Monitoring Mission with contributions from the EU and ASEAN. While GAM has begun disarming and the central government has begun implementation of some of the provisions, it is too soon to tell if this latest peace agreement will hold.

Analytic Summary

The Acehnese inhabit the region of Aceh, a province in Indonesia, which is located on Northern Sumatra with the Malaca Strait to the North and the Indian Ocean to the South (GROUPCON =3). The region had been an independent sultanate for 500 years until the late nineteenth century (TRADITN = 1). After the Dutch and Japanese colonial periods Aceh was incorporated into the province of North Sumartra. Since the 50's rebellions have been on and off the scene. In 1953, an unquenchable rebellion led by All-Aceh Ulama Association (PUSA) leader Daud Beureueh broke out, resisting the central governement's inadequate rule. In 1957, the riot ceased after Aceh was granted as a full province. In 1959, Aceh was given "special region" status with autonomy in customary law, religious and educational affairs. The grievances of the Acehnese grew as Suharto's New Order policy began to tighten its control over the religion, society, and economy of the region since 1969. The Acehnese became antagonistic to the Suharto regime and its advocacy of "unity and nationalism" as "the deep panetration of the New Order into traditional structures and social changes" (POLDIS00 = 3).1

Aceh is a province with rich natural resources of fossil fuel, natural gas, and timber. However, the economic development brought negative impact on the local population due to land appropriation, trans-migration of Javanese, imports of skilled labors, inflation, etc. The insufficient economic policies were implemented at the expense of Aceh's development. The benefits earned from Aceh seldom returned to Aceh and the Acehnese experienced extensive economic injustice (ECDIS00 = 4).

Aceh is also distinctive from other parts of Indonesia by its Orthodox Islam. While the Islam in Java is profoundly mingled with Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity, the Aceh Islam remains "original". With the imposition of the New Order upon them, the traditional Acehnese leaders were secularized and the Acehnese lacked channels of political expression.

The Acehnese grievances stem from political, economic, and religious repressions. The group has sought independence from the Indonesia Republic since 1976, when the Aceh-Sumatra Liberation Front (ASNLF, later known as Free Aceh Movement, or Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM), led by Hasan M Trio, pronounced the independence of the region (COHESX9 = 5). The government responded with massive killing, GAM's campaign was not effective until the 90's when clashes between the military became constant. Huge protests in demand for independence referendum were held in both 1999 and 2000 (PROT00 = 5). Protests, although smaller, continued to be held in 2001-2003 (PROT01-03 = 3).

The confrontation between GAM and the government military became a nightmare for civilians. While the civilians suffer from murder, torture, rape, destruction of houses, and various crimes committed by the military, it is reported that GAM adopts strategies of turning civilians into refugees to obtain sympathy and recognition from the international community. A peace agreement signed in 2000 did little to halt the conflict (REB01-03 = 4).

Beginning in spring 2001 and continuing periodically through 2003, the Indonesian government deployed 15-30 thousand troops to Aceh to crush GAM. However, tactics have frequently impacted non-GAM Acehnese. These include the rescreening of all Acehnese civil servants, elected officials and police forces for loyalty to the Indonesian state, with Acehnese dismissed based on association with any suspected GAM member or any statements of support for GAM aims (independence from Indonesia). Activists have been arrested for making public statements condemning Indonesian actions and calling for independence. Indonesian forces, based on information from informants and migrants, labeled some houses in 2003 with "This is a GAM house", effectively preventing residents from returning. Acehnese have also been resettled into camps, allegedly to protect them from GAM forces. Across Aceh, the emergency military command has "encouraged" Acehnese to engage in mass loyalty oaths. All residents of Aceh have been required to obtain new identity cards, and the process for applying for them also entails loyalty oaths and screening for any GAM ties. These actions continued despite the granting of special autonomy to Aceh in 2003, which was rejected by large numbers of Acehnese.

In December 2004, Aceh province was hit by a tsunami, resulting in massive destruction and the death of an estimated 160,000 people. While conflict resumed in the aftermath of the tsunami, heightened international attention and pressure led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Indonesia and GAM. Provisions of the MoU include granting widespread autonomy to the province, greater control over the province's natural resources, increased participation in reconstruction efforts, GAM decommissioning, amnesty for GAM fighters, and the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The implementation of the MoU is to be monitored by a Aceh Monitoring Mission with participation from the EU and ASEAN.


Amnesy International. February 12, 2003. "Indonesia: Activist's arrest could undermine Aceh cease-fire."

Amnesty International. May 19, 2003. "Indonesia/Aceh: Safety of civilians must be the priority."

The Europa Publications, Far East and Australasia 1994.

Far Eastern Economic Review, 1994.

International Crisis Group. Indonesia Briefing Paper. July 23, 2003. "Aceh: How Not to Win Hearts and Minds."

Keesings Record of World Events, 1990-94.

Lexis-Nexis news reports, 1990-2003.

Jim Lobe. July 2001. "Indonesia: Aceh Arrests Could Portend Increased Polarization, Violence." Foreign Policy in Focus.

"Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Republic of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement." August 15, 2005.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Indonesia. 2001-2003.

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