Update to IDN43304.E of 13 January 2005 and IDN43291.E of 7 January 2005 on the impact of the 26 December 2004 earthquake and tsunami on the human rights situation, particularly in Aceh province [IDN43329.E]

The Security Situation in Jakarta

The British and Thai embassies in Jakarta both reported receiving "specific" bomb threats to their missions, prompting their closure on 14 January 2005 (BBC 14 Jan. 2005; see also CNN 14 Jan. 2005) as well as an increase in the number of police officers patrolling the surrounding area (BBC 14 Jan. 2005). The embassies provided few details about the threats but the United Kingdom Foreign Office did say the closure would not affect humanitarian efforts in Aceh (ibid.). Further information about the security situation in Jakarta could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

The Security Situation and the Distribution of Aid in Aceh

The international human rights group, Amnesty International, called on the international community and the Indonesian government to work together to ensure that human rights are respected during the aid and reconstruction operation in Aceh province (AI 18 Jan. 2005). It highlighted, among other issues, the need for unimpeded access around Aceh for humanitarian and human rights workers, the proper treatment of displaced persons, and the protection of women and children (ibid.). Some aid organizations have also expressed concern that camps being built to house some 400,000 homeless Acehnese will be used by the government to control people in areas where the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) is active or by the rebels to "organize and supply themselves" (New York Times 17 Jan. 2005).

Denmark and Finland issued a warning to relief organizations in Aceh that they might be targets of terrorist attacks (AFP 18 Jan. 2005a; ibid 17 Jan. 2005; AP 17 Jan. 2005). However, neither government elaborated on the source of the warning or the specific type of threat that was made against aid workers (ibid.).

Meanwhile, on 17 January 2005, the United Nations imposed a 24-hour ban on travel by its workers between Banda Aceh and the city of Medan in northern Sumatra, following warnings about possible terrorist attacks and clashes between the Indonesian military and GAM rebels (AFP 18 Jan. 2005; AP 18 Jan. 2005a). While the Indonesian military said it had received reports of a rebel attack on the Banda Aceh-Medan route, it provided few details (AP 18 Jan. 2005b). GAM spokespersons continued to refute claims of attacks by their group, stating that the GAM did not want to "'give the [Indonesian] government cause to mount any sort of raid or attack [against it]'" (AP 17 Jan. 2005). Reportedly, since 26 December 2004, thousands of tsunami victims from Aceh, including about 4,000 ethnic Chinese, have made their way to Medan, where camps and an aid operation have been set up for them (RFA 6 Jan. 2005). One media source reported on claims made by a refugee from Aceh that ethnic Chinese in the province had been "robbed" and "intimidated" (South China Morning Post 3 Jan. 2005). However, corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. The UN did not renew the travel ban the following day, and the UN coordinator of operations in Aceh explained that "'[t]he situation [was] calm'" and the organization did not "'expect relief workers to be targets'' (AFP 18 Jan. 2005b). Other aid organizations, including the International Organization for Migration, indicated they did not believe there was a security threat (AFP 18 Jan. 2005a; see also AP 18 Jan. 2005a).

In other developments, the Indonesian foreign minister announced his government's plans to hold formal peace talks with the GAM before the end of January 2005 (BBC 19 Jan. 2005; Reuters 19 Jan. 2005). However, a spokesman for the exiled GAM leadership in Sweden commented that his group had not been in contact with Indonesian authorities; the latter did not release further information about the timing or location of the peace talks (ibid.; see also BBC 19 Jan. 2005). Indonesia also revised its earlier call for foreign troops to pull out of Aceh by the end of March 2005, instead calling the "deadline" a "'benchmark'" for the Indonesian government to take over the aid operation (AFP 16 Jan. 2005; BBC 16 Jan. 2005). And while foreign troops will be allowed to remain in Aceh after March 2005, their mission will be scaled back, according to the defence minister (ibid; AFP 16 Jan. 2005).

Situation of Children

There were conflicting reports about the U.S.-based missionary organization WorldHelp and claims that it may have adopted, or intended to adopt, a certain number of Acehnese children. WorldHelp had told the Washington Post that it had taken 300 "'tsunami orphans'" from Aceh to raise them in a Christian children's home in Jakarta (DPA 14 Jan. 2005). However, AP later reported that the organization had given up on plans to adopt the children (14 Jan. 2005). The reports led the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, reportedly "Indonesia's most influential group of Islamic clerics," to warn aid organizations in Aceh not to adopt children in the province (AP 14 Jan. 2005) which, according to AFP, "is widely seen as the most devoutly Islamic province in Indonesia" (14 Jan. 2005). Further information on the situation of children in Aceh could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Islamic and Religious Groups in Aceh

The Indonesian Council of Ulemas also asked aid organizations present in Aceh to refrain from "proselytizing" the Acehnese (AP 14 Jan. 2005). Religious aid groups from the Buddhist, Christian, and Islamic faiths as well as those from the Church of Scientology have arrived in the province to provide humanitarian aid, and most have claimed that their sole purpose is to assist in the relief operation (AFP 14 Jan. 2005).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References


Agence France-Presse (AFP). 18 January 2005a. Karl Malakunas. "New Security Fears Rattle Aid Effort in Indonesia's Aceh." (Dialog)

_____. 18 January 2005b. Karl Malakunas. "UN Lifts Travel Ban on Aid Workers in Indonesia, Sees no Evidence of Threats." (Dialog)

_____. 17 January 2005. "UN Officials Say No Terror Alert in Indonesia's Tsunami-Hit Aceh." (Dialog)

_____.16 January 2005. Martin Abbugao. "Indonesia Scraps Foreign Troop Pull-Out Deadline, Tsunami Toll Tops 168,000." (Dialog)

_____. 14 January 2005. Samir Tounsi. "Religion Mixes With Aid Work in Devastated Banda Aceh." http://www.reliefweb.int [Accessed 14 Jan. 2005]

Amnesty International (AI). 18 January 2005. "Indonesia: Human Rights Are Paramount in the Relief and Reconstruction Effort." http://www.reliefweb.int [Accessed 19 Jan. 2005]

Associated Press (AP). 18 January 2005a. Burt Herman. "U.N. Does Not Renew Travel Ban in Tsunami-Hit Indonesian Province." (Dialog)

_____.18 January 2005b. Burt Herman. "U.N. Lifts Travel Ban in Tsunami-Hit Indonesian Province; Aid Groups and Troops Working As Normal." (Dialog)

_____.14 January 2005. Yeoh En-Lai. "Indonesia's Influential Muslim Council Warns of Backlash if Aid Groups Begin to Proselytize." (Dialog)

BBC. 19 January 2005. "Indonesia Plans Aceh Rebel Talks." http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4186609.stm [Accessed 19 Jan. 2005]

_____.16 January 2005. "Jakarta Denies Foreign Troop Curb." http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4178635.stm [Accessed 17 Jan. 2005]

_____. 14 January 2005. "Bomb Threat to Jakarta Missions." http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4172725.stm [Accessed 14 Jan. 2005]

CNN. 13 January 2005. "Fresh Terror Warnings for Jakarta." http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/01/13/jakarta.warnings/index.html [Accessed 14 Jan. 2005]

Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA). 14 January 2005. "Aid Workers Say They are Not Hindered by Restrictions." http://www.reliefweb.int [Accessed 14 Jan. 2005]

New York Times. 17 January 2005. Ian Fisher. "Rebels Express Thanks for Aid to Indonesians." (Dialog)

Radio Free Asia (RFA). 6 January 2005. "Tsunami: Refugees in Sumatra." http://www.rfa.org/english/news/2005/01/06/asian_tsunami/ [Accessed 18 Jan. 2005]

Reuters. 19 January 2005. Achmad Sukarsono."Indonesia Plans Jan Talks With Rebels in Tsunami Zone." http://www.reliefweb.int [Accessed 19 Jan. 2005]

South China Morning Post. 3 January 2005. "Ethnic Chinese 'Bullied and Robbed.'" (NEXIS)