Why TJ agenda for Aceh is matter!

It has been past a decade since the signed of MoU Helsinki in 2005, but the compliance of justice for the victims still lying on the progress of Aceh’ Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Aceh’ TRC). The commission should be established one year after the National Assembly passed the Law no. 11/2006 on Governing on Aceh. Yet, due to socio-political dynamics of post-conflict, the legality of commission was passing out the schedule and enacted in 2013 (Qanun Aceh no. 17/2013), which starting to work in 2016. As consequences, it holds the Transitional Justice (TJ) agenda into delay and triggering the dissatisfaction from the victims. However, these reasons has channeled and carried out by civil society and notable individuals in pushing the TJ agenda into a real action.

TJ and it’s a common challenge

TJ is define as a set of processes and mechanisms which attempted to deliver justice – particularly based on victims-oriented – and achieve reconciliation. The orientation may include judicial and non-judicial approaches. Traditionally, it divides into: truth-seeking, trials, reparations, and alternative approach for preventing the recurrence of violence. In its development, TJ agenda has been applied in many contexts of post-conflict and post-repressive regime across the world. It has been established after the end of authoritarian/military regimes in Brazil (post-1977) and Uruguay (post-1985), Argentina during and after military junta (since 1977), Chile after Pinochet regime (post-1990), Cambodia after Khmer Rouge (post-1979), South Korea (post-1987) in the context of Jeju 4.3 (1947-1953), Timor Leste after disintegration from Indonesia (1998-2006); Indonesia after the end of Soeharto regime (post-1998); South Africa after apartheid government (post-1991), a current TJ Agenda in South Philippines, and etc. The implementation of these agendas has different orientations which depend on socio-political dynamics that have/had been facing.

The essence of TJ is the ‘truth.’ The truth-seeking mechanism conducted and compiled all the truth of human rights abuses related to the conflict or repressive action done by the actors during such period of time. But commonly, the establishment of this first step of TJ has being challenged by the states/actors of conflict (Rigby, 2000). The assumption is most of the truths that would be explored are having a dilemmatic consequence for them which became standards to determine such claims in the future, particularly through judicial means (Teitel, 2000). For this problem, stakeholders of TJ generally relied on the context of restorative justice (non-judicial) to answer this challenge.

Restorative justice is an approach of justice that aims to repairs the harm caused by human rights violations. The approach could be transformational, which emphasizes accountability, making amends, and if possible, facilitate meetings between victims and actors, as well as with community. The approach – somehow – differentiates between kind of justice regarding common crimes and justice in dealing human rights abuses on transitional period. Yet, most of the victims largely wanted to go through judicial means. But it hardly to gets what they wanted, as long as actors of conflict still hold the power of state or as a winning faction. And it is a common phenomenon found in most post-conflict or post-repressive regimes.

TJ agenda in Aceh

The case of Aceh has no different from what had been explained above. A common challenge has still lurking inside the socio-political environment of post-conflict condition. It has been largely shaped by the international, national and local determinants. In the international level, global justice movement has pushing its agenda on post-conflict and post-repressive regime. It’s been largely influenced by human rights advocacy and democratization agenda across the globe, plus global society attention towards Aceh after massive 2004 tsunami. In national level, remaining legacies of bureaucracy and military during conflict and repressive regime (Soeharto’ era) have still holding the political power, as well as the nature of relations between Aceh as a province within the Unitary State of Indonesia. Moreover in the local level, the transformation of Free Aceh Movement into civil movement, the legal dynamics of Law on Governing of Aceh, the DDR programs, massive involvement of civil society into aid and support programs after tsunami, have affecting whole socio-political environment after peace. Indeed, it’s affecting the dynamics and efforts of stakeholders in establishing TJ agenda in the post-conflict period.

Despite the establishment of Aceh’ TRC in 2016, the implementation of TJ agenda is not far from what has been expected. The unwillingness of State and government of Aceh to support the TJ agenda is obviously could be seen. After a decade of peace, the implementation of MoU Helsinki has clearly benefitted only for the actors of conflict, not for the victims. The “peace dividend” after conflict has not been justly distributed and left most of the victims out of the ‘group’. It seems one of the causes is due to lack of the sense of “victimhood” among them. It’s different compare to ex-combatant group which established Komisi Peralihan Aceh (Aceh’ Transitional Committee) which has a great influential power after conflict in Aceh. And the victims should be learned from what “mothers of disappearances” did in Argentina since 1977.

In different perspective, it seems that there has been misunderstanding between a DDR (Demilitarization, Demobilization, and Reintegration) programs which relied upon actors-oriented and TJ (Transitional Justice) agenda on victims-oriented among societies, either civil or political society. Some people argued that the TJ agenda is not necessarily to be implemented as Badan Reintegrasi Aceh (Aceh Reintegration Agency) has been established since 2006 because it’s covered the reparations program for the victims as well. In fact, its orientation is lying on the foundation of DDR program, not in TJ agenda. Moreover, the TJ agenda has been clearly noted in the gentlemen agreement between Government of Indonesia and Free Aceh Movement (MoU Helsinki). So, if it’s not been implemented as being mandated by the agreement, it would be doubted that the parties would not be as “gentlemen” anymore.

Why TJ agenda is matter?

Despite the theoretical insight, reality and critics, there are two main arguments on why TJ agenda is matter for Aceh? Firstly, the development of human rights and promotion of democratic agenda have influencing the states system across the world, particularly in the period of transition after conflict/repressive regime. As the international powers – for those who applied the democratic system – are still considered democratization as essential features to blend into the realm of current global system, the implementation of TJ agenda is one of requirement that “somehow” has to follow. It’s considered as a mechanism to increase the human rights figure for such country. Yet, the State sovereignty and interest are not something that could be altered easily. There are bound into the dynamics of elites within the State as well as those who influenced them. It’s not different with the context of Aceh’ post-conflict, as the implementation of the agenda were greatly influenced by those described above. Although the MoU Helsinki 2005 was an agreement between Government of Indonesia and Free Aceh Movement, but there were clearly noted some points of TJ mechanisms which inspired from the intellectuals when the agreement was being formulated. The spirit was to ensure the attainment of justice and restore the honor of victims. Academically, it has been emphasized within the peace discourse to achieve comprehensive reconciliation. But it’s not easy to expect the realization of such a goal, as the elites seems unwillingly to support and uncover the “inhuman” truth done by those around or inside them, as it would lead towards dilemmatic consequences for the State as a whole. But, the pressure from international, national and local societies – as it has concern with the human rights agenda – also have similar power to those that hold the power of elites. And this sort of “contention” has still being carried out by the social movement that concern on this issue.

Secondly, conflict and violence was not a new phenomenon in Aceh. Prior to the conflict between Government of Indonesia and Free Aceh Movement during 1976-2005, the people of Aceh were also experiencing the ‘cleanses’ of communist members in 1965-1966, DI/TII insurgency in 1953-1962, social revolution in 1946-1947 and military aggression by the Dutch in 1946-1949, even the war against the Dutch and Japan occupation from 1873 to 1945. There is lack of prove that each one of them are interrelated, but at some points the continuity of these violence were due to no such justice mechanism in transition to deal with the victims of violence. There was an introduction of justice mechanisms after the DI/TII (post-1962) – amnesty, reparations, and institutional establishment/reforms – yet without truth-seeking. Moreover, it was an effort to forget the past through the kind of “ceremony” called Forum of Harmony for the People of Aceh (Musyawarah Kerukunan Rakyat Aceh) in late 1962 (Sjamsuddin, 1990). As result, the line between perpetrators and victims was greatly confused. Plus, as Zain (2016) noted that reparation benefits were only being perceived by some of groups of actors, not for the real victims, which was seemingly lying on the foundation of DDR program (actor-based oriented) rather than on TJ agenda (victims-based oriented).

However compare to the previous “resolution,” MoU Helsinki 2005 clearly noted the points of TJ mechanisms, from the truth-seeking, trials, reparations and institutional reform. But the problem in differentiating between perpetrator and victims has still coping the mind of government even the society itself. Nonetheless, the establishment of Aceh’ TRC in 2017 gave a new light of hope towards the reconciliation in the victims level. Reparation program would be funded by Government of Aceh and Indonesia, as well as – hopefully – international community. The development of human rights in national level also has been influenced by the TJ agenda in Aceh as the Government of Indonesia ratified the International Covenant of Political and Civil Rights, as well Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2005 as stated in MoU Helsinki. In contrast, the prosecution mechanism has been limited to deal with severe human rights abuses – genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity – which have been done after 2006 (Art. 229 LoGA). Even there were little efforts to legally establish the permanent human rights court in Aceh as stated in the peace agreement. However, the ad hoc court of human rights in Jakarta may accommodate such category of severe human rights violence prior to the 2006, as currently has been investigated by the National Commission of Human Rights (Komnas HAM).


Some people said the history of Aceh since 1945 to 2005 has known as the era of betrayal. It has causing “perpetual” conflicts and violence which greatly destroyed the trust of society towards the State. It’s the most important task to be fixed. Instead of – amicably – forgetting and burying the past like previously done in the post-DI/TII, the TJ agenda after 2005 should bravely tried to uncovering the truth, delivering justice, and honoring the victims of human rights violations, so there would be a lesson learned to prevent the recurrence of conflict which might lead to the culture of peace. And hopefully, it would become a ’precedent’ in the national level, to create better nation that respect the human rights values.

Danil Akbar Taqwadin [Peace & Security Analyst @The Aceh Institute]

Photo: Originally published on https://www.westernsydney.edu.au/__data/assets/image/0010/740737/Post_conflict_event_page.jpg

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