Mar 20, 2018 Last Updated 7:10 AM, Mar 17, 2018

How to make peace

Published: Jul 29, 2007


On 9 December 2002, representatives of the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka or GAM) signed an agreement for a 'Cessation of Hostilities' (CoH) at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. The agreement was reached after a long series of negotiations between the two sides which began in early 2000 during the presidency of Abdurrahman Wahid. This has been a long and exhausting process which has produced both great hope and shattering disappointment in the past. In mid-2000 the two sides agreed to a 'humanitarian pause,' leading to a dramatic decrease in violence. Within weeks, however, the agreement began to break down and before long violence had reached an unparalleled intensity. Between January and November last year alone, according to the Aceh Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (KontraS), over 1,300 people were killed.

In conflicts like that in Aceh, it is frequently only the views of the armed parties which are heard. This article presents one viewpoint from Acehnese civil society.

In addition to agreeing to a ceasefire, in very general terms, the recent peace negotiations on Aceh made three hopeful steps toward finding lasting peace in the territory. Firstly, the two sides recognised that it is crucial to build trust in order to stop conflict. Secondly, they recognised the need for freedom of political expression in civil society. Thirdly, they established a Joint Security Committee, consisting of Indonesian military (TNI), GAM, and foreign (Thai and Filipino) military representatives which will take responsibility for monitoring and decision-making in the technical matters related to the ceasefire. During the 'humanitarian pause' in 2000, there was no international involvement in the monitoring process. Moreover, the Henry Dunant Centre (HDC), the Swiss-based non-government organisation which has facilitated the talks has been upgraded to a 'mediator' role, and now has the authority to sanction violations of the agreement.

There were other positive signs, compared to previous negotiations. For the first time, prior to their commencement, the talks were widely publicised on the internet and in the mass media, both in Indonesia and overseas. In particular, the talks attracted more international interest than ever. A number of Western diplomats were present at the signing of the Agreement, and on 3 December 2002, even before the talks commenced, potential international donors gathered in Japan to start planning financial support for Aceh's reconstruction. Delegates to the conference recognised that if the peace process is to work, Aceh's civilian population must be at the centre of plans for Aceh's future.

Also for the first time, both GAM and the TNI consulted with civilian organisations prior negotiating with each other, and used issues raised at these consultations as reference material for the talks.


The agreement also provides means for victims of violence which takes place during the CoH to complain to the JSC (which is headed by a Thai military officer), which is then empowered to investigate. This means that the public has direct access to the structures responsible for maintaining peace, without being hampered by complex bureaucracies. Previously, complainants had to appeal to either GAM or the TNI, which were then responsible for reporting complaints to the JSC, although they rarely did so.

In spite of these positive steps, some sections of Acehnese civil society remain critical of the Agreement. A meeting facilitated by the Acehnese Civil Society Task Force in Banda Aceh on 16 December 2002, aimed to provide a forum for civilians to express their views on how peace should be implemented. Participants in the meeting wanted the international community to understand that the agreement only represents a first stage, not a final stage, in the resolution of conflict in Aceh. Civilian institutions are also eager for the UN to send a team to investigate human rights violations in Aceh. Most importantly, however, they are anxious to ensure their integral involvement in the implementation of any long-term peace plan.

Resolving human rights violations

Over the past 25 years, the majority of the 10,000 victims of the conflict have been civilians. Countless other civilians have been victims of human rights violations, all of which are yet to be properly investigated. Investigation of human rights violations, and a just resolution for victims (for instance, trials of human rights perpetrators) will engender public trust and optimism about the present peace process, and will help avoid future impunity.

Release of political prisoners

The detention of political prisoners and prisoners of war in Aceh is also an ongoing problem. Many people are still detained for their political beliefs, and many prisoners of war are still held at military posts. The Indonesian government and GAM therefore need to free all such persons, both to ensure civil and political liberties and to engender trust between the two parties.

Public participation in efforts to maintain a ceasefire

Like previous peace plans, the current agreement is laid out in very general terms. This means that the Joint Security Committee needs to specify more clearly how the ceasefire is going to be maintained, and how the peace process will move forward. This will require the two parties entering into further discussions in order to flesh out and agree upon the technical aspects of the peace plan. Civil institutions need to be able to participate in such discussions in order to ensure the plan's success.

The Indonesian government's attempts to interpret the Peace Agreement in accordance with its own political interests could also prove to be a significant obstacle. For example, a day after the signing of the agreement, Coordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, announced that GAM had accepted 'special autonomy' (a formula set down in a law passed for the province by the national parliament in 2001), and that the war would soon end. By this he meant that GAM had effectively given up on its long-held aim of Acehnese independence, something the movement's leaders vehemently deny. The Indonesian government also publicised its own version of the Agreement (which vastly different from the actual agreement). Such misinformation only serves to exacerbate tension.

What is even worse, also a day after the signing of the agreement, the Indonesian military increased the number of its posts in civilian residential areas. This has caused great unease among civilians. In East and North Aceh, people have fled their homes for fear of military reprisals. Clearly, the military's actions are quite at odds with the spirit of the peace agreement, which requires both parties to start building an atmosphere of trust, conducive to longer term resolution of the conflict.

Kautsar ( is a spokesperson for a group of representatives of Acehnese civil society organisations who attended the negotiations in Switzerland in December 2002. They intend to monitor the implementation of the peace deal on the ground.

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