Versi Bahasa
Down to Earth No. 39, November 1998

Mobil Oil and human rights
abuse in Aceh

Mobil Oil Indonesia, the country's biggest producer of natural gas, has been linked to serious human rights violations in the war-torn north Sumatran region of Aceh.

Mobil Oil Indonesia is a joint venture between US-based oil giant Mobil and Indonesia's state-owned Pertamina. Its main area of operations are the rich oil and gas fields in Aceh and just offshore. The company also holds shares in the Arun liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant which processes the gas for export.

Aceh, scene of atrocities by the Indonesian military in its attempt to crush the independence movement, has been all but ignored by the international community and the media. Despite detailed reports from Indonesian human rights groups and international organisations like Tapol, Asia Watch and Amnesty International, the plight of the Acehnese has not gained the sympathy of western governments. The oil and gas industry, which reaps rich rewards for its foreign investors, may well be a factor in that silence. It was attacks on the Mobil Oil installations that prompted Jakarta to place the region under military occupation in 1980, since when tens of thousands of people have been killed or 'disappeared' by the military.

It is only since the fall of Suharto, however, that the scale of the abuses in Aceh is being exposed. In August President Habibie and Armed Forces Commander Wiranto apologised for abuses and began the withdrawal of 1,000 troops. Investigations by the government's own Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) have started bearing fruit. At least nine mass graves have been exhumed, which may contain as many as 5,000 bodies. In September, after riots broke out, troops were ordered back to Aceh and hundreds of soldiers were posted at a gas refinery and other industrial sites in the town of Lhokseumawe, near Mobil's operations.

Mobil Oil has been a heavy burden on the Acehnese community for many years. Incidents of pollution and unfair land-acquisition have made it an unwelcome presence. The community is aware that all earnings benefit the company, a small local urban elite and the state coffers in Jakarta, and not the majority of Acehnese people. Aceh provided an estimated 30% of Indonesia's oil and gas exports or 11% of the country's total exports by the late 1980s, but the government's own data showed 40% of Acehnese villages could be classified as "poor".

The list of abuses is a long one, including explosions which have spilled mud onto farmland and destroyed villagers' homes, as well as water and noise pollution. On one occasion in 1992, villagers from Pu'uk, whose fields were flooded by liquid waste from a Mobil operation, filed a lawsuit against the company. They lost.

But a list of community grievances published in October goes much further than the pollution and land-grabbing incidents, a common feature of resource extraction projects in Indonesia. It highlights the cosy relations between the company and its protectors in the Indonesian military, whose reputation for brutal oppression of dissidents has been well-documented in West Papua, East Timor as well as in Aceh itself.

Two military posts were set up with company assistance, one near one of Mobil's operations, called Post 13, the other near the Arun plant, called Camp Rancong. According to a press statement issued by Sumatran NGOs and national environmental NGO WALHI, the buildings and facilities for Post 13 were provided by Mobil Oil. The post was used for interrogating people before they were sent to other posts. The statement says that the company's excavators were used to dig mass graves for military victims in the Sentang and Tengkorak hills and says that its roads were used to bring victims to the mass graves. In Bukit Sentang, where an estimated 150 bodies were found, Komnas Ham Secretary General Baharuddin Lopa said: "This proves that Aceh has been a killing field." One male body dug up was blindfolded, dressed only in underwear, with his arms bound behind his back by an army belt.

Mobil Oil is also accused of failing to act on cases of its own workers being abducted by the military.

Arun, says the NGO statement, built Camp Rancong, which was used by the notorious Kopassus elite military unit to torture and murder victims of human rights violations in Aceh.

The statement includes the following demands by the NGOs:

(Sources: Drillbits & Tailings, September 4/9/98; Mobil Oil and PT Arun must take responsibility for human rights violations in Aceh, Walhi and Sumatran NGOs, 10/10/98; World Socialist Website 28/8/98. G. Aditjondro After Ogoniland, will it be the turn of Aceh? 1997. See also Tapol Bulletin 148 for more detailed background on the situation in Aceh.)

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