Give the people of Aceh the right to rebuild their territory themselves

Down to Earth No 64  March 2005

Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN) Press Statement

All that's left for the survivors now is the thin thread of life and a stack of questions and fears.

The government has a three-stage plan to tackle the disaster in Aceh and North Sumatra. The emergency stage programme will be the priority until December 2005, when aid will be directed towards clothing, food and health. The emergency funding amounts to Rp1.35 trillion. The second stage, rehabilitation of infrastructure, with a time-span of one to one and half years from now, will need Rp1.35 trillion. Finally, the reconstruction stage will take ten to twelve years and will cost at least Rp10 trillion.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has announced four priorities: integrated cross-sector and cross-agency operations to tackle the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Aceh and North Sumatra; distribution of food and medicines; relocation of refugees; and the search for bodies and missing persons. All these measures are not running properly yet, despite the substantial amount of aid which has been received to date. The Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN), along with various civil society organisations, believes that it is important to comment on the way this whole programme is being carried out.

1) The facts show that what the President calls an integrated cross-sector and cross-agency operation, is actually not integrated but is being largely controlled by the military. This means that a lot of refugees are not getting proper assistance both in terms of timing and quality. Some supplies have been damaged because they were not handled properly, safely and quickly. 2) There have been cases of refugees dying because food and medical aid has reached them too late. Meanwhile, the lack of clean water still remains a problem. 3) The Aceh and North Sumatra Reconstruction Programme, which will be handled by the Special Authority Agency (BOK)*, has yet to show the Achenese and the general public a significant emphasis on the socio-cultural aspects of Acehnese society in the reconstruction efforts. 4) The characteristics of this long term programme, which involves large investors and global economic players like the World Bank and industrialised countries, could harm the interests of Aceh's indigenous peoples by putting serious pressure on land rights and other socio-cultural rights. A number of countries have already openly stated their desire to get involved in building infrastructure in Aceh. 5) This pressure is serious cause for concern, given the government's tendency to prioritise the interests of large investors and global economic players over the interests of indigenous peoples. The concern also arises from the government's reluctance to accept the offer of a debt moratorium made by several creditor countries including the UK, Canada, Germany and France (G-7 countries) on the grounds that this will affect Indonesia's credit rating on the international market. In the meantime, there are indications that the effort to rehabilitate Aceh and North Sumatra will create new debts amounting to US$3 billion. On the basis of these observations, AMAN urges the government to:

  1. Put into practice the principle, in the interest of rebuilding Acehnese society in accordance with their basic rights, of giving the people of Aceh the right to rebuild their territory themselves; 
  2. Tackle the impacts of the disaster during the emergency phase. In particular, more attention must be paid to the immediate supply of appropriate food, clothing and medicines to those refugees in greatest need; 
  3. In the distribution of aid, the needs of the victims must be put first, and not political or business interests behind the aid donations; 
  4. The security concerns put forward by the military must be kept in perspective, or they will hamper the efforts of civil society organisations in assisting the refugees. The military should just provide protection for the delivery of aid to refugees so that it is done safely and smoothly, without security disturbances; they should not make difficulties for others distributing aid, especially civil society organisations who know just as much about the condition of refugees; 
  5. The short-term Rehabilitation Plan, which has been announced with a time-span of 6 months to one year, should not only focus on the improvement of public infrastructure, but must also pay attention to sufficient preparations for securing the assets and property rights of the Acehnese, especially land and resource management areas of Aceh's indigenous communities. These preparations should involve community and customary leaders, including women, so that they participate in planning and preparing the re-structuring of land use and resource management in Aceh, under post-tsunami development planning; 
  6. The Aceh and North Sumatra Reconstruction Programme to be handled by BOK should not just focus on rebuilding infrastructure. Socio-cultural and environmental aspects must be given equal consideration throughout the reconstruction programme. The development of BOK itself must guard against recentralisation of the NAD [Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam] administration. It must be based on the desire to return special autonomy to the Acehnese; 
  7. In relation to rights over land and other natural resources, all the indigenous peoples of Aceh who are currently dispersed in various refugee camps, must be intensively involved in these matters, particularly in devastated areas; 
  8. The plan to accommodate - homeless people in 24** centres in NAD needs to take into account the socio-cultural aspects of communities formed long before the disaster struck and long before they were forced to become refugees. There are various indigenous groups whose social character is different and whose cultures differ from each other. The majority of disaster victims are also indigenous coastal dwellers who have cultural ties to their customary coastal lands. Of course these people can't be relocated to areas far from the coast just like that. The principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) for indigenous peoples and for all groups of local people must be the main principle on which the relocation programme is based. The continuation of the Civil Emergency in Aceh should not become a justification for the government and the military alone to decide on the sites for relocation centres.

Jakarta, January 15th, 2005

[A list of supporting organisations is attached to the original document].

NOTE from DTE: *The government announced in mid-January that a Special Authority Agency was to be set up to handle the emergency and reconstruction programme in Aceh. However, this plan was soon withdrawn after criticism from various national bodies that it would merely result in duplication of disaster co-ordination efforts.

**The number of proposed official relocation centres has risen since this statement was written to around 50.

[Translation by DTE]