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Jurisdiction of Aceh's New Human Rights Tribunal in Dispute


The newly signed peace agreement between the Indonesian government and separatist rebels in the province of Aceh calls for the establishment of a human rights tribunal. The government and the former rebels can't agree whether the tribunal will have jurisdiction over abuses committed during their decades-long civil war.

Although the Aceh peace accord provides for a human rights tribunal, the Indonesian government says the court will not be used to try cases that occurred before last week's peace agreement was signed.

Information Minister Sofyan Djalil says the tribunal is being created for "future needs, not for the past."

But Bahtiar Abdulah, a spokesman for the rebel Free Aceh Movement, says this is not what the two formerly warring parties agreed to when they signed the Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, on August 15.

"To our understanding, it will be retroactive," he said.

All of this is so recent that the new Aceh Monitoring Mission, composed of officials from the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is not set to begin operations until September 15.

Still, a mechanism for resolving disputes between the two sides will soon be in place, and Sidney Jones, head of the International Crisis Group in Indonesia, says disagreement over the tribunal's jurisdiction is unlikely to sabotage the hard-won peace process.

"I think it's probably something that isn't going to derail the whole process, but it's going to be a source of contention that if something else happens later, this could add to the mix of one side saying, our understanding was that the government promised this, and then they went back on it," she said.

International human rights groups have accused the Indonesian military and police, and to a lesser extent the rebel group, also known as GAM, of committing gross human rights violations during almost 29 years of conflict.

Another possible source of contention between the government and GAM is the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Indonesia set up such a commission to deal with abuses committed in East Timor before and after that territory voted for independence from Indonesia in a U.N.-sponsored vote in 1999.

Ms. Jones of the International Crisis Group says the Timor commission has been roundly criticized for granting amnesty to anyone who asks, and she is concerned it will be the same with the Aceh Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"The way the commission has been set up, it is completely and utterly toothless, and there's been a lot of criticism of the law setting up the Indonesian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, precisely because it too easily gives amnesty to anyone who confesses their crime," she said.

More than 12,000 people, the vast majority of them civilians, died during the Aceh conflict

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