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Indonesian Activists Push for Truth Commission in Aceh

A consortium of activists from across Indonesia, are pushing for the establishment of a truth commission aimed at uncovering thousands of human rights violations committed during almost three decades of conflict in Aceh. Marianne Kearney in Jakarta has more.

A group of 26 rights groups launched a proposal this week to establish a truth commission in Aceh province, where the separatist guerillas known as GAM fought the Indonesian military from 1979.

The peace deal agreed in 2005 between the government and the GAM provided for a truth commission to be established - by a nation-wide Indonesian truth and reconciliation commission, which has yet to be set up.

Guluh Wandita from the International Centre for Transitional Justice, a non-government group that helped draft the proposal, says Acehnese victims of the conflict are tired of waiting for such a commission.

"But I think in terms of Aceh, it was a long conflict and we need to look at why it happened and what mistakes did we make that allowed these atrocities to happen and I think for victims, a truth commission is one step towards a longer road to healing but I think it is an important step," she said.

Wandita argues that such a commission does not need approval from Jakarta but could be formed under Aceh's provincial law. Local government officials in Aceh are reportedly beginning such a law drafting process.

She also says a truth commission would be different to a human rights tribunal, which can prosecute perpetrators for atrocities, says Wandita.

"A truth commission is a non-judicial process which can be much more flexible than a court hearing, it can try to design a whole process where it can listen to thousands of victims, either through public hearings or statement taking or other processes in the villages, in the districts," said Wandita.

The activists' proposal calls for the commission to grant amnesty to human rights violators, except for serious crimes that could then be tried in a human rights court.

The Indonesian government has said that a rights tribunal would be a violation of its constitution, which does not allow for people to be tried for crimes retroactively.

However the constitutional court last year ruled that while a tribunal was not unconstitutional, the law for setting one up was almost impossible to implement as victims could only be given reparations if the perpetrators of the crimes had been given amnesty.

At least 20,000 people were killed in Aceh during the separatist conflict, and rights groups say that thousands were tortured.