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Contact: John M. Miller, 718-596-7668; 917-690-4391
Karen Orenstein,

Text of Letter to Secretary of State Powell on Aceh Crisis

4 January 2005

Secretary Colin Powell 
U.S. Secretary of State 
2201 C Street, NW 
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Powell:

We, the undersigned NGOs, are writing to bring to your urgent attention special concerns about the humanitarian response to the extraordinary suffering and damage caused by the December 26 earthquake and tsunami that struck Indonesia and other Indian Ocean littoral nations.

The particularly severe damage in Aceh, where more than two-thirds of the casualties have been reported, requires specific international focus. It is crucial that the international humanitarian response to Aceh take into account the historical context of the region, as that will heavily influence the effectiveness of relief efforts. As you are aware, for nearly three decades, the people of Aceh have suffered the consequences of Indonesian military operations in which the principal victims have been civilians, as described in multiple State Department human rights reports. More than 2000 people have been killed since the May 2003 imposition of martial law in Aceh. During a previous period of martial law, from 1989 to 1998, some 10,000 perished. Human rights violations, predominantly committed by the military, have been rampant.

To ensure maximum impact and timeliness of humanitarian assistance in Aceh, we believe it is essential that the United States and the international community urge the Indonesian government to immediately take the following steps:

  • Remove all restrictions impeding access to Aceh by domestic and international agencies and organizations, media, and individual government assistance programs. Burdensome visa requirements and other bureaucratic red tape must be eliminated.
  • Formally lift the "civil emergency" status still in force in Aceh. President Yudhoyono should do this directly and in no uncertain terms.
  • End all offensive military operations in Aceh by the Indonesian armed forces (TNI). According to TNI spokespersons and media reports, offensive actions by the TNI against insurgents are still underway, while the insurgents have declared a ceasefire.
  • Direct the TNI to focus exclusively on provision of essential logistics to facilitate humanitarian relief. TNI officers should not be directly involved in aid distribution - so as to circumvent military abuse of humanitarian assistance and to avoid escalation of legitimate fear felt by many Acehnese toward the military and certain elements of the police (e.g. BRIMOB).

Acehnese civil society and local administrative infrastructure have been devastated. United States and other international assistance, to the extent possible, should give priority to rebuilding Acehnese civilian capacity to address both immediate needs and long-term reconstruction.

As you travel to the tsunami-stricken countries, we thank you for your serious consideration of these concerns in such trying times.


Bama Athreya 
Deputy Director 
International Labor Rights Fund

Munawar Zainal 
Secretary General 
Acheh Center, USA

Miriam Young 
Senior Program Officer 
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights

Karen Orenstein 
Washington Coordinator 
East Timor Action Network

Suraiya IT 
International Forum for Aceh

see also ETAN/NI/ILRF: U.S. Groups Urge Indonesia to Put People over Politics; Humanitarian Catastrophe Adds to Human-Created Destruction in Aceh ; Humanitarian Catastrophe Adds to Human-Created Destruction in Aceh



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