Memorialization for Women Acknowledgment in ‘Bukit Janda’

The author is a fellowship recipient of human rights, media and transitional justice training organized by AJI Banda Aceh, KontraS Aceh, LBH Banda Aceh and AJAR..
[Sri Elmanita S/DETaK]

The Aceh conflict left scars in Cot Keng or known as Bukit Janda, an area in Pidie Jaya. With the low level of literacy, memorialization is designed to fight against oblivion.

The Aceh conflict left scars in Cot Keng or known as Bukit Janda, an area in Pidie Jaya. With the low level of literacy, memorialization is designed to fight against oblivion.

“The road didn't have two lanes yet. The road was one way in the middle of a rice field, about 3 meters wide,” said Farida describing Cot Keng's condition in the past.

Farida Hariyani is a figure who struggles to provide justice for widows in Gampong Cot Keng. Currently she serves as the Director of Development of Aceh Socio-Economic Activities (PASKA). Farida was born in Ulee Glee, Bandar Dua District, Pidie Jaya Regency in 1966.

History of Bukit Janda Conflict

For generations, the residents of Gampong Cot Keng have always made mung bean porridge for Eid. They celebrate the happiness of welcoming the holiday, the contributions of residents are the main capital in making this food.

“At that time, they collected money for Eid, making mung bean porridge,” said Farida.

The money collected from the village community was written down. The paper on which the donation was written became the beginning of conflict in this village. When the military found the paper, they mistook it for a donation for the Security Disturbance Movement (Gerakan Pengacau Keamanan/GPK). “There was no coordination. Once they get their hands on the paper, they went hunting for the names,” explained Farida in a high tone.

The conflict resulted in massacres, torture and enforced disappearances, triggered by alleged misunderstandings by the Indonesian Armed Forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia/TNI) in obtaining information. At that time, there were only 21 head of families in Cot Keng Village and 12 of them were massacred.

“There was no investigation, got immediately slaughtered. No questions asked. There was no finding out from the wife, for example, whether the husband has ever attended training,” she said.

“Someone was shot on site, one other person was brought to and shot at Tringadeng Deah Teumamah, three other people were found in the rice fields,” she continued, recalling memories of the dark story.

The other heads of the families who were out of the village at that time heard the news that there had been gunfire. They chose to run away from their village and migrate to various regions in Indonesia.

“Their wives and children also didn't know whether they were killed or left. Their families have made recitations like everyone else, considered as dead,” she said.

Limited means of communication prevented them from reporting their departure to their families. At that time, there were only two men left in Cot Keng Village, a village head and an elder.

After the conflict had begun to subside in the Pidie area, eight people who had left were to return to the village. At that time, Aceh had the status of a Military Operations Area (Daerah Operasi Militer/DOM). Due to the lack of men in Cot Keng, the army popularized the area as ‘Bukit Janda’.

Farida's Struggle

Started from Farida's desire to create job opportunities, she was offered by her supervisor Abdul Gani Nurdin (Alm.) to work at a non-governmental organization Village Community Foundation (Yayasan Masyarakat Desa/Yadesa), a foundation that improved people's economy by providing trainings in farming and stockbreeding.

“I was appointed as a Community Officer (CO). So I became a CO at Yadesa. I worked there for the first time as a field officer,” she explained.

Being a field officer at Bukit Janda made her wonder about the status she was given, especially considering the condition of the community where female was dominant. Widows who previously depended on their husbands to make a living, have now turned to making themselves heads of the families to raise their children. They did various jobs. Some even only earned Rp 3,500 to Rp 4,000 per day at that time.

“Because we see that these widows are very innocent and have no other income. They have to went up to the mountains for 8 hours to get a salary of Rp 3,500 at that time, unloading illegal wood," said Farida.

Seeing widows fighting for their lives, while on the other hand there was no justice for them in terms of massacres, torture and enforced disappearances, Farida begins to find out the causes of this conflict. She asked from one widow to another and sought information from various parties. After six months, she managed to get data directly from victims about the human rights violations that had occurred.

“If there were resistance, we don't say that these persons were massacred because it was a process of war. So, both of them had power and weapons. But this, didn’t look like it at the slightest,” she said.

After the 1998 reform, the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (Yayasan Lembaga Hukum Indonesia/YLBHI) sent letters to all NGOs in Aceh. Letters were sent based on the conflict impact received by the people of Aceh. Yadesa was one of the NGOs offered by LBHI Jakarta. “Who wants to do observation in Jakarta? We have heard that there have been massacres and violence in Aceh. Who has the courage?” asked Farida regarding the contents of the invitation letter.

“So we from Yadesa tried to be brave and take these two widows there to prove this country that there was violence against common people,” she explained.

Farida and Abdul Gani Nurdin were so excited to go to Jakarta to voice justice. Two widows participated as speakers for the human rights violations that occurred. “We accompanied them there. That was all that was uncovered because we knew the background, the chronology and the victim wanted to reveal it. So that's where we dared to advocate,” she said explaining the condition of the two widows.

On their journey from Banda Aceh to Medan and then to Jakarta, they have to be accompanied by LBH because there were elements monitoring their movements.

When they arrived in Jakarta, they were received by the headquarter of Indonesian Armed Forces (Angkatan Bersenjata Republik Indonesia/ABRI). “When we came there, there were still debris from the fires. The 1998 reforms just took place. There were still remnants of conflict in Jakarta.”

They slept at Munir Said Thalib's house in Bekasi. Their path was not easy. “Even in Jakarta we were tackled. Komnas HAM didn’t accepted us and wouldn’t let us in,” said Farida. This rejection was based on the recognition that Komnas HAM was only established in 1993 while the case was brought in 1991.

On their second night in Jakarta, Ghazali Abbas Adan who at that time was a member of the Indonesian Parliament from Aceh, picked up Farida, Abdul Gani Nurdin and the two victims to his official residence. Ghazali helped Farida a lot in pressing the DPR RI, which resulted in establishment of the Fact Finding Team (team pencari fakta/TPF) at that time.

Hari Sabarno, a retired TNI officer who served as Head of TPF, came to Aceh to saw with his own eyes the conditions according to information obtained from Farida and the two widows. “If I couldn't prove it, I would also be considered as a person who must be killed because considered as defaming the country. That was what on their mind,” said Farida.

When Hari Sabarno and Ghazali Abbas arrived in Pidie, Farida and her friends gathered the victims to come to the Pidie District People's Representative Council (DPRK) building. The news spread so quickly by word of mouth that the building was filled with 700 widows from all over Pidie.

“I had time to gather because they asked for representations. One widow who had a child, one who was shot but was still alive and had marks, another who was raped who gave birth to a child, one who blind female who was raped and another one who had her house burned down. So, all the five victims were all representatives of the other victims,” she explained.

Five widows were asked to become representatives in order to reveal the human rights violations that had occurred to the TPF team while the other widow waited outside the building.

“Mam, it's a loss to not listen to what they were saying,” they said. “Ma'am, please let us in,” said the widows, pleading. At that time the police did not allow it as did the DPR, on the grounds that there were not enough seats in the building.

“The main door of the DPR building, one is opened and the other is closed. That's where the police stood,” she said. Farida devised a strategy so that the widows could enter, she asked Ghazali Abbas to remove the adhesive at the bottom and top of the closed door. Farida lined up the widows, Ghazali Abbas got ready to open the door and the crowd barged in. The group in front, about 50 people, collapsed to the floor. They then sat down nicely on the floor.

After the five victims told their stories, that’s when Farida saw Hari Sabarno's eyes filled with tears as he heard. “When he heard, Mr. Hari looked down for a few minutes. It seemed that he was shedding tears,” she explained. After the narrative was over, Farida invited Hari Sabarno to go directly to the field.

“What’s with this woman? This is me on the field! What other field do you want?” said Hari Sabarno, snapping at Farida.

“Look, Sir, you have lots of children here. You were far away from them and you didn't see your child, it's sad for them,” Farida lowered her voice a little spoiled. 

“Which one is my child?” asked Hari. “A lot, Sir, at the posts,” said Farida.

“Which post?” asked Hari.

“You want to? That's why I’m taking you there, there's this so called Rumoh Geudong, that's where all Kopassus troops live, Sir, all of them are your children are from Jakarta,” Farida tried to invite him.

At first Hari Sabarno refused but agreed to go directly in the end. “They thought that if they come here from Jakarta, it means they were going to the field. So I invited them to visit the static camps in Pidie,” she said.

The TPF team, consisting of 15 people, was divided into two teams. One visited gate one post in Tiro, the other visited Rumoh Geudong post. “You come with me! Ghazali Abbas joins the other team,” said Hari Sabarno, as told by Farida.

The TPF team split up and saw the situation directly where the conflict occurred. They found human rights violations that occurred based on exposure from the local community and also saw traces of torture at Rumoh Geudong. They also dug up the graves of alleged victims of torture.

Several months after that, in 7 August 1998, the Armed Forces Commander General Wiranto revoked the DOM status in Aceh.

TRC Built Memorialization

At the beginning of 2020, the Aceh Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) carried out a plan accompanied by outreach to the Cot Keng community regarding the making of the memorial. In February, the commemoration was approved by the community. The process of making the memorialization begins with the approval of village officials, especially the victims and their families. Once an agreement was achieved, the plan would move on to get the approval of the government, starting from the sub-district to the district.

“So at that time, based on me and my friends’ initiatives, we seeked for the availability of the village officials. We planned for the night after the evening prayer. Because the majority of Cot Keng's people were plantation workers or farmers, there would be no one in the village every day except Friday. That's when the socialization took place at it’s initial stage," explained the Regional Coordinator of Pidie Jaya Zulmal Fhasya when met in person at the Aceh TRC office (11/01/2021).

In the process, in March 2020 data was obtained from 15 statement speakers consisting of 11 women and 4 men. They were the victims, the victim's wife and the victim's sister. Based on these data, the types of violations acknowledged were assault, torture, detention, murder, loss of property and enforced disappearance. On the other hand, there were also victims or victims' families who refused to give a statement.

“The result was that when we wanted to take a statement, the victim's family refused because during the conflict or post-peace period many LBH came there or represented an organization to collect data. They were promised a number of things but were not fulfilled," he said.

The term ‘Bukit Janda’ didn’t belong to Cot Keng only. Other areas in Aceh have also experienced the same thing. The years 1976-1999 were a stage of dark history of how high the intensity of the conflict in Aceh was, which caused violations of human rights to occur in various places with different patterns but same fate. The women were left behind by the men who got caught up by the conflict, so that 'widows' became an identity that was inherent in them.

“Kampung Cot Keng represents many villages in Aceh where only women live in the village,” the Deputy Chairperson of the Aceh TRC Evi Narti Zein began when being asked about Bukit Janda at the Aceh TRC office (11/01/2021).

“In almost all districts during the high conflict period, all women took on roles that were left behind by men. Women became the backbone of the family during the past conflict,” said Evi.

The perspective of transitional justice was an attempt to resolve human rights violations in the past, which consists of four pillars namely the right for truth, the right for justice, the right for remedy and the guarantee of non-repetition. The right for truth was the main thing that creates an obligation for society to care for memory and restoration, one of which was by building memorialization. From that point, a memorial was built on this Bukit Janda. 

“This is a common knowledge although it will disappear gradually, right? Well, there is where TRC entered to strengthen what CSOs had done in the past, like Farida and the other friends. That monument gives a signal that human rights violations have occurred here," she explained.

Memorialization is a form to remember past events, as an effort to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future, as well as a place for learning, knowledge, recovery and recognition by the country that the village has experienced human rights violations.

Monuments and murals are memorials made in Cot Keng. The design of this memorialization form was based on the results of a consensus meeting between the Aceh TRC team and the local community.

Mural depicting alleged human rights violations at Bukit Janda (Doc/TRC Aceh)

“Especially in the mural, there were several changes. There were some items in the image that have been deleted. Supposedly the initial idea was picture of some kind of army post with soldiers in it. Just because it reminded us of the past. The monument was indeed on the village road where many residents passed by the village office where we drew on the wall. I'm afraid that if they saw the picture, the community or the victims would be traumatized. That's where the village head's initiative came from to change the murals," said Fhasya regarding the changes to the murals.

In addition to the monument and murals that served as reminders related to the conflict that occurred in Cot Keng, village officials have also provided a space that will be used as a library later on which would be filled with books on human rights, specifically books on Aceh conflict and history, which were aimed at increasing literacy for the village community, especially the young generations. Not only building a memorial, TRC Aceh will also periodically check the monuments and murals.

Praying together at the inauguration of the inscription in the village of Cot Keng on 20 July 2020 (Doc/TRC Aceh)

TRC Aceh handed over the memorialization inscription in the Cot Keng village on 20 July 2020. During the inauguration process, it was only done symbolically due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“People wanted to have a feast, to pray together. We have prepared several victims who wish to testify at the event, but we were only able to hold the event symbolically because of the pandemic. Representatives from the sub-district, district, TNI and police came to the place for the ceremonial peusijuek," said Fhasya. 

Along with times, Cot Keng had changed in terms of appearance. Now the construction of village infrastructure, coffee shops as well as the population are also bustling.

Regarding the recovery of the victims, Evi stated, “People of Aceh usually recover themselves.” Based on the data from statements collection that she has done so far, it turned out that recovery of the victims have a big influence on closeness to God, belief in religion, family support, local community support and the support of loved ones. That was what made the victims and their families became stronger.

Acknowledging the lack of literacy on human rights, Evi added, “Literacy is very important. Literacy related to human rights is not as massive as the others." The TRC would carry out plans related to human rights literacy. One of which would be by intervening with the education office to make it as a curriculum on knowledge of the Aceh conflict in terms of its impact and handling. In addition, there is hope to encourage the establishment of a museum of peace and human rights violations in Aceh.

"When people were silent, history was also silenced along with that person's death," she said in relation to the many victims or victims' families who didn’t want their statements taken regarding the human rights violations that have happened to them.

Re-opening up history in the past, when viewed from the victims of human rights violations’ points of view, which were so many of them and all of them have not been resolved until now, it is an important point to prevent recurrence. “We wanted all the events that have happened in Aceh to be acknowledged by everyone, so that it would become a lesson. If the previous victims were silent, their children and grandchildren would inherit the same incident as them," she continued.

Evi also explained related to the TRC duties, “TRC duties are locked with three things: taking statements or disclosing the truth which the mechanism is listening to the victims and do an analysis; then make a final report; and then recommends repairs or restoration. One of which is memorialization and to facilitate the reconciliation process,” she explained.

Reconciliation became an attempt to unite perpetrators and victims to forgive each other, with the aim of building social cohesion that has been broken by the conflict.

“To people who wants to take up arms, think again. There were already tens of thousands of victims before, schools were burned, education was hampered,” she added. [ ]


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