Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Our Work in Aceh is Featured on Voice of America

Here is a story that Voice of America (VOA) did recently that as a colleague wrote me, “does an excellent job of highlighting in depth what is going on in Aceh in a way that an outsider can understand. It is a big picture story that demonstrates the importance of the work that Building Bridges to the Future is doing and positions BBF at the forefront of helping conflict victims in Aceh.” The reporter, Brian Padden, with whom we’ve been working for several months, did a great job highlighting our Goat and ABC (education) programs as critical elements to the long term recovery of the region.

August 15th marks the fourth anniversary of peace in Indonesia's Aceh province. The tsunami that decimated the region in 2004, killing nearly 170,000 people, and the immense international relief effort that followed, helped end a 30-year separatist war. The former leaders of the Free Aceh Movement renounced their fight for independence in exchange for leadership roles and a degree of autonomy in Aceh Province. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Banda Aceh, while peace prevails, it is still fragile.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Qanun Jinayat and current sharia law in Aceh

On October 17 I received this from a dear friend and incredibly insightful journalist, and wanted to print it in its entirety. The introduction explains that Pak Nur has provided a different take on what and how shari’a law is being (re) introduced in Aceh. Please make sure you read his last paragraph.

Dear All:
Following our conservations over the weekend - see below for Pak Nur’s translated piece from the Serambi on Saturday.

Many thanks to Pak Nur for ensuring this is as true a translation as possible (and correcting my English!). Pak Nur starting a public debate centered on the real issues that led to the bill seeing the light of day is very timely from my point of view. Once I can resume public output (ie if the BKRA meeting with EU and USAID on Thursday goes well) I will be able to put this out globally and also post it on the new website.

When I can publish the article my plan is simply to say something like:

“Regardless of what you may have read in the Jakarta and international media the ‘stoning’ law has not been passed and will never be passed. I highly recommend this piece in the Serambi 17 Oct to understand why the draft bill ever saw the light of day.”

That’s about as far as I can go publically about such a sensitive issue. But hopefully some of the Jakarta foreign correspondents will be tempted to cover the issue in the future as a ‘political post conflict’ issue rather than a sensational ‘religious’ one – of course their editors will probably never let them – sadly it’s too ‘sexy’ as a ‘bad news’ story.

Been great to catch up with every one over the last few days

PS the website address is - type in ‘stoning’ (or sharia law) into the search engine to get all the backlog of local media stories and a feel for the complexity of the politics surrounding the issue (NB I’m still inputting a couple of recent October ones most especially from the very sensible visiting Syrian Grand Mufti to whom Pak Nur refers)


Serambi Indonesia, Saturday, October 17, 2009.
Qanun Jinayat
--M.Nur Djuli

The image of the Acehnese Muslim community, not only in the eyes of Indonesia but also of the whole world, is not based on reality but on sensational news coverage and controversial events. Last month, I was in the Hague in the Netherlands as a speaker at a seminar of the International Center for Transitional Justice and was attacked with criticisms related to the Qanun Jinayat (Islamic Criminal Bylaw) issues. The common misperception was that we were about to actually implement the ‘stoning to death’ ordinance or we were women torturers. I had to present an explanation about an issue that was not clear even to myself.

It was not clear to me why Aceh’s House of Representatives (DPRA) made a very important decision two weeks before its mandate ended, given that they had had this legislative mandate for five years. Thus raising the speculation that their decision was meant as a political strategy to trap the newly elected DPRA, dominated by their political foes, the Partai Aceh and the Partai Demokrat, into a sharp polemic and potentially damaging political dilemma. The outgoing DPRA has made this controversial decision knowing that it would not have to face the consequences of its decision.
It was also unclear to me why they did not verify that the Qanun would not violate national criminal laws (KUHP) or the 1945 Constitution (UUD 45) of the Republic, thus would never be allowed to be implemented by the Central Government.

As a result of such callousness, the Qanun is now facing the probability of being struck down by the Home Minister or being taken to the Constitutional Court, resulting in that Aceh will no longer have the Qanun Jinayat but will still be branded as a fundamentalist society, inimical to human rights, discriminative towards women etc. The branding would be fair if Aceh was really behaving as such. What’s going to happen is that we will carry on getting the negative ‘brand recognition’ despite the fact that the ‘product’ never really existed. Meanwhile, the National Government will be hailed as ‘savior of human rights’, protector of women’s rights and the preventer of Islamic radicalism in Aceh (for revoking the Qanun).

This sort of things often take place; Take for instance, the burning of churches incidents that have happened on Java Island or other places in Indonesia. There is a Catholic church in Aceh built during the Dutch Colonial period that is still standing intact. No one has ever vandalized it. Likewise with the Dutch cemetery which is still properly maintained. These are examples of the innate tolerance of the Acehnese people. Despite this Aceh now has a bad name abroad as an Islamic fundamentalist society, anti-Christian etc., all because we like to sensationalize everything without thinking a little bit about the consequences. We made a lot of noise about the recent Gubernatorial Regulation on Religious Buildings in Aceh, without considering the background of that decision. We never want to think further: Was the outgoing DPRA’s decision really based on Allah’s law as agreed upon by our Ulemas? After all the people of Aceh have often shown their willingness to defend with their lives their ulemas’ decisions . Or was it just a decision of vested interests to further their own political agenda? In truth, the saying that "others have eaten the jackfruit but we’re the ones left with the goo on our hands” has never been more appropriate.

Today this sort of thing is happening again. The New York based Human Rights Watch, which once served as the champion of human rights for Aceh during the conflict, felt compelled to issue a statement on 12 October, 2009, saying to the effect that the Qanun Jinayat, which was passed by the DPRA on September 14 and which some claim will come into effect in the middle of October (even though Governor Irwandi Yusuf has stated he will not sign it) constitutes ‘torture’ that violates human rights and is against the UUD 45 Constitution, which guarantees freedom from torture, and other Indonesian criminal laws. HRW urged that the Indonesian Home Ministry immediately review and revoke the qanun. Meanwhile, Mukhlis Mukhtar SH, the former head of the special parliamentary committee which produced the qanun has stated that this would go into effect 30 days after it was passed although the Governor has stated that he would not sign it. He does not seem to understand that DPRA cannot introduce a law without first discussing it with the Governor. The signature is only an additional regulation to prevent the Governor from having a double power to block a bill unilaterally after having agreed to it during the consultation process with the DPRA.

When we, the GAM negotiators were negotiating the peace accord in Helsinki, that eventually produced the Helsinki MoU, we had predicted the probability of this sort of thing. Therefore we insisted in inserting this clause in the MOU (Article 1.2.4): “Until 2009 (before the legislative election is held) the legislature of Aceh (then called the DPRD) will not be entitled to enact any laws without the consent of the head of the Aceh administration”. This stipulation was made, that was later interpreted in Qanun No.3/2007, article 36 (1), because we considered that the now defunct DPRD, was elected during the conflict, was not elected democratically and thus did not truly represent the people of Aceh. Their actions could not always be relied upon to be in the best interest of the Acehnese people, while the Head of the Government (the Governor) would have been elected directly by the people.

Now, specifically on the question of the Qanun Jinayat, we have to be aware of the fact that Indonesia is a secular state. It is true that Aceh has the right to implement Sharia Law, but any Fatwa concerning Islamic law should be made by the Ulemas rather than by the House of Representatives (DPRA), whose members were elected based on political considerations and under the secular law of the Republic. Can Islamic laws such as the Qanun Jinayat, which constitute an interpretation of Allah’s laws, be put under the jurisdiction of the secular law? This question can only be answered by the Ulemas and not by the House of Representatives, even if it does have some members who are Ulemas within its fold.

Many conferences, seminars, workshops and discussions are taking place in Aceh almost daily. Isn’t it high time for Aceh to take the initiative of holding a large congress of ulemas which would involve not only local Ulemas but also respected Ulemas from Islamic centres around the world such as the Al-Azhar? The result of this congress could later be submitted to DPRA to be interpreted into an Islamic law, the basis of which would be clear and convincing so that all of us could accept it without further divisive arguments, like the proverbial blind men arguing about the correct description of an elephant. Why are we so keen on spending our energy on sensational and controversial things while there are so many other things that need our thoughts and energy during this uncertain transitional time? Why are we always busy with sexual matters and how women should dress as if there were no tomorrow?

We have problems relating to the establishment of the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission), HRC (Human Rights Court), the sharing of Natural Resources (with the Central Government) the establishment of the Joint Commission for unmet Claims and other crucial points of the MoU that have not yet been translated into the Law on Governing Aceh (UUPA); problems that will become dangerous mines fields for future Acehnese generations. Just like my generation’s questioning of the agreement struck with the Central Government by the leaders of the DI/TII on the autonomy status of Aceh that could not be implemented, the future generation would question our decisions as the GAM negotiators who produced the Helsinki MoU and signed by Teungku Malik Mahmud, should most of the significant points of that MoU never be implemented and the MOU itself became nothing more than stale news from old newspapers.

Why don’t we pay attention to educational matters, both worldy and religious? The Syrian Grand Mufti, Syekh Dr Ahmad Badrouddin Hasson, who visited Aceh recently stated that Sharia Law does not prioritise punishments but rather guarantees the rights of others first. He advised that we shouldn’t rush or be afraid of how long a law takes to be implemented. Indeed, no law can guarantee one’s faith. It can only be ascertained through education at home and in schools. There is no law in Malaysia that requires Muslim women to wear head scarfs, but they still do it voluntarily, because they were educated from childhood. But we Acehnese, in this Verandah of Mecca, have a need for Sharia Law and the religious police to guard our faith.

We have lived in conflict for 30 years. We are still learning the meaning of peace, freedom and democracy. We’re still crawling. We had just been struck by a devastating natural disaster. We are lacking in everything. In truth, the tsunami disaster brought us god sent gifts of new, grand and sophisticated buildings. Our general hospital, which is as large and as well equipped as those in Europe, is still so poorly administered that patients have to wait for hours to get treatment. Our airport is bigger and more beautiful than Polonia aiport (in Medan), but tourists still have to go through Medan to enter Aceh because we still cannot issue visas on arrival. Mosques are growing like mushrooms in the rainy season but their toilets are still very dirty. Worshippers still take their ablutions from the common tank and the water used to wash their faces may drop back into the tank to be used by others to gargle, spreading diseases in the process. We’ve put up posters extolling “cleanliness is a part of faith.” Is it a logical explanation maybe then, that our faith is not yet complete, because a part of it, cleanliness, has not yet become our practice?

Greetings in Peace

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Aceh Timur Diaries

I’m back in Aceh, have been here about two weeks, seeing all the exciting things JMD has been doing since my last visit. I’m trying to make some headway with some donor agency reps as well, since we now have proposals in to both UNIFEM and the Multi Donor fund for projects totaling over $4 million! I have high hopes that we will become a key player in sustainable livelihoods here. Unfortunately, or perhaps what’s sadly fortunate, is that the UNIFEM funding can’t have been offered at a more crucial time in the history of the province. With the increased legislative support of enacting stricter applications of shar’ia (Islamic) law, the Indonesian government stands to negate a many of the great human rights strides it has made over the past several years, most notably with respect to women and their equal treatment/protection under the law. The UNIFEM grant would allow us to assist the government in implementing some of the very good human rights protection laws it has on the books, through a district-wide series of programming revolving around women’s centers that offer training, civic education, high school equivalency, health, nutrition, and pre/post natal assistance, and a voice in their community’s development.

So I’m glad I’m here for many reasons . . . and yet I don’t want to forget all the good things this agency has already done. So in my spare time this trip (ahahahahahaha) I decided to write a series of articles that could turn into something else in the future, describing in detail some of our more challenging and successful programs. The first one I’d like to share concerns a project funded through SERASI/USAID in the sub-district of Simpang Jernnil, in the Aceh Timur District. I think I want to call it The Road to Hope.

The district of Aceh Timur is the poorest in the entire province of Aceh --which is saying a lot. And Sempang Jernnil is the poorest sub district in Aceh Timur. It lies miles and miles from other villages and the only access, taking over 4 hours, is by 4 wheel drive vehicle, hoping it has not rained lately since you will not be able to traverse a 20 meters stretch of the road that one needs to get by before continuing on. Or, you can take a dugout canoe (motorized) for 5 hours up river and 3 hours back down (the current is with you). Either way it is an onerous trip, though it passes though one of the most beautiful areas of the province we have ever seen.

For over 64 years, the government has been saying that it will build a road connecting Langksa (the largest nearby city) to Sempang Jernnil). If such a road did exist then the travel time would be cut to 30 minutes at the outset. So it really opens up an entire new world for people living here. They can attend schools, trade, go out and get jobs and come home at night, etc. The road and our project there are their two symbols of hope. The government has started building it but it is very slow going. JMD had an idea: to video both the progress of our project and the progress of the road. It’ll be a race to the finish, and to see who will be the turtle and who will be the hare.

Our first visit to Sempang Jernnil took place in February, when we were assessing the Rohingya refugee camp. We had been invited by the government to assist with this camp, located in the village of Idi. In talking to the local government officials we were asked if we could help them by trying to encourage NGO’s to come to the District and help them. Not one NGO except for a few local ones had done anything to help the people of this very large district. The infrastructure in Aceh Timur is so bad that it is hard to maneuver around, and administering assistance of any kind is next to impossible. We told the local authorities we would try to raise money for a small project, and asked where in the neighboring vicinity they needed it the most. A few hours later, lo and behold there was the sub-district head coming to see us and telling us how much they needed help in Sempang Jernnil. He wanted us to go there the next day, and we agreed. If only we knew then what we know today! I have photos of that first trip that I’ll post here shortly--

We were lucky to have a four wheel drive vehicle. As I mentioned, Sempang Jernnil lies 5 hours by road from Idi and is totally inaccessible when it is raining or has just rained. Thirty minutes at the most by car if there were a road, but 5 hours in reality, on what could only be called a road if one had a very good imagination.

As we bumped along, Dina, my JMD program manager, and I were really curious as to what we would find. We had been to many isolated places before but this seemed to take the prize. We arrived to find the entire village waiting for us with a big feast. I was the first white person they had ever seen and we were the first non- local NGO who had ever come close to them.

Many of the people who have settled there are not Acehnese but are ethnic minorities like Gayo, transplanted Javanese and many other Indonesian from all over. All families have been there a long time and all are Muslim.

The sub-district of Sempang Jernnil is comprised of 8 villages; the capitol of this sub-district is also called Sempang Jernnil. Two villages are within 15 minutes of the capitol by the river or walking; the farthest lies 2 ½ hours by boat and motor bike. In 2006 a massive flood wiped out most of the houses in Sempang Jernnil and its neighboring villages. In the entire sub-district, 6 villages were destroyed and about 10 people died. The schools, hospitals and most of the homes were destroyed beyond repair. The government gave each family 15 million IRD, but a new house cost more than 30 million so families have been unable to rebuild. A few local NGO’s came to their aid but that was only for emergency relief. Today there is one school, a small clinic, the office of the head of the sub district (but he is only there 3 times a week), the police office, and 26 TNI families. This is very strange because none of us had ever seen TNI living in a village. We couldn’t get a straight answer when we asked what all these Indonesian military families were doing in this far-off place. But to an outsider it all looked very calm and orderly.

The government provides rice to the villages, and most men make their living in illegal logging or fishing so they can buy vegetables and necessities for substance living. It is a harsh example of rural poverty, even for Indonesia.

After lunch we met with the local officials to discuss what we could do. They were in desperate need of agriculture assistance, additional livestock, and technical education as well as basic literacy skills. Nearly everyone in the village is illiterate.

We assured them they we would make our best efforts to find funding for a project there, but we could not promise anything . . .

After returning from our first trip to Sempang Jernnil we decided that we would apply for funding to implement one of our typical projects there, but with a bit of a twist. The community had volunteered 10 hectares ( about 25 acres) of land for our project so we thought that instead of goats we would raise ducks since ducks are cheaper to buy, there is a great need for eggs in Aceh, and the eggs are far easier to transport than milk or goats. We also decided that since we didn’t need to grow feed for goats, we would increase our variety of cash crops and add some vegetables that we didn’t normally grow but which here were part of the local diet.
We submitted our proposal and 8 months later we received an award from USAID/SERASI. were We were so excited we called the local government immediately-- they were even more excited than we were!! We said we would be there shortly and started to plan our trip. At least now we were better prepared, since we knew where we were going and what we were getting into.

Off we went on our next adventure: me, Dina, Sarah, our Associate Director based in Banda, who had not been with us on the first trip, and Mirza our agricultural expert. We were told that this time we had to take the boat since there had been a lot of rain and the road was impassable. We all thought it would be a great experience and that we would see so much more of the landscape that surround Sempang Jernnil. It also would give us a chance to see just how isolated this area really was.

Since I had a bad back and was not sure I could make the 7-9 hours drive to Langska (the biggest city near the water), we flew to from Medan, and from there it was only 3 hours to Langska. So after a good night’s sleep in a nice hotel in Medan, off we went in a rented car. (Our agency car was arriving from Banda later that day). We had some appointments with local government people and in fact had a large meeting with the local heads of the Ministry of Agriculture and Education, some of their staff, and the District Head’s assistant.

The conversation was interesting but totally confusing since they thought we were going to set up a Cow Breeding Center and we kept trying to explain that we might have enough money in the grant for chickens but Cows and breeding centers where not what our grant was about. We must have explained what we wanted to do 100 times but nobody really understood except the representatives from the Ministry of Education, who gave us every assurance that they were behind us 100 per cent. They were very grateful.

During this meeting I made a tiny faux pas—looking back on it it’s kind of funny but it sure was embarrassing at the time. I had been told that the people in Sempang Jirnnel were an ethnic minority whose traditions included the raising and eating of pigs. I was so excited because I thought it would be a great addition to what we already do. I kept asking Dina to ask them about the pigs and she was very reticent about doing it but I insisted. So she took a deep breath, gave me a look, and then asked if there was any chance that we could raise "the forbidden animal." They asked which one that was. She said, swallowing hard, “Pig.” Everyone grew terribly pale and fidgety. Finally someone explained that pigs were absolutely forbidden in Aceh—even there. So much for that idea!! It had its humorous side to it.

When we had finally lost our patience with the Agriculture representatives who kept insisting that cows were on the menu, and finally told them straight out that if they wanted cows or goats or buffalo they should find an NGO that had the money since we did not. We then asked them very nicely if they would prefer if we found another village who wanted to work with us on a duck project. That was suddenly the end of that discussion, and from then on they were very happy with us and expressed pleasure that we had come.

After the meeting we decided to retire to our hotel, which although simple was very clean and had a/c--a must for me. We had just gotten there when the sub-district head showed up, wanting to meet with us. It seemed that there was so much excitement about the grant and our plans that he wanted to talk to us before the next day’s trip. He wanted us to know how much he appreciated our getting the grant and wanted to know what we had planned. We had spent quite a bit of time telling him and explaining it to him, when he told us that he had changed the plan and now the community was putting up 50 hectares (about 123 acres) of land and he wanted the entire village to be the beneficiaries. We tried to explain how hard that would be and that we had very limited funds, but he insisted that that was what he wanted. He did not want any jealousy among the people, he said.
What to do?