Indonesia: Demolition of Former Torture Site, Rumoh Geudong, is an Attempt to Erase History and the Collective Memory of the Acehnese People

We, the undersigned, strongly condemn the demolition of the ruins of Rumoh Geudong, a site of torture and other gross human rights violations, in Pidie District, Aceh. This act, that took place on 20-21 June 2023, is an egregious attempt to destroy evidence, obscure the truth, erase history, and the collective memory of the Acehnese people regarding the conflict in Aceh from 1976 to 2005. The State must ensure that any attempts to build a memorial adheres to the principle of meaningful participation for victims, with a  focus on their needs and interests, based on the fullfilment of their rights.

The demolition was carried out by a team from the Pidie District government (Pemerintah Kabupaten Pidie) as part of a national effort to implement the recommendations by the recent inquiry carried out by the Non-Judicial Remedy Team for Gross Human Rights Violations (PKPHAM). The kick-off event will be attended by President Joko Widodo, at Rumoh Geudong on 27 June 2023.  The Pidie District government has acted hastily without consulting victims, and without heeding the information collected by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM),  nor the the truth-seeking process carried out by Aceh Truth Commission and Reconciliation (KKR Aceh), as well as the community-based initiatives of victims to memorialise Rumoh Geudong.

Farida Haryani, Director of Paska Aceh, stated, “This demolition severely undermines the dignity of the victims and the local community. Their voices have been disregarded in this process.”

Rumoh Geudong is a place that holds significant evidence of detention, torture, and killings for the people of Aceh. Since 2017, survivors and civil society have worked together to preserve and share the stories of the victims, many of whom demand acknowledgment and  justice for the violations they experienced. Survivors regularly held prayers, events and build a community monument, to remember the family members who were killed or disappeared. Through their efforts to preserve the ruins of Rumoh Geudong, the site has become a space for healing for the victims, while the younger generation to commit to never again repeating such violence. These initiative aligns with the a bottom-up transitional justice approach, which recognises the importance of memorialisation in upholding truth, reparation, and ensuring state accountability.

In his speech at the launching of the Rumoh Geudong monument, which was initiated by survivors in 2018, the former Regent of Pidie, Roni Ahmad, stated, “This monument must serve as a lesson for all of us to continue doing our best in building and caring for the welfare of the community. Let us not forget what happened in the past, and keep moving toward the future.”

We strongly emphasise that memorials must be centred around victims and survivors. Consultations and meaningful participation with the victims must be carried out to ensure that the process of building memorials and providing reparations holds significance and fulfils the principles of victims’ rights, while also ensuring that victims are not re-victimised. The State’s efforts through the PPHAM team should complement the existing efforts of victims and civil society, including the preservation of the Rumoh Geudong memorial, rather than contributing to the denial and forgetting of the truth of the violent incidents that occurred.

Fulfilling the rights of victims of human rights violations is a demonstration of constitutional rights and the most fundamental human rights. The government of Indonesia must comply with international standards for memorialisation and construction memorials, which includes ensuring that the principles of the rights of victims of human rights violations are upheld. The symbolic steps to be taken must be followed up with comprehensive redress. The state must also ensure adequate protective measures for survivors and victims’ families as a way to recognise the vulnerabilities and threats they face as a result of their efforts to fight for truth, justice, and against impunity.

Pidie, 21 June 2023

Paska Aceh, KontraS Aceh, AJAR, RPUK, Pulih, KontraS, Koalisi NGO HAM, ACSTF, Katahati Institute, LBH Banda Aceh, Center for Citizenship and Human Rights Studies (CCHRS), SKP-HAM Sulteng, SEMAI, KontraS Sulawesi