New Aceh Governing Law Falls Short on Autonomy Promises, Triggers Protests

Four months later than stipulated by the peace agreement ending hostilities in Aceh, the Indonesian Parliament passed a governing law for Aceh on July 11, 2006. The law is intended to give the province greater autonomy, reflect the terms of the August 2005 peace accord, and pave the way to provincial elections later this year.

But the law has drawn protests and was greeted by a one-day general strike in Aceh. The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and dozens of NGOs complain that the new law falls short of the autonomy provisions in the 2005 accord and allows considerable interference by the central government:

  • Central government powers: Article 11 stipulates that the central government sets the norms, standards and procedures and also monitors all affairs of the Aceh regional administration.
  • Control over natural resources: Aceh is to retain 70 percent of revenues from its natural resources. But Article 160 stipulates that the management of oil and gas resources in Aceh will be done jointly by the provincial administration and the central government. This is a departure from earlier pledges by Indonesian lawmakers that the Acehnese administration could manage its own resources.
  • Role of the Indonesian military: The peace accord stipulated that the Indonesian military would be stationed in Aceh only for national defense and would not participate in provincial affairs. But Article 193 of the law gives the army powers within the province.
  • Human rights: Perpetrators of human rights violations will likely escape justice. An ad-hoc tribunal (Article 215) will only hear cases that occur after its establishment, rather than having retroactive powers.

Concern over military and police power in Aceh has risen after a number of organizers of the strike were arrested.

Irwandi Yusuf, a senior GAM representative, said GAM will file a protest with the international peace monitoring mission in Aceh. Notwithstanding widespread criticism and dissatisfaction in Aceh, AMM head Pieter Feith has judged the law to be broadly in line with the peace agreement and said the monitors would stay out of the dispute.

Supporters of the law say there are important positive aspects:

  • Aceh will receive an allocation of a special autonomy fund over the next 20 years, with money earmarked for building infrastructure, improving education, providing health care, and combating poverty.
  • The Acehnese will have the right to set up local political parties—something that is now permitted in any other Indonesian province. Also, during the coming gubernatorial election, independent candidates will be able to run.

Aceh’s administrations now needs to draw up bylaws, known as qanun, to implement the governing law. Aceh Acting Governor Mustafa Abu Bakar said that over 90 qanun would be drafted.

Some observers fear that a formal protest against the law might lead to many more months of additional political haggling, further delaying elections that were supposed to have taken place in April. Referring to demands for outside arbitration, Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group told the Financial Times: “There is no way the Indonesian government is going to countenance someone on the outside interfering with Indonesian legislation.”

M. Taufiqurrahman, “Aceh Bill Passed Despite Opposition,” Jakarta Post, 18 July 2006.
Jane Perlez, “Aceh Says Indonesia Law Falls Far Short on autonomy,” International Herald Tribune, 12 July 2006,
Nani Afrida, “General Strike Mars Aceh Law’s Enactment,” Jakarta Post, 12 July 2006.
“Protesters against autonomy law paralyze Aceh,” Taipei Times, 12 July 2006.
Shawn Donnan, “"Jakarta Set to Give Aceh More Autonomy,” Financial Times, 11 July 2006.
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M. Taufiqurrahman, “Fresh Deal Divides Aceh Oil and Gas Management,” Jakarta Post, 8 July 2006.