Aceh’s Local Elections: The Role of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM)
Aceh’s Local Elections: The Role of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM)
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Briefing 57 / Asia

Aceh’s Local Elections: The Role of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM)

On 11 December 2006 local elections will take place in Aceh, the once war-torn region of Indonesia where ex-guerrillas are now running for office.

On 11 December 2006 local elections will take place in Aceh, the once war-torn region of Indonesia where ex-guerrillas are now running for office. The logistical challenges have been huge, particularly in registering so many people displaced by the December 2004 tsunami. But the political challenge has been even greater: how to ensure that the elections facilitate the transition of the former insurgency, the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) from an armed struggle to a political movement, thereby reinforcing its 15 August 2005 peace agreement with the Indonesian government. A rift that has emerged within the GAM leadership has complicated that transition.

That rift, which GAM spokesmen call “differences of opinion”, pits the old guard leadership that was based in Sweden throughout the conflict against younger figures who stayed in Aceh and fought. It erupted into the open in mid-2006 as the organisation sought to set political strategy and decide on candidates for the elections. In Aceh, unlike other parts of Indonesia, candidates without party affiliation are allowed, enabling GAM members to stand as independents. The old guard supported one party-backed slate for governor and deputy governor, the younger leaders an independent ticket. One of the candidates was physically attacked by his rival’s supporters on 22 November in Bireuen, Aceh. On 27 November, in what initially seemed an effort at reconciliation, GAM announced at a press conference that it would stay neutral as an organisation. In fact, the division remains deep and could affect not only these elections but GAM’s plans to build its own political party.

The split is significant because so much hangs on the December poll. For GAM itself, the elections are a test of political strength and an indication of how much work it will have to do to win the much more important 2009 elections, when seats in the provincial parliament will be at stake. Senior GAM strategists believe that if they can control that parliament, they can set the political agenda for Aceh’s future. In this sense, the December elections are a dry run, and it will not be disastrous if they lose most races, as long as they can get a respectable percentage of the vote.

For the armed forces and many Jakarta-based officials, the polls are a test of GAM’s good faith. Will GAM candidates refrain from using the separatist flag or suggesting that independence is just around the corner? Senior military officers make little effort to disguise their suspicions that GAM is exploiting the peace to rebuild and regroup and is only paying lip-service to Indonesian sovereignty. (The regional military commander wanted all GAM candidates to swear an oath of loyalty to the Indonesian state but was persuaded to drop the idea.)

For many Acehnese in former conflict areas, the elections are a gauge of whether the peace will hold. An IFES survey conducted in September-October 2006 suggested 93 per cent of Acehnese believe the elections will help secure the peace but 55 per cent are concerned about violence, whether by ex-GAM, ex-militias, government security forces or political party supporters. Before the incident in Bireuen, there were fears that the military or intelligence service would prevent a GAM victory; that GAM would use intimidation and threats; and that long-dormant militias would reemerge as goon squads for non-GAM candidates. Now there are fears of intra-GAM violence as well, although both sides insist there will be no repeat of the 22 November attack, and the first days of the formal campaign, which began on 24 November, have gone smoothly.

This briefing examines how and why the rift occurred and its possible impact on the elections. It is based on interviews conducted during repeated Crisis Group visits to Aceh in 2006.

Jakarta/Brussels, 29 November 2006

Op-Ed / Asia

Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force

My four year-old daughter recently came home from her Jakarta kindergarten with a story about a visit to the school from the head of our local police station. 'If there is a robber and he's running away, the policeman will pull out his gun, fire in the air, and if he doesn't stop then he will shoot him in the leg', she recounted breathlessly.

I have spent 25 years working in and around conflict zones, including more than a decade in Indonesia. My reaction might not have been that of the average parent. 'That', I replied, 'is a violation of Perkap Number 8.' Needless to say, my reference to Police Regulation Number 8 of 2009 regarding Implementation of Human Rights Principles and Standards in the Discharge of Duties of the Indonesian National Police was lost on her. She thought the visit was great.

I had recalled Perkap 8 when re-reading the Hansard of the recent sparring between Australian Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr and Victoria Greens Senator Richard Di Natale over the police shooting of protesters in Papua. But it is not just in Papua where questionable use of deadly force by the Indonesian National Police (INP) takes place. It happens across the country. And this was what Perkap 8 was put in place to prevent.

Article 47 of Perkap 8 says that 'the use of firearms shall be allowed only if strictly necessary to preserve human life' and 'firearms may only be used by officers: a. when facing extraordinary circumstances; b. for self defense against threat of death and/or serious injury; c. for the defense of others against threat of death and/or serious injury.' This is Indonesian law, taken from the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, and this is what should be used to assess police actions, wherever in the country they occur.

The fatal shooting on 14 June 2012 of Mako Tabuni, deputy head of the National Committee of West Papua (KNPB), in Jayapura, capital of Papua province, made Senate Estimates in 2012. The shooting of three protesters in Sorong on 30 April 2013, West Papua province, was mentioned in the testy 5 June 2013 exchanges between Senators Carr and Di Natale. You can watch it above.

In the first incident, detectives shot a suspect in the leg as he was running away and then left him to die in a hospital allegedly without making any effort to treat his wounds. In the second, police claim they were threatened by armed KNPB activists. Without more information it is difficult to judge if their response was disproportionate. Police always say they are shooting in self-defense, but it has become such a common excuse that it has started to lose its plausibility.

Cases outside Papua do not garner much attention in Australia, but lethal shootings happen all the time. On 1 September 2011 seven villagers were killed during a rowdy protest against police brutality in the Central Sulawesi district of Buol, a place so obscure even most Indonesians cannot find it on a map.

On 7 March 2013, soldiers burned down a police station in Baturaja, South Sumatra, after their off-duty comrade, First Private Heru Oktavianus, was shot dead by a police officer while speeding away from a traffic violation.

On 8 May 2013 police in Java killed six suspected terrorists in a series of raids. The police usually claim the suspects were armed and resisted arrest. But it is not always true, and many could have almost certainly been captured alive.

Ordinary criminals are shot with distressing frequency, as my daughter's visitor suggests, without any outcry at home or abroad.

Perkap 8 was signed by the then police chief Sutanto, a real reformer. It has not gotten very far. One foreign police officer working on a bilateral community policing program in a large metropolitan command told me he had once seen a copy of the Perkap on the chief's desk but suspected it had been disseminated no further.

Even when progressive regulations or orders are issued and disseminated, they are not always followed. In October 2012, the police chief of Papua, Tito Karnavian, former head of the anti-terrorism unit Detachment 88 (Densus 88), announced that he had banned police from using live ammunition when handling demonstrations in the region. This was progress and it was implemented for some demos, but the deaths in the Sorong case suggest live ammunition was used.

As Article 46 of Perkap 8 says, 'all officers must be trained in the use of power, equipment and firearms that can be used in applying force' and 'must be trained in non-violent techniques and methods.' Training almost 400,000 officers across 33 provinces is a logistical challenge, though it might be a good idea to start with elite units such as Densus 88 or personnel in the Papua provinces.

The new national head of the INP, about to be appointed, might breathe new life into two reforms already in place: implementation of Perkap 8 and Chief Sutanto's other landmark regulation on community policing, Perkap 7. The INP is a very hierarchical organisation that does follow firm orders from above. While its size makes complex reform difficult, its hierarchical nature makes implementing existing regulations with firm orders easier.

The first duty of the incoming INP chief, who reports directly to the president, will be to secure the 2014 elections. Making sure those deployed to safeguard this 'festival of democracy' are properly trained and equipped to use non-lethal force will be an important first step. After a new head of state is elected, he or she should consider issuing a directive that would see Perkap 8 properly implemented. The use of less deadly force could even be politically popular in some parts.

Outside help may also be needed, and this is where Australia comes in. A few decades back, the Victorian state police had a problem of using too much deadly force and created Project Beacon to try to rectify it. They changed the way they thought about the problem, overhauled training, and gave officers on the beat new tools, like pepper spray. Foreign assistance along these lines could help the INP improve performance and increase accountability. Crisis Group has long argued that the INP needs better orders, training, and equipment for the use of non-deadly force.

If the INP is to be more the service it aspires to be rather than the force it is, it needs to shed its military mindset, hold serious post-operation reviews after each fatal incident, and decrease reliance on shooting first and asking questions later, regardless of whether officers are following locally accepted standard procedure. When the time comes and the INP is ready to carry forward the reform of Perkap 8, Australia should be there to help.

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