Communal Violence in Indonesia: Lessons From Kalimantan
Communal Violence in Indonesia: Lessons From Kalimantan
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Report 19 / Asia

Communal Violence in Indonesia: Lessons From Kalimantan

Long-simmering tensions between indigenous Dayaks and immigrant Madurese suddenly exploded in the town of Sampit, Central Kalimantan, in the middle of February 2001.

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Executive Summary

Long-simmering tensions between indigenous Dayaks and immigrant Madurese suddenly exploded in the town of Sampit, Central Kalimantan, in the middle of February 2001. Within days, isolated killings perpetrated by both sides had developed into a one-sided massacre of Madurese by enraged Dayaks. In the following weeks the killings spread to other areas in the province and by early April almost the entire Madurese population had fled the province. The massacre of about 500 – and possibly many more - Madurese by Dayaks and the flight of virtually the entire Madurese community closely resembled two similar events in the Sambas district in the northern part of West Kalimantan in 1996-7 and in 1999 and highlighted the danger of violence spreading to West and East Kalimantan

The violence in Central Kalimantan followed several decades of dislocation of the Dayak community - which makes up more than half of the province's population. The demographic composition of the province has been transformed, especially during the last two decades, by the Soeharto government's transmigration program and the influx of so-called 'spontaneous' migrants from other provinces seeking economic opportunities. Dayak society was also disturbed by the Soeharto regime's handing out of vast parcels of Kalimantan's forests to logging companies, many of which were connected to members of the Soeharto family, his cronies or the military, with the result that many forest-dwelling Dayaks were driven from their traditional habitat. A 1979 law providing for uniform structures of local government throughout Indonesia had the effect of undermining the authority of traditional village leaders and the cohesion of Dayak communities. Overshadowing this dislocation was a widespread feeling among Dayaks that they were often looked down on by other communities as 'backward' and 'uncivilized'.

The dislocation experienced by Dayaks, however, does not fully explain the violence of February and March. If the massacres had been primarily a response to rapid demographic change or the destruction of the forests, it could have been expected that Dayak anger would have been directed against all the migrant communities. But the violence was focused entirely on the Madurese and was eventually turned into a campaign to drive them out of the province. The Madurese community was not only small compared to the Dayaks but was also outnumbered by other migrant groups, especially the Javanese and Banjarese. Why were the Madurese in Central Kalimantan - like the Madurese in West Kalimantan several years earlier - the sole target? How would the 'ethnic cleansing' of the Madurese benefit the Dayak community? Why were other migrant communities untouched?

There are no straightforward answers. The most popular explanations are expressed in terms of common stereotypes. Dayaks often view the Madurese as arrogant, exclusive, prone to violence and untrustworthy. Dayaks, on the other hand, have been portrayed - especially in the international press - as barbarian warriors bent on reviving their ancient headhunting traditions. As is usual in ethnic conflicts, there is no agreed explanation of how the violence began. According to the Dayak version, Dayak grievances against Madurese had been accumulating for years until Madurese attacks on Dayaks in Sampit on 18-19 February triggered the spontaneous massacre of hundreds of Madurese. On the other hand, the Madurese explanation claims that certain Dayak interests provoked small-scale clashes as a pretext for the massacre that followed. But, so far, there has been no complete explanation of the alleged motives of these Dayak interests.

On one point, however, there is substantial agreement. Almost all sides note the failure of the security forces to prevent the conflict. The police are widely blamed for the failure of their intelligence network to anticipate the violence and their inability to take firm early action to prevent its spread. By the time that the massacre had got underway the police were overwhelmed and often stood by watching Dayaks burn Madurese houses and parade around Sampit with human heads. Assigned to guarding refugees after failing to prevent the killing, many police seemed more interested in making the most of opportunities to extort money from desperate Madurese. Co-operation with the military was by no means smooth and in an extraordinary incident police and army troops actually exchanged fire at Sampit's port. Despite their poor performance in Sampit, the police and the military were nevertheless able to at least minimize - although not entirely prevent - the spread of violence to other major centres including Palangkaraya, Kualakapuas and Pangkalanbun. Their task, of course, was made easier by the fact that most Madurese had fled rather than put the police and military to the test. Nevertheless, the security forces succeeded in protecting the lives of as many as 100,000 fleeing refugees.

The Indonesian government and courts now face the classic dilemma that often arises after ethnic conflict: how can accountability be pursued without further exacerbating tensions? In principle, the rule of law should be upheld and those responsible for murder, assault and arson should be tried in the courts. The failure to convict those responsible for ethnic violence creates a sense of impunity that could encourage renewed violence at later times and in other places. It can also stand in the way of long-term reconciliation. But, aside from the inherent difficulties in finding sufficient evidence, the judicial settlement of cases of communal violence not only ignores the fundamental causes of the conflict but can in itself create new problems. The perpetrators of communal massacres are usually convinced that their actions were justified and they are often regarded as heroes in their own community. Their incarceration can then become not only an obstacle to eventual reconciliation but more immediately can trigger renewed violence. The goal should still be to uphold the law but not regardless of circumstances. In some cases, a stark question cannot be avoided: how many lives are the upholders of the law prepared to sacrifice in order to uphold the law? The law should be upheld but not at any cost. Ultimately the authorities have to make fine judgements based on local conditions. Legal measures should therefore move forward in concert with efforts to address the legitimate grievances of the Dayaks – all toward the broader goal of improving security, promoting reconciliation between the Dayak and Madurese communities and creating conditions conducive to the return of refugees.

Many of the following recommendations are concerned specifically with the ethnic violence in Central Kalimantan. Nevertheless, despite the unique circumstances of Central Kalimantan, some aspects of the province’s experience suggests lessons that are relevant for other regions in Indonesia.

Jakarta/Brussels, 27 June 2001

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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