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Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Report 154 / Asia

Indonesia: Communal Tensions in Papua

Indonesian Papua has seen periodic clashes between pro-independence supporters and goverment forces, but conflict between Muslim and Christian communities could also erupt unless rising tensions are effectively managed.

Executive Summary

Indonesian Papua has seen periodic clashes between pro-independence supporters and goverment forces, but conflict between Muslim and Christian communities could also erupt unless rising tensions are effectively managed. Violence was narrowly averted in Mano­kwari and Kaimana in West Papua province in 2007, but bitterness remains on both sides. The key fac­tors are continuing Muslim migration from elsewhere in Indonesia; the emergence of new, exclusivist groups in both religious communities that have hardened the perception of the other as enemy; the lasting impact of the Maluku conflict; and the impact of developments outside Papua. National and local officials need to ensure that no discriminatory local regulations are enacted, and no activities by exclusivist religious organisations are supported by government funds.

The Manokwari drama, played out over more than two years, illustrates some of the changes. It started in 2005, when Christians mobilised to prevent an Islamic centre and mosque from being built on the place where German missionaries brought Christianity to Papua in the mid-nineteenth century. Muslim anger went beyond Papua; many Indonesian Muslims, newly conscious of the history of Muslim traders in the area, saw Islam as Papua’s original religion and found the rejection of the mosque intolerable. Local church leaders, seeing the reaction, believed they needed to strengthen Manokwari’s Christian identity and in 2007 drafted a regulation for the local parliament that would have infused the local goverment with Christian values and symbols and discriminated against Muslims in the process. It was never enacted but generated a furore in Muslim communities across Indonesia and increased the sense of siege on both sides. It remains to be seen how a new draft that began to be circulated in late May 2008 will be greeted.

It is not just in Manokwari, however, that the communities feel themselves under threat. Many indigenous Christians feel they are being slowly but surely swamped by Muslim migrants at a time when the central government seems to be supportive of more conservative Islamic orthodoxy, while some migrants believe they face discrimination if not expulsion in a democratic system where Christians can exercise “tyranny of the majority”. The communal divide is overlain by a political one: many Christian Papuans believe autonomy has not gone nearly far enough, while many Muslim migrants see it as a disaster and are fervent supporters of centralised rule from Jakarta.

In some areas latent tensions have been kept under control by pairing a Papuan Christian district head with a non-Papuan Muslim deputy, with political and economic spoils divided accordingly. That may work in areas like Merauke, where the migrant population has already exceeded 50 per cent, but is not a solution where the majority feels itself under threat.

Where the risk of conflict is high, indigenous Papuan Muslims, largely concentrated in the Bird’s Head region of north western Papua, can play a bridging role, particularly through a new organisation, Majelis Muslim Papua. This organisation is both firmly committed to universal Islamic values and deeply rooted in Papuan culture and traditions. They have a demonstrated capacity to cool communal tensions, working with their Christian counterparts. But the indigenous Muslim community is being divided, too, as more and more have opportunties to study Islam outside Papua and come home with ideas that are at odds with traditional practices. It would be in the interests of all concerned to support a network of state Islamic institutes in Papua that could produce a corps of indigenous religious scholars and reinforce the moderation long characteristic of Papuan Muslims.

Several mechanisms are available for dialogue among religious leaders in Papua, including the working group on religion of the Papuan People’s Council (Maje­lis Rakyat Papua, MRP), a body set up to preserve Papuan rights and traditions, but they do not necessarily have any impact at the grassroots. More effective might be programs designed to identify com­munal hotspots and work out non-religious programs that could benefit both communities.

Jakarta/Brussels, 16 June 2008

Op-Ed / Asia

Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force

Originally published in The Interpreter

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.