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Report 218 / Asia

Indonesia: The Deadly Cost of Poor Policing

Despite years of investment in community policing, the Indonesian police remain deeply distrusted by the people they are supposed to serve.

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Executive Summary

Indonesian communities are increasingly turning to violence to retaliate against the police for abuses, real or perceived. Some 40 attacks on police stations and personnel since August 2010 are clear evidence that community policing, the centrepoint of the police reform agenda, is not working; police are too quick to shoot, usually with live ammunition; and little progress has been made toward police accountability. In the absence of urgent reforms and mechanisms to address local grievances, public hostility is likely to grow. Police are supposed to be helping prevent conflict but too often they are contributing to its outbreak.

Cultural, structural, individual, financial and educational barriers within the institution hinder behavioural change. Applicants join the police to wield power and earn money, and once on the force, there are few incentives, financial or professional, to build rapport with the communities they are supposed to serve. Policy directives on community policing from 2005 and 2008 have not trickled down to the sub-district precincts (kepolisian sektor, polsek), and those field officers who are committed to building good relations have limited impact because of frequent rotations.

Community hostility is the cumulative result of police brutality; unwarranted demands for money; perceived arrogance; and lack of accountability, especially in cases of fatal shootings. Failure to investigate or punish errant officers triggers mob action, often involving arson, while community resistance to the arrest of those responsible for such violence intensifies if the police in question go free.

The problem is compounded by the staffing of precincts with poorly-trained graduates of provincial police schools who receive inadequate firearms training, let alone instruction in community policing. In many cases, local elected officials have to take on the burden of negotiating a way out of the police-community standoff because there are no available institutional mechanisms to resolve grievances.

This report looks in detail at three cases of community attacks on police stations that occurred in 2010 and 2011. All started from complaints about excessive use of force.

In Buol, Central Sulawesi, citizens destroyed police facilities and forced police families to leave town after seven men were shot dead during a mass protest against the death of a teenager in police custody. This is one of the few cases in which officers were brought to court, but only because of the high death toll and media attention. One was acquitted, two were given slap-on-the-wrist sentences, and some two dozen others faced minor disciplinary sanctions. Many questions remain unanswered.

In Kampar, Riau, residents vandalised a precinct after the arrest and beating of an innocent clan elder at a market. He was accused of illegal gambling because he was jotting numbers on a piece of paper, when in fact he was noting product prices. Trivial arrests like this frequently occur because police are rewarded for favourable crime statistics: the more arrests they make, regardless of the severity of the crime, the better they are seen to be doing their job.

In Bantaeng, South Sulawesi, villagers attacked a precinct after a deadly police raid on alleged gamblers at a wedding party that killed one. The raiders did not come from that precinct, but it was the nearest one to the dead man’s home. Police claim they opened fire because they believed anger among the wedding guests over the gambling arrests put their commander’s life in danger. In fact they seem to have shot wildly in the dark without being able to see what they were shooting at.

These incidents are emblematic of a much broader problem; the Indonesian government should stop treating them as isolated incidents. They represent a systemic failure which will continue to undermine the credibility of the police pledge to “serve and protect” the people and encourage further deadly violence unless the underlying causes of community hostility are addressed.

Jakarta/Brussels, 16 February 2012

Report 232 / Asia

Indonesia: Dynamics of Violence in Papua

The only measure likely to halt violence in Indonesia’s Papua province in the short term is a major overhaul of security policy.

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I. Overview

A spate of violence in Papua in May and June 2012 exposed the lack of a coherent government strategy to address this multidimensional conflict. Shootings of non-Papuans in the provincial capital Jayapura in June, likely involving pro-independence militants, were followed by the death of one of those militants at police hands, highlighting the political dimension of the problem. In Wamena, a rampage by soldiers after the death of a comrade shows the depth of distrust between local communities and the army, and the absence of mechanisms to deal with crises. The shooting of five Papuans by newly arrived members of a paramilitary police unit (Brigade Mobile, Brimob) in a remote gold-mining area of Paniai highlights the violence linked to Papua’s vast resource wealth and rent-seeking by the security apparatus with little oversight from Jakarta. While these events are still under investigation, they signal that unless the Yudhoyono government can address these very different aspects of the conflict, things may get worse. An overhaul of security policy would help.

Two factors are driving much of the violence: a wide range of Papuan grievances toward the Indonesian state and a security policy that seems to run directly counter to the government’s professed desire to build trust, accelerate development and ensure that a 2001 special autonomy law for Papua yields concrete benefits. To date the law has failed to produce either improvement in the lives of most Papuans or better relations with the central government. Its substance has been frequently undercut by Jakarta, although provincial lawmakers also bear responsibility for failing to enact key implementing regulations. One of the last measures to prompt accusations in Papua of Jakarta’s bad faith was the 2011 division into two of the Papuan People’s Council (Majelis Rakyat Papua, MRP), an institution set up under the law to safeguard Papuan values and culture that was supposed to be a single body, covering all of Papua. In many ways the MRP was the keystone of special autonomy but it has been plagued by problems since its much-delayed establishment; the division, with Jakarta’s active endorsement, has further reduced its effectiveness.

These problems would be hard enough to manage if Papua had functioning political institutions, but it does not. An ineffectual caretaker governor appointed in July 2011 has left the Papuan provincial government in limbo. Meanwhile, the organisation of a new election has been stymied by a provincial legislature that has focused most of its energy on blocking the former governor from running and vying in national courts with the local election commission for control over parts of the electoral process. The picture is just as grim at district level. This leaves the central government without an engaged partner in Papua, and Papuans without a formal channel for conveying concerns to Jakarta.

The role of a new policy unit – the Unit for Accelerated Development in Papua and West Papua, known by its Indonesian abbreviation of UP4B – established in September 2011, increasingly appears limited to economic affairs, where it will struggle to show visible progress in the short term. Hopes that it might play a behind-the-scenes political role in fostering dialogue on Papuan grievances are fading, as it becomes increasingly clear that dialogue means different things to different people. Efforts to hammer out some consensus on terms and objectives have been set back by the violence, as the government is reluctant to take any steps that might be perceived as making concessions under pressure.

The challenge for the government is to find a short-term strategy that can reduce violence while continuing to work out a policy that will bring long-term social, economic and political benefits and address longstanding grievances. That strategy must involve clear and visible changes in the administration, control and accountability of both the police and military. The security apparatus is not the only problem, nor are police and soldiers always the perpetrators of violence; many have been victims as well. But they have come to symbolise everything that has gone wrong with Jakarta’s handling of the Papuan conflict. It therefore follows that a change in security policy is the best hope for a “quick win” that can transform the political dynamics and halt the slide toward further violence.

Jakarta/Brussels, 9 August 2012