Indonesia: Deep Distrust in Aceh as Elections Approach
Indonesia: Deep Distrust in Aceh as Elections Approach
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Briefing 90 / Asia

Indonesia: Deep Distrust in Aceh as Elections Approach

Tensions in Aceh are high as elections approach, although they have receded somewhat from a peak in mid-February.

I. Overview

Tensions in Aceh are high as elections approach, although they have receded somewhat from a peak in mid-February. The murders of three former combatants of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM), other shootings and numerous grenade attacks over the last two months – all with unidentified per­petrators – have set the province on edge, and there remains a risk of sporadic, low-level violence before and after general elections on 9 April. Disputes over the results, with 44 parties competing for seats in district, provincial and national legislatures using a new and complicated system of voting, are also likely. There is little danger in the short term of violence escalating out of control, let alone a return to armed conflict, but the underlying causes of the tensions are not just election-related and need to be addressed if peace is to be preserved in the long term.

The crux of the problem is the mutual fear and loathing between GAM and the Indonesian military (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, TNI), based partly on perceptions carried over from the conflict and partly on actions since. The police have been relegated to a minor role, but enhancing their professional skills, such as criminal investigation – not just their community relations approach – is essential. The challenge for Acehnese civil society, the Indonesian government and donors is to put in place programs that change behaviour first, so that confidence-building measures have some foundation to build on.

Many in the TNI are convinced that GAM has not changed its goals, only its tactics, since the 2005 Helsinki agreement ended armed conflict between them. They believe that GAM still is committed to independence, despite repeated denials by the top leader­ship, and that it reneged on a commitment to dissolve itself after Partai Aceh was established. Many, both in Aceh and Jakarta, believe it continues to constitute a potential threat to the unity of the republic, parti­cularly if Partai Aceh candidates win control of key district legislatures and enough seats in the provincial parliament to have a dominant voice. GAM, for its part, sees the military as its principal opponent and encourages the perception that all attacks on its members or offices are somehow linked to the TNI, even when many over the past three years have been the result of internal friction.

The military’s fears are misplaced, despite the cam­paign rhetoric of some Partai Aceh members. The problem with many GAM members is that they are using democratic means not to push for independence, but to acquire access to spoils. This has turned an organisation that was always decentralised into a frac­tured association that, while ready to unite in the face of a serious threat, is composed of small units out for themselves. The former guerrillas, now called the Aceh Transition Committee (Komite Peralihan Aceh, KPA), still use a modified version of their old hierarchical struc­ture, but power is locally concentrated, and in some areas at the village or sub-district level, the KPA has replaced some functions of the civilian government.

Arms are not in short supply among ex-combatants, but the KPA’s power is not from weapons so much as from the implicit threat that comes from past history, its links with elected GAM officials and its own unaccountable status. Extortion continues to be ram­pant. All available evidence suggests that far from working toward independence, most KPA members are inter­es­ted more than anything else in getting their fair share of post-conflict benefits. As an organisation which seems to consider itself above the law, the KPA is a problem – but one that many countries struggling with the after-effects of an insurgency would recognise.

The solution, in addition to patience, employment and targeted civil society efforts, is better law enforce­ment. Good policing is required, not more soldiers deployed in villages, but the police in Aceh have been sin­gu­larly ineffective. Various reasons have been advanced: lack of training, insufficient numbers, family ties, eco­no­mic collusion and even fear. Donor funding has focused on human rights and community policing, but professional skills remain in extremely short supply. A new provincial police commander with a good repu­tation, appointed in late February, may be able to help, but meanwhile, the military, with its own perceptions and priorities, not to mention unmitigated contempt for the police, has moved into the vacuum and become the dominant security force.

A strong speech by President Yudhoyono in late Feb­ruary in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, was widely interpreted locally as a warning to the regional military commander to take a less hardline approach. Whether or not there is a causal link, the TNI since has gone out of its way to make examples of soldiers who violate military ethics or the law, holding a widely publicised court-martial of a subdistrict com­mander and his men for pulling up Partai Aceh flags in one case and dismissing a district military intel­li­gence officer accused of physical abuse of a Partai Aceh cadre in another. Such actions are welcome but do not erase concerns about the TNI’s non-neutral stance towards the party.

The election climate exacerbates the uneasy relation­ship among GAM/KPA, the Indonesian military and the police, but the problems are long-term. The trouble is that the depth of the challenge is being recognised just as most international donors, finished with their post-tsunami reconstruction, are pulling out of Aceh. Four years after the peace, they are needed more than ever.

Jakarta/Brussels, 23 March 2009

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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