Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Briefing 108 / Asia

Indonesia: The Deepening Impasse in Papua

The Indonesian government needs urgently to address discontent in Papua, its easternmost region, and recognise that the root of the problem is political, not economic.


The two sentiments that define the political impasse in Papua are frustration on the part of many Papuans that “special autonomy” has meant so little, and exasperation on the part of many Indonesian government officials that Papuans are not satisfied with what they have been given. The gulf between the two might be reduced by dialogue, but any prospect of serious talks is hampered by an unwillingness of Jakarta to treat the problem as essentially a political, rather than an economic one. To move forward, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono needs personally to take the lead in recognising that autonomy means more than increased budgetary allocations or accelerated economic development. He needs to explore directly with credible Papuan leaders how political autonomy can be expanded; affirmative action policies strengthened in all sectors; and Papuan fears about in-migration addressed. Unless these three issues are tackled head on in face-to-face meetings, the impasse is unlikely to be broken and increased radicalisation is likely.

Frustration and exasperation crystallised over a decision in November 2009 by the Papuan People’s Council (Majelis Rakyat Papua, MRP), a body set up under special autonomy legislation to protect Papuan cultural values, that all candidates for elected office at the sub-provincial level had to be indigenous Papuans. The decision stemmed from fears that Melanesian Papuans were being rapidly swamped by non-Papuan Indonesians who in some towns already were a majority. As one Papuan put it, “Every day planes come in, vomiting migrants”.

The decision, known as SK14, had wide support in the Papuan community and was seen as an example of affirmative action. It was also seen as a natural extension of a provision in the autonomy law stating that the governor and deputy governor had to be indigenous Papuans. In Jakarta, however, the Home Affairs Ministry rejected the decision as discriminatory and in violation of a national law on local government.

It was not just the flat rejection that irritated the Papuans who were privy to the process, it was how it was done: without any acknowledgment of the concerns behind SK14; without any effort to understand that “special autonomy” meant something different than the blind application of national law; and without any attempt to meet them half way. Jakarta’s reaction underscored the powerlessness of the MRP and the contemptuous disdain of officials toward its attempt to assert authority.

As the anger built, advocacy groups in Jayapura saw the issue as reflecting the deeper problems of special autonomy – in Indonesian, otonomi khusus or otsus – and looked for a vehicle to express those concerns publicly. In late May, they approached the MRP about holding a semi-public consultation that would evaluate its work as the end of the members’ first five-year terms approached. MRP leaders agreed, sent out 200 invitations only days before the target date, and on 9-10 June, hosted an event billed as a Consultation of MRP and Indigenous Papuans (Musyawarah MRP dan Masyarakat Asli Papua). About three times as many people showed up as had been invited.

To the discomfiture of some MRP members, the consultation produced eleven recommendations that included a rejection of otsus, a demand for an internationally-mediated dialogue and a referendum on independence, and a recognition of Papua’s sovereignty as proclaimed on 1 December 1961. The organisers then asked the MRP to formally turn the recommendations over to the provincial parliament (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Papua, DPRP) for further action.

The MRP did so on 18 June, by which time activists from Papua’s central highlands had organised thousands of protestors for a “long march” from the MRP office to the provincial parliament to symbolically “hand back” special autonomy. They held a second mass demonstration on 8 July to pressure the parliament to hold a special session to determine how to follow up the recommendations. Several smaller street actions followed.

Non-Papuan officials from the police and military regarded not just the demonstrations but the consultation as unlawful because the MRP’s role is supposed to be cultural, not political. Local intelligence operatives were almost certainly behind a slew of crude text messages sent to religious leaders, elected officials, academics and others across Jayapura, and probably across Papua, insinuating that those involved in the protests were actually raking in large amounts of money on the side. In the view of the security forces, the protests were neither legitimate nor sincere but they allowed them to go ahead as long as they stayed peaceful.

The anger over the fate of SK14 obscured several other political developments in Papua that are taking place simultaneously. One is Governor Barnabas Suebu’s Strategic Plan for Village Development (Rencana Strategis Pembangunan Kampung, RESPEK), an initiative to get block grants to local communities that can then decide on their use within certain parameters. Few Papuan leaders in Jayapura have anything bad to say about RESPEK or anything good to say about the governor, a directly-elected Papuan, whom they see as inaccessible and focused only on his own agenda. But it is almost certainly a different story in the villages where RESPEK has had an impact, and not all its beneficiaries would see eye to eye with the protestors in Jayapura.

The second development is pemekaran or the dividing of Papua into more and more administrative units: districts, subdistricts and villages. There is supposed to be a nationwide moratorium on this fragmentation but the centrifugal impetus in Papua seems too strong to hold back. Villages are dividing up so that smaller units can get RESPEK funds; the same impetus, combined with the desire of minority ethnic groups to become dominant in their own territory, fuels the creation of new districts. Twenty local elections are being held in Papua in 2010, one of the factors that prompted SK14 in the first place. The candidates have no desire to throw away special autonomy because it underpins their chance for political and economic power. There is thus a disconnect between the urban protests on the one hand, and local elite interests and village-focused development initiatives on the other.

That said, there are also widely shared grievances, over discrimination, unfulfilled promises and past injustices. The longer Jakarta refuses to discuss them, the stronger the radical voices will become.

Jakarta/Brussels, 3 August 2010

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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