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Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Briefing 138 / Asia

Indonesia: Defying the State

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono needs to act more firmly against institutions and officials that defy national court rulings or his inaction risks prolonging local conflicts.

I. Overview

Local institutions in Indonesia, empowered by decentralisation, are defying the country’s highest courts with impunity, undermining judicial authority and allowing local conflicts to fester. District councils, mayors and regional election commissions have learned that there is little cost to ignoring court rulings on electoral or religious disputes, pandering instead to local constituencies and pressure groups. Decisive leadership from the president could make a difference; instead, slow and ineffective responses from Jakarta brew more insubordination. If the regions become overconfident in their new powers and the central state continues to respond weakly, this lack of commitment to rule of law could encourage more conflict as the national political temperature rises ahead of the 2014 presidential election.

The problem of local officials defying the courts is a direct result of two steps taken by Indonesia in its post-1998 drive toward democratisation. One was its “big bang” decentralisation in 1999 that devolved political and fiscal power down to sub-provincial units: districts (kabupaten) and cities/municipalities (kota). The second was the introduction in 2005 of direct elections for local executives, including district heads (bupati) and mayors (walikota). Both were essential for the consolidation of Indonesian democracy, but the combination has made for a very powerful stratum of local authorities which feel neither beholden to the central government nor always compelled to comply with rulings from the nation’s top two courts.

The Supreme Court (Mahkamah Agung) is the court of final appeal for most civil and criminal cases; it also hears appeals on cases decided by the state administrative courts (Pengadilan Tata Usaha Negara), which rule on complaints against decisions taken by state officials or institutions. The Constitutional Court (Mahkamah Konstitusi) since 2008 has become the sole arbiter of election results that are disputed at the local level. The Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court are equals; decisions of both are final and binding. But a clear policy is missing on how those rulings should be enforced or an obvious penalty for failing to comply.

Three cases illustrate the point. In West Kotawaringin district, Central Kalimantan province, the Constitutional Court in July 2010 disqualified the winner of the district’s local election on vote-buying allegations and ruled that the defeated incumbent should get a second term. It may have been a questionable decision, but for the sake of reinforcing judicial authority, it should have been enforced. The local district council, however, saw the ruling as an intrusion by Jakarta in a local race and refused to accept it. More than two years later, the bupati who was awarded the victory by the court still cannot govern because of local resistance. In Bogor city and Bekasi district in West Java province, local officials have refused to allow the construction of churches despite court rulings that there were no grounds for sealing off the disputed building sites.

In all three cases, as tensions left unresolved by the rulings threatened to – and occasionally did – erupt into violence, the best the central government could do was to send an official to try and negotiate a compromise between contending parties and even then, Jakarta only reacted when the dispute made national headlines.

But if courts are to have any authority at all, the president, as chief executive, needs to do more than urge compromise. He has other tools at his disposal: issuing presidential decrees; withholding funds from local authorities; direct personal lobbying and making strategic use of the media. Allowing local officials to defy the courts is not just hurting the prospects of local conflict resolution. It sends the message that the power of the majority can take precedence over institutions of justice in a way that emboldens mobs, threatens minorities that feel they cannot depend on the state for protection, and ultimately undermines Indonesia’s democracy.

Jakarta/Brussels, 30 August 2012

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.