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Oversight Needed to Make Police Accountable
Oversight Needed to Make Police Accountable
Briefing 139 / Asia

Indonesia: Tensions Over Aceh’s Flag

A dispute over a flag in Aceh is testing the limits of autonomy, irritating Indonesia’s central government, heightening ethnic tensions, reviving a campaign for the division of the province and raising fears of violence as the 2014 national elections approach.
 

I. Overview

The decision of the Aceh provincial government to adopt the banner of the former rebel Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) as its official provincial flag is testing the limits of autonomy, irritating Jakarta, heightening ethnic and political tensions, reviving a campaign for the division of Aceh and raising fears of violence as a national election approaches in 2014.

On 25 March 2013, the provincial legislature adopted a regulation (qanun) making the GAM’s old banner the provincial flag. It was immediately signed by Governor Zaini Abdullah. The governor and deputy governor are members of Partai Aceh, the political party set up by former rebel leaders in 2008 that also controls the legislature.

The central government, seeing the flag as a separatist symbol and thus in violation of national law, immediately raised objections and asked for changes. Partai Aceh leaders, seeing the flag as a potent tool for mass mobilisation in 2014, have refused, arguing that it cannot be a separatist symbol if GAM explicitly recognised Indonesian sovereignty as part of the Helsinki peace agreement in 2005 that ended a nearly 30-year insurgency. Partai Aceh believes that if it remains firm, Jakarta will eventually concede, as it did in 2012 over an election dispute.

Indonesian President Yudhoyono’s government is torn. On the one hand, it does not want a fight with the GAM leaders; the 2005 peace agreement is the most important achievement of a president who, in his final term, is very much concerned about his legacy. It also is unwilling to provoke GAM too far, fearful that it will return to conflict, a fear many in Aceh discount as unwarranted but one that Partai Aceh has exploited with relish. On the other hand, it does not want to be branded as anti-nationalist as the 2014 election looms, especially as some in the security forces remain convinced that GAM has not given up the goal of independence and is using democratic means to pursue it. The president and his advisers also know that if they allow the GAM flag to fly, it will have repercussions in Papua, where dozens of pro-independence activists remain jailed for flying the “Morning Star” flag of the independence movement.

GAM leaders see little to lose by standing their ground. The flag is a hugely emotive symbol, and defying Jakarta is generally a winning stance locally. Some individual members of parliament see it as a way of regaining waning popularity for failing to deliver anything substantive to their constituencies. Also, Partai Aceh took a controversial decision to partner with Gerindra, the party of former army General Prabowo Subianto, for the 2014 election. Leaders like Muzakir Manaf, deputy governor and former commander of GAM’s armed wing, may want to use the flag issue to show they have not compromised their principles by allying with a man whose human rights record is often questioned.

Within Aceh, adoption of the GAM flag has sparked protests from non-Acehnese ethnic groups in the central highlands and south west. The GAM heartland has always been along the east coast; to highlanders like the Gayo, the flag thus represents the domination of the coastal Acehnese at their expense. The issue has revived a dormant campaign for the division of Aceh into three by the creation of two new provinces, Aceh Leuser Antara (ALA) for the central highlands and Aceh Barat Selatan (ABAS) for the south west. If GAM does not back down on the flag, support for that campaign by the intelligence services is likely to rise, and with it, the probability of increased ethnic tensions.

The options for breaking the stalemate seem to be as follows: the government concedes; GAM concedes, making slight changes to the flag by adding or removing an element; GAM agrees to limits on how or where the flag can be displayed; or the dispute is taken to the Supreme Court, thereby delaying any resolution.

In the meantime, the power of the GAM machinery in Aceh continues to grow.

Jakarta /Brussels, 7 May 2013

Op-Ed / Asia

Oversight Needed to Make Police Accountable

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe

Indonesia urgently needs a competent civilian body that can police the police and show that there are tangible consequences to refusal to enforce the law or in some cases, actively violate it.

Those with the authority to hold the police accountable, including the president, seem to lack the political will to do so; civil society groups appalled by police behavior have so far been unsuccessful in pressing for change. If Indonesian democracy is going to move forward, it is up to these groups to make a concerted effort to press the president and House of Representatives to bring a civilian oversight body into being.

The standoff with former chief detective Susno Duadji is a case in point. On April 24, West Java Police, together with a political party militia linked to a former justice minister, prevented prosecutors from taking Susno from his luxury house to prison after he lost all appeals against a bribery conviction. Susno was once head of the West Java command, one of the largest regional police units in Indonesia, and many officers there still owe their careers to him. It was clearly more important for top officers to protect the culture of patronage than to enforce the law.

This is not the first time the police have braved public scorn to protect one of their own. Last year, police blocked the anti-corruption commission from investigating the alleged corruption of Djoko Susilo, an active general who once led the lucrative traffic division. He is currently on trial after public uproar, presidential intervention and the discovery of a number of mansions under the names of his multiple wives.

Polls show high distrust of the police. Kompas newspaper last year found that 72.9 percent of respondents thought police would not touch the rich or powerful. In 2011, a survey by human rights group Imparsial revealed that 74.8 percent of those polled associated the police with corruption.

Why are the Indonesian police so tone-deaf to public opinion instead of working to build public trust?

Crisis Group analyzed this problem last year in a report titled The Deadly Cost of Poor Policing. One answer is that police see the post-1999 reforms in terms of structure, not institutional culture. The public may see reform in terms of increased competency, honesty and humanity. Those inside the institution are more focused on sustaining the new privileges, opportunities and powers that reform has brought about.

The 1999 divorce from the armed forces gave police authority over internal security after decades of playing junior partner to the army. But no thought was given to how this newly empowered force would be supervised. The 2002 police law gave it a direct reporting line to the president rather than placing it under a ministry and created a National Police Commission that ended up largely toothless because it can only provide advice to the president, rather than having powers to investigate, subpoena or censure. Since then,  attempts, including a 2007 draft of  the national security bill, to put police under the Home Affairs or Justice Ministry have hit the wall of entrenched police opposition that parliamentarians seem loathe to challenge.

Immune from external supervision that could hold wrongdoers accountable, the police can continue to distribute the increasing spoils of the reform without disruption. A reasonable livelihood is guaranteed as long as members are loyal to the internal norms. In the absence of credible performance-based reviews and an incentive structure that rewards professionalism and punishes incompetence, officers find that their promotions, educational opportunities and access to additional funds depend on relationships inside the force, especially with direct superiors. Deference trumps competence and initiative every time.

This does not mean that civil society should stop complaining about police shortcomings. Public pressure can make a difference. In October 2012, the police in Lampung failed to stop a deadly eruption of inter-ethnic violence when they should have anticipated trouble. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was slow to respond but in the face of public anger, the Lampung Police chief was forced to apologize and saw his scheduled promotion canceled.  Last month, when the Yogyakarta Police failed to protect murder suspects from being executed by soldiers in their cell, Yudhoyono again faced pressure to act, and the Yogyakarta Police chief was replaced. In both cases, the police denied that public uproar had sparked the decisions but events hinted otherwise.

Accountability must be institutionalized, however. It is insufficient to hope that media coverage and public advocacy will force a president to act or a police force effectively to control its own behavior. Indonesia must revisit the idea of a civilian oversight commission with real clout. This will require a new law, and public pressure could help bring it about. It may be the only way to ensure that reform means professionalism rather than patronage.