Indonesia: Violence Erupts Again in Ambon
Indonesia: Violence Erupts Again in Ambon
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Briefing 32 / Asia

Indonesia: Violence Erupts Again in Ambon

The city of Ambon, in Maluku (Moluccas), which had been relatively quiet for two years, erupted in violence on 25 April 2004 after a small group of independence supporters held a ceremony commemorating the 54th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of the South Moluccas (Republik Maluku Selatan, RMS).

I. Overview

The city of Ambon, in Maluku (Moluccas), which had been relatively quiet for two years, erupted in violence on 25 April 2004 after a small group of independence supporters held a ceremony commemorating the 54th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of the South Moluccas (Republik Maluku Selatan, RMS).[fn]The Republic of the South Moluccas was proclaimed in 1950 by a group of Moluccans, mostly Christian but including some Muslims, who rejected Indonesian independence in favour of continued ties with the Netherlands. A bitter war with the new Indonesian army ensued, and eventually the RMS was defeated. Many of its supporters fled to the Netherlands. RMS supporters today are overwhelmingly Christian. For background to the communal conflict in Ambon, see ICG Asia Report N°10, Indonesia: Overcoming Murder and Violence in Maluku, 19 December 2000; and ICG Asia Report N°31, Indonesia: The Search for Peace in Maluku, 8 February 2002.Hide Footnote

As of 5 May, the death toll had reached 38, about two-thirds of whom were Muslim.[fn]The figures are not precise. A doctor at al-Fatah Hospital, to which most Muslim victims were taken, confirmed that as of 10 May 2004, 24 people had died and 113 had been wounded. All but three of the deaths were reportedly from gunshot wounds. On the Christian side, by the same date, according to local journalist sources, twelve had died, five from shooting and seven from machete wounds. Statistics from a Christian NGO, Yayasan Kasih Mandiri, dated 11 May 2004, list 45 dead, 23 at al-Fatah hospital, fifteen at hospitals serving Christian communities, and six others.Hide Footnote  The fact that many were killed by sniper fire has led to a widespread belief that the violence was provoked. Two churches, a Muslim high school, the office of UN humanitarian agencies, and hundreds of homes were set on fire. Close to 10,000 people have been displaced from their homes, adding to the some 20,000 displaced during earlier phases of the conflict who remain unable to return to their original dwellings.[fn]The newly displaced were all from the city of Ambon; the 20,000 figure is for Ambon island, including the city. Several observers noted that the longer term displaced, many of them unemployed youth, provide a ready pool of recruits for violence.Hide Footnote Until 5 May, the deaths and arson had been confined to Ambon city; religious and community leaders had kept many previously hard-hit communities elsewhere on the island and in the central Moluccan archipelago from exploding, a tribute to the reconciliation efforts over the last two years. But that day, gunmen killed two people on Buru island, and there have subsequently been isolated outbreaks elsewhere, although the city itself has returned to a tense calm. The longer it takes to uncover the perpetrators of this latest round of violence, the greater the danger of a new eruption.

The response of the Indonesian government at both local and national levels has been poor, from the short-sightedness of the police to the unhelpful portrayal of the violence in some quarters as Christian independence supporters against Muslim defenders of national unity. That said, the violence has been largely contained. What is needed now is a thorough, impartial, professional, and transparent investigation into the causes.

But as the Jakarta Post editorialised on 6 May, events in Ambon may be part of a larger political game. The question as the 5 July presidential elections approach is whether anyone benefits by making trouble there.[fn]"Police and Civil Society" (editorial), Jakarta Post, 6 May 2004.Hide Footnote  As usual, conspiracy theorists have been hard at work, and as usual, hard evidence is in extremely short supply.

Jakarta/Brussels, 17 May 2004

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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