Indonesian Papua: A Local Perspective on the Conflict
Indonesian Papua: A Local Perspective on the Conflict
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Briefing 66 / Asia

Indonesian Papua: A Local Perspective on the Conflict

Most outside observers see only one dimension of conflict in Papua – the Indonesian government vs. the independence movement – but it is much more complex.

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I. Overview

Most outside observers see only one dimension of conflict in Papua – the Indonesian government vs. the independence movement – but it is much more complex. Tensions among tribal groups and between indigenous Papuans and non-Papuan settlers, as well as competition over political power and access to spoils at the district and sub-district levels, are also important. The issues vary substantially from one region to another. National and international attention has tended to focus on the northern coast and the central highlands, with relatively little on the districts in the south, which have long felt excluded from politics in the Papuan capital, Jayapura.

Boven Digoel, a district carved out of Merauke district in December 2002, is neither the centre of the provincial government nor home to any large Western investor or active pro-independence group. The key local concerns are land rights and ethnic politics. Balancing Papuans’ customary land rights with forestry and oil palm investment and managing the social tensions associated with the influx of non-Papuans are critical issues. Another local concern, though notably less of a problem after the 2005 district election, is the competition between local Muyu and Mandobo tribal elites for political power, and how that competition intersects with the politics of neighbouring Merauke, where an effort is underway to establish a new South Papua Province.

The Korean-owned firm Korindo and its Indonesian subsidiaries have been operating in the area since 1993, felling timber for plywood and, from 1997 onwards, moving into oil palm plantations for biofuel production. Although no major violence has broken out, conflicts between the company and Papuan customary land owners over access and compensation, between clans over land boundaries and within clans over compensation sharing are widespread.

Local dissatisfaction with Korindo has intersected with the independence movement in the past, including the January 2001 kidnapping of company employees by the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM). Since the local OPM commander, Willem Onde, was killed in September 2001, however, his small band of followers has essentially been inactive.

Despite the lack of any serious security threats in the district, there is a strong military and police presence, particularly since Boven Digoel split from Merauke in late 2002. Villagers, visitors and even local politicians and officials are closely monitored. The security forces do not play a significant role in protecting investors in the district; Korindo and its subsidiaries have private civilian security guards. But when problems between locals and the company emerge, it is the army and paramilitary police (Brimob), both of which have posts dotted throughout the forest concessions and plantations, that are usually called in.

Since military operations ended in the late 1990s, there have been few serious human rights violations by the security forces, though low-level harassment and intimidation are widespread. The problems that do occur tend to stem from personal and property disputes and the military’s involvement in small-scale, illegal business rather than political issues.

Some 3,700 kilometres from the national capital, with no local independent media and very few non-governmental organisations, this remote corner of Papua is paid precious little attention. But Boven Digoel merits closer examination. It shows how politics at the district level tend to pit Papuan tribal elites against each other rather than bringing them together in opposition to Jakarta. Moreover, it highlights the dangers of ethnic politics often triggered by pemekaran (administrative decentralisation) and the potential pitfalls of large-scale natural resource investment, as well as the anxiety both these generate among indigenous Papuans over the influx of non-Papuan Indonesian settlers.

This briefing is based on in-depth interviews with a wide range of Boven Digoel government and civil society representatives, local police, villagers in Tanah Merah, Getentiri and Mindipdana sub-districts, company representatives in Asiki and Jakarta and journalists and non-governmental organisations in Merauke who cover the entire southern region.

Jakarta/Brussels, 19 July 2007

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.