Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Briefing 8 / Asia

The Megawati Presidency

Megawati Soekarnoputri, eldest daughter of Indonesia's founding president, Soekarno, was sworn in as president on 23 July 2001 after the dismissal of her predecessor, President Abdurrahman Wahid. The new government faces daunting challenges in almost every field.

I. Overview

Megawati Soekarnoputri, eldest daughter of Indonesia’s founding president, Soekarno, was sworn in as president on 23 July 2001 after the dismissal of her predecessor, President Abdurrahman Wahid. The new government faces daunting challenges in almost every field. The economy has yet to recover from the financial collapse of 1997-98; territorial integrity is threatened by an active insurgency in Aceh and a potential insurgency in Irian Jaya; radical decentralisation has shaken up government structures but is not working well; ethnic and religious violence is commonplace; the bureaucracy and legal system continue to be riddled with massive corruption and require extensive reform; and popular confidence in Indonesia’s fledgling democracy is fading. The overall mood continues to be pessimistic.

Although the outlook is still dim, the installation of Megawati as president was greeted with relief by the Indonesian public which had become alienated by Wahid’s erratic and ineffectual leadership. The feared social conflict and national disintegration of which Wahid had often warned did not happen and the nation more or less returned to normal after his fall.[fn]Wahid had warned that there would be a social revolution, six provinces would declare their independence and that the DPR/MPR building might be burnt down if he were deposed.Hide Footnote  However, beyond her nationalist rhetoric, Megawati had given little indication of the policy directions her government would take. Her announcement of her government’s six-point working program, on the day that she appointed her cabinet, provided only the broadest of guidelines. The six points are:

  • Maintain national unity
  • Continue reform and democratisation
  • Normalise economic life
  • Uphold law, restore security and peace, and eradicate corruption, collusion and nepotism
  • Restore Indonesia’s international credibility
  • Prepare for the 2004 general election.

Her cabinet choices, her emollient remarks to the people of Aceh and Irian Jaya, her warning that her family should avoid corruption and her statement of clear priorities are all good signals. But there are concerns that her government may prove unwilling or unable to follow through with the reforms that Indonesia needs, instead preferring incremental steps that do little to remedy the problems. Megawati now needs to move rapidly beyond symbolism to the implementation of clear policies on the economy, security and judicial reform.

Her choices for ministers have been mostly praised. She has chosen technocrats for the top economic jobs and has generally favoured policy professionals over party politicians. Her choices for two key coordinating ministers – former academic and ambassador Dorodjatun Kuntjorojakti to run the economy and General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in charge of security – have met with cautious approval. Both are sophisticated actors on the political stage in Indonesia but they face key challenges that require swift and decisive management. Dorodjatun must handle the demands of the IMF and international investors that Indonesia privatise assets taken over after the economic collapse in 1997 and overcome obstacles placed in way both by corrupt former owners and an increasingly nationalist parliament. Indonesian governments have shown skill in the past at macro economic management but what is now needed is a deft handling of micro-economic reforms.

As Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs, Bambang Yudhoyono faces a pressing situation in the rebellious province of Aceh. To defuse demands for independence, the government needs to move quickly to end human rights abuses and implement a special autonomy package. Reform of the military, including a reduction in their role in government across the archipelago and radical changes to the way it is financed, will test Yudhoyono’s credentials as not only a reformer but as a decisive manager.

While Megawati has won praise for steering clear of officials with a reputation for corruption, her delayed choice for Attorney General has injected a note of real concern. M.A. Rahman is a little known career prosecutor who has spent 35 years in the notoriously corrupt Attorney General’s Office. The appointment has signalled that Megawati may not take the robust steps against corruption that Indonesia desperately needs. It has also led to anxieties about the lingering influence of those military leaders who are determined to avoid prosecution for their role in human rights abuses in East Timor and elsewhere. Rahman was earlier responsible for a limp investigation into abuses in East Timor. He is seen as an unlikely figure to take on the corruption that in recent years has spread from the centre of power and become ubiquitous and unpredictable.

Jakarta/Brussels, 10 September 2001

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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