Papua: One Simple Step to Take
Papua: One Simple Step to Take
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Op-Ed / Asia 4 minutes

Papua: One Simple Step to Take

If President Yudhoyono is looking for one simple step that could change the ugly political dynamic in Papua, he should announce that police will stop using live ammunition for crowd control.

In one stroke, he could reduce the level of violence, improve police-community relations and signal a new approach to political protests. It won’t silence the independence movement, stop the Freeport strike or resolve election disputes, but it’s a concrete change that could halt the current downward spiral.

If we look at recent incidents where police have opened fire, there isn’t a single one where use of bullets has saved lives or reduced tensions –the effect has been exactly the opposite. Papuans have ended up dead, and grievances have multiplied. This isn’t to say that the police are primarily responsible for Papua’s troubles, they’re not. But the problem of unintended deaths from bullets needlessly fired is at least fixable. More restraint in use of firearms would also be in keeping with Polri’s own Regulation 8/2009 on implementation of human rights principles and standards.

The breakup of the Third Papuan People’s Congress on 19 October is a case study in poor policing, quite apart from human rights concerns. The Congress had been announced for months; it was clearly going to support independence. Absolutely nothing was gained by surrounding the venue with 400 troops on the final day and then rounding up 300 Papuans and hauling them off by trucks to the police station. If the government was determined to make a point about outlawing independence activities, it could have quietly arrested the organisers once the Congress was over.  There was no need to forcibly break up a peaceful meeting that was concluding anyway. What was the result? More anger of Papuans toward the Indonesian state.

Because police fired warning shots into the air, they became immediate suspects when several bodies with gunshot wounds were found the next day. Police claimed that two of the men were the victims of Dani Kogoya, a Papuan thug whom they also blamed for shootings in Abepantai last August. But if police sent to the Congress had not been armed with loaded guns, they would not now be facing accusations of involvement in these deaths.

Likewise in the confrontation between police and striking Freeport workers at the Gorong-gorong bus terminal in Timika on 10 October, one worker was killed and at least five wounded when the police opened fire. Police are supposed to be using rubber bullets in such circumstances; the fatality suggests that either the bullets were live, or that the shooting was too close. (No autopsy results have been made public.) The strikers, who were trying to prevent other workers from going up to the mine, included violent elements that set fire to vehicles and beat up a plainclothes Brimob officer. Having a gun did not prevent the officer from being attacked. Worse, it was seized by members of the mob in the process, adding to the stock of official-issue firearms that find their way into illicit hands. Overall, police action only made the strikers angrier, leading them to make new demands on the company and making resolution of the labor dispute more difficult. If the police needed to disperse the crowd so that buses could leave, tear gas or water cannon would have been more appropriate.

The situation in Puncak Jaya, the mountainous district where the police chief was shot dead on 24 October, is clearly different. There, several small factions of the OPM have been repeatedly ambushing police and military with intent to kill. Under such circumstances, of course the police should carry weapons and be prepared to use them in self-defence.

Police reliance on live ammunition to bring crowds under control is not just a problem in Papua, it happens all over Indonesia – look at the case of Buol, Central Sulawesi where eight civilians died in September 2010 or Ambon last September. But deaths of unarmed civilians at police hands takes on added significance in Papua where resentment against the security forces is already so high.

Moreover, such deaths play into the hands of radicals who know that the best way to get international attention for Papua is through allegations of security force abuses. It is one reason some Papuan militants are hoping for a “second Santa Cruz”, a Papuan version of the 1991 massacre in East Timor that changed political dynamics and arguably paved the way for independence. Papuan militants want a heavy-handed response because it helps their cause.

If the President had a strategy for reaching out to Papua, banning the use of live ammunition for crowd control could be a “quick win”. But instead of strategy, we get rhetoric. SBY, at the Cabinet meeting last Thursday, instructed Coordinating Minister Djoko Suyanto to explain to Amnesty International why the government’s actions in Papua were justified and exhorted his military and police commanders to prevent excesses by their troops.

But exhortations are not going to produce change. Neither will sending this or that team, charged with reporting back to the President. The violence has produced no sense of urgency to install the personnel for UP4B, the new body set up in September to oversee Papua policy, and Gen. Bambang Darmono remains a head-in-waiting, without the mandate to initiate any programs. (In all the media coverage of Papua’s bloody October, there has been almost no mention of UP4B; if it can’t find a way to have a voice in the current crisis, it risks falling into irrelevance before it begins.)

A single step is not a substitute for a much-needed broader policy overhaul. But ending the use of bullets in dealing with unarmed protestors, demonstrators and strikers would lower deaths, lower political temperatures and show that this government can do more than just talk.

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