Papua Shrouded by Misperception
Papua Shrouded by Misperception
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Op-Ed / Asia

Papua Shrouded by Misperception

The crisis with Indonesia over Papuan asylum seekers is over for now, but the core problem hasn’t gone away. Many Australians continue to see Indonesia as a giant jackboot crushing valiant Papuan freedom fighters; many Indonesians continue to see Australia as the secret patron of Papuan separatists. In the midst of these suspicions, some important truths get lost.

Papua today is governed by Papuans

The area that politically correct Australians call West Papua is split into two provinces, Papua and West Irian Jaya. Both have indigenous governors, directly elected last March in reasonably fair elections with high turnouts. At the next administrative level down, there are now 29 regencies or municipalities, every one of which is headed by a Papuan. These officials are not puppets: they have real authority and real access to resources, indeed, sometimes too much. One common complaint now is not that Jakarta exercises too much control but too little, and shows no inclination to exert any oversight over absentee or corrupt local executives. Former president Soeharto did a miserable job of providing basic services outside urban areas, but Papuanisation of local government has produced its own set of problems, highlighting the woeful lack of skilled civil servants and the pull of ethnic and tribal loyalties.

Papua is awash in cash

The annual budget for all of Papua for fiscal year 2006 is 4 trillion rupiah (about $578 million, far more than the annual budget of East Timor) for a population of about 2.3 million. (Non-Papuan migrants constitute about 35 per cent of that total, according to UN figures.) All this money, much of it made possible by a 2001 law on special autonomy, has made Papua one of the wealthiest provinces per capita in Indonesia, yet its people remain the poorest, with close to half living below the poverty line. Obviously something is very wrong, but it’s not clear independence would fix it. The problem isn’t that Jakarta’s hoarding the money; it’s that there’s no capacity to introduce development programs that work, or to monitor local government spending.


It’s probably true that most Papuans, if asked, would favour independence, as an alternative to what they have now: poverty, disease and condescension, sometimes bordering on outright racism from many of the non-Papuans they encounter, particularly in the security forces. But independence is as much the idea of instant prosperity and freedom from abuse as it is the creation of a separate state, and there is little to suggest that either the small guerilla movement, the OPM, or the radical proindependence student movement responsible for recent protests in Jayapura, the Papuan capital, represent the Papuan people. The challenge for Indonesia is to allow a genuinely representative body to emerge that can articulate aspirations and grievances, and ensure that both will be heard in Jakarta.

The Indonesian military is not genocidal

The Indonesian armed forces have a largely deserved reputation for abuse and rapaciousness in Papua, but over the last five years, serious human rights violations have become more infrequent and usually in response to the use of violence by others. The real problem is not so much widespread killing and disappearances but chronic, low-level extortion and humiliation that could be addressed by better training, fewer troops, greater reliance on locally recruited civilian police, and attention by the Yudhoyono government to the lack of military accountability. Not only do many Australians seem to see the Indonesian army as evil incarnate and incapable of change, but, in rooting for the underdog, they also tend to see the OPM as credible and somehow pure. It’s not: the OPM is no more a reliable source than the military in terms of reporting on incidents, often less, and its members are no angels they have also engaged in hostage taking and other attacks on civilians.

Indonesians have got it wrong, too. Those who blame independence activities on Australian incitement have made no effort to understand the source or extent of Papuan resentment, and the malfeasance of every Indonesian administration since the Dutch handed over responsibility in 1963. Yudhoyono has promised much and thus far delivered little. It remains to be seen whether his government, and the two newly elected Papuan governors, with significant resources at their disposal, can turn things around.

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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