Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Report 188 / Asia

Radicalisation and Dialogue in Papua

Indonesia’s easternmost province of Papua saw an upsurge in political violence in 2009, continuing into 2010.

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Executive Summary

Indonesia’s easternmost province of Papua saw an upsurge in political violence in 2009, continuing into 2010. One factor was the increased activity of militant activists from the central highlands, many of them members of the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB). They decided there was no longer any hope of achieving their main objective – a referendum on independence – through peaceful means, and led some to advocate violence and in some cases directly participate in violent acts. Their tactics are decried by many Papuans, but their message resonates widely, and the frustrations they articulate are real. A dialogue between Papuan leaders and central government officials, if carefully prepared, offers the possibility of addressing some longstanding grievances, without calling Indonesian sovereignty into question.

The KNPB had its origins in the growth of pro-independence student activism in Papua following the fall of Soeharto in 1998. As various coalitions formed and fissured, KNPB emerged as a group of mostly university-educated students and ex-students who adopted a militant left-wing ideology and saw themselves as revolutionaries, fighting the Indonesian state and the giant Freeport copper and gold mine near Timika. There were two main consequences to their increased militancy. They moved closer to their highland counterparts in the guerrilla army of the Free Papua Movement (Tentara Pembebasan Nasional/
Organisasi Papua Merdeka, TPN/OPM) and they increasingly saw that the only hope of achieving their cause lay in showing the world that Papua was in crisis – and that meant more visible manifestations of conflict.

Violence rose in 2009 in part because it was an election year, and the polls provided a focus for action. It was also because activities abroad – particularly the establishment in October 2008 of a then tiny group called International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP) – encouraged the militant activists to believe that more international support could change the political dynamics at home. Several violent incidents in the provincial capital Jayapura and the university suburb of Abepura in April, around the time of legislative elections, are directly attributable to the KNPB. Its members may also have helped spur violence in the highland district of Puncak Jaya, through communication and coordination with the local TPN/OPM commander, Goliat Tabuni.

In other areas where violence took place, the KNPB either claimed responsibility when it apparently had no direct role, as in the occupation of an airstrip in the village of Kapeso in Mamberamo Raya. The most dramatic violence in Papua over the last eight months has been the series of shootings along Freeport’s main mining road linking the towns of Timika and Tembagapura, aimed at either Freeport vehicles or those of the paramilitary police, Brimob. Many inside and outside Papua believe the security forces themselves are responsible as a way of increasing their numbers and therefore their rent-seeking opportunities in Timika. Crisis Group believes there is a stronger case to be made for the involvement of one or more TPN/OPM commands, because of statements claiming responsibility for some but not all of the attacks and various witness testimonies. But the possibility remains that multiple parties were involved, in what the Papuans refer to as “one plate, two spoons”.

The violence, combined with the activities of the KNPB, has succeeded in raising the profile of Papua both at home and abroad, and has increased interest in the possibility of dialogue between Papuan leaders and Jakarta on a range of issues aimed at resolving the conflict. The path toward dialogue is full of pitfalls, and there are potential spoilers and much distrust on both sides. Many in the central government believe that any discussion of non-economic issues such as greater autonomy or historical grievances will only fuel the push for independence and obscure the positive changes taking place. Not only has there been “Papuanisation” of local government and a commitment to accelerated development, they argue, but the police have gradually replaced the military as the front line of response to separatist activity.

Some Papuan activists believe that dialogue should only take place with international mediation and with the political endgame left open, rather than accepting autonomy and not independence as final. Even some of those who accept Indonesian sovereignty as a given believe that Jakarta has a history of promising but not delivering, and that if it does agree to dialogue, it will be as a public relations effort without any intention of changing the status quo. But the radicalisation of the KNPB is proof of the dangers of leaving political grievances to fester. Moreover, though many of the Papuan elite disagree with its tactics, the KNPB’s message resonates more widely than its small numbers would suggest.

A joint initiative of Papuan intellectuals and researchers at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia, LIPI) to outline a road map that would form the basis of a dialogue between the two sides is potentially the most fruitful option on the table to end the conflict. If it is to succeed, it will require acknowledgment that the solution for Papua is more than just economic development, though that is critically important. It will also need public backing from Indonesia’s president, Soesilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Jakarta/Brussels, 11 March 2010

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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