Tensions on Flores: Local Symptoms of National Problems
Tensions on Flores: Local Symptoms of National Problems
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Briefing 22 / Asia

Tensions on Flores: Local Symptoms of National Problems

Maumere, a town of some 40,000 people on the island of Flores in eastern Indonesia, is to all appearances the model of tranquillity, noted primarily for its poverty and Catholicism. But since July 2002, three incidents that are symptomatic of many problems facing Indonesia more generally have shaken the town.

I. Overview

Maumere, a town of some 40,000 people on the island of Flores in eastern Indonesia, is to all appearances the model of tranquillity, noted primarily for its poverty and Catholicism. But since July 2002, three incidents that are symptomatic of many problems facing Indonesia more generally have shaken the town. On 14 July, a riot erupted after a crew member of a visiting ship committed what locals considered sacrilege during a Catholic mass. The perpetrator happened to be a Protestant, but the mob marched on the local mosque, and serious violence was only narrowly averted. At the end of the month, a well-known public official with ties to the local government and army went on trial for smuggling wood. On 18 August 2002, a fight broke out between the police and military that revealed the hostility between the two agencies, the depth of local animosity towards the police; and the ongoing impact of the East Timor conflict on Flores. The July and August eruptions have left the business community, mostly ethnic Chinese, frightened and uncertain of its future, although no Chinese was targeted.

The unrest on Flores raises questions that every corner of Indonesia is facing:

  • how to reduce the influence of the military over local politics when the military’s territorial structure allows scope for extensive political and economic involvement at a very local level;
  • how to reduce predatory practices of both the military and the police;
  • how to upgrade police capacity at the local level and reduce the rationale for military involvement in quelling social and political conflict;
  • how to use the decentralisation process to strengthen local capacity to reduce the potential for conflict before it breaks out; and
  • how to prevent communal conflict elsewhere in Indonesia from worsening communal tensions locally.

Flores must additionally manage the unaddressed problem of demobilisation of troops who served in East Timor.

The incidents described in this briefing have taken place against the backdrop of a decentralisation policy that is transforming the political landscape of Indonesia. That policy, which devolves substantial economic and political authority from the central government down to the district level, has raised the stakes of local political contests, particularly for the position of bupati or district head. Maumere is the seat of Sikka district, whose bupati, Paulus Moa, has strong links to the military. His term ends in 2003, and manoeuvring to extend or replace him is already well underway.[fn]Moa came into his post in 1998 backed by the army, after having served close to twenty years in East Timor. In three different districts of East Timor – Dili, Same, and Liquisa – he held the post of district secretary, a position that was often the Indonesian operational overseer of an East Timorese bupati. Moa’s role in the 1965-66 killings in Flores has become an issue in his efforts to get re-appointed. At the time, he was the subdistrict head of Bola in Sikka district. In February-March 1966, over 100 people were killed in Bola alone, on suspicion of ties to the Indonesian Communist Party and its peasant affiliate, Barisan Tani Indonesia (Indonesian Peasant Front or BTI). Moa was reported to have been in charge of the purge, and the bodies, some beheaded, were turned over to him. A local political rival is now accusing him of failing to account for who was killed or to return the bodies to the families. One reason Moa left Flores shortly thereafter, according to a Maumere resident, was that he had become so unpopular after the killings that no one wanted him around. He served in what is now Papua before proceeding to East Timor.Hide Footnote  This could well exacerbate existing military-police rivalry, lead to new promises to the military of economic returns from projects licensed by the central government, or give different parties an incentive to play on existing frictions.

Decentralisation has also resulted in a process of administrative fragmentation known as pemekaran, literally “blossoming”, by which new and smaller provinces and districts are carved out of larger ones, supposedly based on criteria set by the Ministry of Home Affairs but often based on how much those in favour of the new units are able to pay in bribes[fn]The architects of the decentralisation policy chose the district, rather than the larger unit of the province, as the focus of devolution efforts in part because there was concern that devolving major economic power to the provinces could encourage separatism in resource-rich areas. There are currently 30 provinces in Indonesia and over 360 districts, and applications to the Minister of Home Affairs for a further sixteen provinces and 71 districts are pending. The two laws that form the basis of the decentralisation program, Laws 22 and 25, contain major ambiguities, and it is not always clear where the powers of the district leave off and the powers of the province begin. But because the laws allow the district to retain substantial percentages of locally-generated revenue, local officials have a strong economic incentive to create new districts. The incentive for forming new provinces is less clear, but it appears to be a combination of historical, cultural, and political factors, including the ability to influence central government policy.Hide Footnote .

A campaign is underway to make the island of Flores, together with the nearby island of Lembata, a separate province that would be carved out of the province of Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT). There are strong arguments for and against. Administrative services would be within easier reach. The provincial capital of NTT is Kupang, in West Timor; if Flores became a province in its own right, the town of Maumere would be a strong contender to become the capital. This would facilitate local recruitment of police, for example, since at present, anyone wishing to take the recruitment exam has to travel to Kupang. (Until recently, the exam was only held in Denpasar, Bali, with the result that many of the police in Flores are Balinese.)

Land values in Maumere would likely skyrocket, benefiting the local elite but also perhaps generating more land speculation and disputes. More trade would be directed to Makassar, in South Sulawesi, instead of Kupang.[fn]As long as Flores is part of NTT, it is required by provincial decree to buy certain goods, such as cement, from Kupang, as a way of protecting provincial industries. Makassar-produced cement is of much higher quality; the leading company is Basowa Cement, owned by Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Jusuf Kalla.Hide Footnote The Maumere-Makassar route makes far more geographic and economic sense, but it could result in an increase in migration to Flores by ethnic Bugis traders and a heightening of communal tensions. Establishing the province of Flores could also lead to an increased military presence, for reasons discussed below.

The problems that produced the July and August outbreaks in Maumere are unlikely to be solved at a local level alone, in part because most of the parties are tainted. Members of the Catholic clergy in Flores are growing weary of being called on to prevent conflict and are in any case concerned that their ability to do so is waning.[fn]ICG interview, Maumere, 29 August 2002.Hide Footnote  The communal tensions on Flores, and in particular the suspicions of the Catholic majority about the intentions of the tiny Muslim minority, have less to do with reality on the ground and much more with national developments as played out in the print and broadcast media. “If Laskar Jihad [a militant Muslim militia now operating in several conflict areas] comes to Flores, we’re ready for them”, one parishioner told a local priest grimly.[fn]ICG interview, Maumere, 27 August 2002.Hide Footnote

All this underscores the fact that the problem of managing conflict in Indonesia is not simply one of crafting better policies for Aceh, Maluku, Poso, Papua and other hotspots. The potential for violence exists throughout much of the country. The solutions go back in many cases to police and military reform.[fn]ICG Asia Report N°9, Indonesia: Keeping the Military Under Control, 5 September 2000, and ICG Asia Report N°13, Indonesia: National Police Reform, 20 February 2001.Hide Footnote  An analysis of the three incidents in Flores is followed by a concluding section drawing together some of the wider lessons to be learned from them.

Jakarta/Brussels, 10 October 2002

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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