Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Op-Ed / Asia

Texting for Peace

From London to Jakarta, there have been accounts of how social media have been used to help encourage violence. In some ways, this is to be expected: people often fear new technologies, so stories of this sort play to receptive audiences. But now a conflict on the margins of the international datelines has shown how helpful these new communications tools can be in waging peace in fractious communities.

Last month in the Indonesian city of Ambon, the suspicious death of a Muslim motorcycle taxi driver led to clashes between Muslims and Christians in this provincial capital and raised fears of a return to the communal fighting that wracked the region from 1999 to 2002. At one point, rumours swirled by SMS and word of mouth that a Christian child had been killed (she had not). Muslim houses were set on fire, and retaliation against Christians soon followed.

By the time it stopped, the two days of violence had left seven dead and dozens wounded. Over 150 homes, roughly split between the two communities, were burned to the ground.

What is most remarkable is not that violence re-occurred (something sadly all too common in post-conflict societies), but how it was stopped, in part, through some far-sighted networking and deft thumb work by a group calling themselves 'peace provocateurs' who worked across communities and together with local officials to calm down a volatile situation.

It was an extraordinary effort by a group of about ten people, Christian and Muslim, who decided, at enormous risk to themselves, to go into the areas where violence had erupted to seek truth and then text, upload, and share it.

Every time they heard a rumour, for example, that a church was burned down or that a mosque had been damaged, they went and took photographs of the actual site. With even provincial capitals well serviced by mobile telephone and data services, it was then not hard for them to circulate this proof on Twitter and Facebook using their mobile phones. Given that Indonesians are some of the world's most avid users of these social media, it was an inspired strategy. They sought to calm the level of violence, and it worked.

One of their leaders was Jacky Manuputty, a Protestant priest; another was Abidin Wakano, a lecturer at the State Islamic Institute. They partnered with a group of young people called 'Ambon Bergerak' and some members of the Moluccan Interfaith Institute (Lembaga Antar Iman Maluku, LAIM). The members of this core group each had some ten or fifteen contacts of their own around the city's major flashpoints. They were on the phone with each other constantly, checking out stories and sending information.

Together they identified influential 'strategic partners' in border neighbourhoods and put them in touch with one another to help coordinate the dissemination of information. They were very conscious of the impact national media could have on the way the unrest was being portrayed outside Ambon and designated one person to monitor the reporting and send clarifications as necessary to the relevant journalists. Their activities focused on collecting and verifying reports of attacks, threats, street blockades, injuries or crowds massing, and then trying to defuse the threats.

Had it not been for their messages, tweets, and posts, the violence would have been infinitely harder to bring under control.

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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