Why Indonesians Distrust The U.S.
Why Indonesians Distrust The U.S.
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Op-Ed / Asia

Why Indonesians Distrust The U.S.

Indonesians are not happy with the war against terrorism, despite the success of their police in fighting it, primarily because they don't trust the United States government and don't want to be part of a U.S.-led campaign.

The distrust of the U.S. is not just a result of the Bush administration's foreign policy in the Middle East, though that is part of it. "The U.S. has demonstrated a double standard in responding to terrorism in the Israel-Palestine conflict," said an October 22 editorial in Kompas, Jakarta's leading newspaper, "and there's no question that it generally associates terror with Islam." But many Indonesians also think that for all the talk about partnership and cooperation in the "war," the U.S. just takes without giving anything back. Its refusal thus far to grant Indonesian police access to detained Jemaah Islamiah leader Riduan Isamuddin, or Hambali, is one example. (During his fleeting visit to Bali, President George W. Bush promised access at some indeterminate future date, but that is not good enough.)

There's also the perception that Indonesians can't win -- no matter how many terrorists they arrest, the U.S. is still going to punish them for human-rights violations of the past or find some other excuse for not giving them credit. "In terms of respect for human rights and respect for national sovereignty," the Kompas editorial asked, "isn't the attitude of the U.S. towards Iraq worse than Indonesian policy towards East Timor?"

Many Indonesians believe that the U.S. focus on terrorism is pushing everything else off the agenda. Another leading Jakarta newspaper, Koran Tempo, carried an editorial on the eve of Bush's visit, urging Indonesian religious leaders who were going to meet the president to tell him that the country had other pressing needs: "We have a whole warehouse of problems: poverty, corruption, foreign debt, the credibility of our legal system and a difficult transition to democracy. These problems aren't getting enough attention because so much of our energy is being diverted to terrorism, and terrorism in the end is being encouraged by the arrogant attitude of America itself."

These strongly negative attitudes toward the U.S. colour how Indonesians in general, and politicians in particular, see Jemaah Islamiah. The home-grown terrorist organization believed responsible for the Bali and Marriott bombings, and perhaps the recent shootings in Poso in central Sulawesi as well, has not been banned, and many members of the political elite remain unwilling to acknowledge its existence.

One public reason is that the term jemaah islamiah is a generic term meaning "Islamic community," and that applying it to a terrorist organization is offensive to many Muslims. There is also a concern across the Muslim community that one consequence of banning JI could be an assault on pesantrens, Indonesia's Muslim boarding schools, simply because of the role a tiny handful of these have played in JI recruitment.

But another key reason why mainstream Muslim leaders and politicians have difficulty admitting in public that JI is a terrorist organization is because of a widespread view that the U.S. is the real terrorist, and nothing JI has done compares with the devastation that "America and its lackeys" have inflicted on the Muslim world. Many moderates don't condone the indiscriminate killing of civilians, but they explain it, with some sympathy, as the tactic of groups that see themselves as fighting terror, not perpetrating it. Suicide bombs, whether in Tel Aviv or Jakarta, are the weapon of the weak, they say, against an infinitely stronger foe.

No amount of U.S. public diplomacy or new assistance is going to change the deep antipathy in Indonesia towards American policies in the Middle East. Stepping up aid for Indonesian education, for example, is a desirable aim in itself, but it will not reduce unease about U.S. motives. Indeed, to the extent that new assistance is linked to the war on terrorism, that unease is likely to grow.

What to do? The U.S. should ensure quick access to Hambali and assist Indonesian police as necessary with the gathering of evidence that will allow him to be tried in an Indonesian court. However weak the legal system, the trials of terror suspects thus far have been speedy, fair and transparent, which is more than can be said of the U.S. But Indonesia also needs a few courageous politicians willing to say that whatever people think of the war on terrorism and U.S. policies, there's a serious problem at home that needs more attention -- and the name of that problem is Jemaah Islamiah. Despite the efforts of the police, the public still needs convincing, and Indonesians, not Americans, are the only ones who can make the case.

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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