INDONESIA: New police regulations but still no criminalization of torture

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, June 26


INDONESIA: New police regulations but still no criminalization of torture

On June 25, 2009 Indonesia's new police regulations will come into effect, just one day before the UN International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture this Friday, June 26. While the new regulations are a steppingstone to the long-awaited police reforms in Indonesia, the key to end the prevalent practice of torture is to criminalize the act itself as required by international standards. However, that requirement is still lacking and this allows torture to go unpunished, even with the new regulations.

Indonesia signed the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in October 1998 but even during the last review of the countries implementation of its commitments by the UN Committee Against Torture it was found that serious shortcomings and legal gaps have not been addressed by the legislators.

However, the new police regulation refers to torture in ten different articles (article 5, 7, 10, 11, 13, 23, 24, 37, 38.2, 41) covering the prohibition of ordinary torture, the use of sexual torture in particular (article 13(a)) and even prohibits torture in cases of state of emergencies in article 41. Article 10(e) of the regulation requires that officers or personnel of the national police "refrain from instigating or tolerating any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, nor may any law enforcement official invoke superior orders or exceptional circumstances such as a state of war as a justification of torture". Article 11(b) then continues to state that the police "shall not commit (…) torture" of detainees or crime suspects, which remains a widespread phenomenon as recent cases received by the AHRC show.

The relationship between the right to fair trial and torture as part of police investigations is acknowledged in Article 37, which requires that the national police "must not" make use of torture. The document titled Regulation of the Chief of the Indonesian National Police, No. 8/2009 regarding the implementation of human rights principles and standards in the discharge of duties of the Indonesian National Police can be downloaded in a full English version here from the AHRC's Indonesia website.

While the new regulations are a key development in the country’s human rights protection, the act of torture is still not a crime. That means that police officers using torture can still not be held accountable for torture in a court of law and be punished with imprisonment, as is common in other countries and required by the convention Indonesia ratified more than 10 years ago.

In April 2009 two cases of torture lead to the death of the victims. Mr. Bayu Perdana Putra was reportedly tortured in the North Jakarta Police station and Carmadi, another victim, died during his detention at the Tegal area police on Java as a result of the torture he had to endure. In another case, Mr. Zaenal M. Latif was lucky and survived the torture he had to endure in the Cilegon police station. As so often, also in these cases the policemen did not even wear their uniforms when conducting arrests.

These cases from Java are the tip of the iceberg as most cases are not even reported due to the intimidation victims are subjected to by the perpetrators. In particular, suspects of crimes or other illegal acts receive a "punishment" by the police even before an investigation takes place and their guilt was proven before a court in a fair trial. How can this be called justice?

Torture is particularly rampant in crisis regions such as Papua were political prisoners have been reported to have repeatedly subjected to torture. But not only political prisoners suffer from police or military torture. It is mostly the ordinary public, in particular the poor, who become the first targets of security forces. In Papua, where major parts of economic and civilian life are subjected to control of the military in a power struggle against the police the, violence by security forces against civilians is systemic.

Many rights groups in Jakarta and other regions in Indonesia are planning to launch demonstrations and voice their continued demands on the coming day against torture on Friday: Make Torture a Crime! The AHRC is of the view that what Indonesia requires most is the review of its outdated Penal Code in order to make torture a crime and an end to the militarization of the remote areas of the country such as the provinces Papua and West Papua.