Moving toward a human rights-friendly police force

Moving toward a human rights-friendly police force

The Jakarta Post
Usman Hamid dan Papang Hidayat

This year, on the verge of the 63rd annual National Police Day (Hari Bhayangkara), the police have just presented the Indonesian people with a fine gift: National Police chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri just passed a decree on the Implementation of Human Rights Principles and Standards in the Discharge of Duties of the Police.

It could be a major turning point in the police's performance and paradigm, although we are still waiting to see how the police principles can trickle down to its almost 400,000 members.

We expect an attitude change toward human rights-friendly police could take years.

However, it also depends on external political factors related to policing, such as the new configuration of the parliament and the upcoming president.

It's hard to expect more progressive police reform if alleged human rights perpetrators fill these positions.

It's undeniable that Indonesian police have improved their performance and professionalism. However, this progress was shaped by simultaneous external factors after the collapse of the authoritarian Soeharto regime.

Lawmakers modified some regulations that improved the police's independence, notably the separation of the police from the military. Additionally, human rights provisions were also written into the Constitution and many laws were passed limiting the abuse of power by the police.

New institutions were also established to provide control over police officers' behavior, such as the National Police Commission, National Human Rights Commission, Ombudsman, etc. The vibrant civil society organizations also ensured important public oversight of the police reform process.

Therefore, the National Police chief's regulation is the first genuine initiative on human rights from internal police reform. This regulation is also very useful as a guideline, since most police officers are not familiar with the complicated human rights conventions ratified by Indonesian government.

The importance of this new regulation is that the police now acknowledge human rights cannot be contradicted with security or public order. They are complementary.

In fact, human rights norms can empower the police to address problematic issues such as dealing with violent groups or crowd demonstrations using communal sentiment, protecting persecuted minority groups, social conflict related to natural resource disputes, or even acts of terrorism.

We cannot deny that many human rights abuses are committed by non-state actors, and sometimes the police are hesitant to confront the influential actors.

As stated above, it's true the Indonesian police force have recently improved their performance and professionalism. Over the past year, they have showed their effort to function as a professional civil institution with some cases that deserve appreciation.

First, after years of prolonged investigations using complicated methods, the police arrested Muchdi P.R. as one of the key suspects in the murder of rights activist Munir. At the time, very few ex-military generals could be touched by law.

Second, just recently the police uncovered a huge murder conspiracy involving the now-dismissed chairman of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), an important media owner and a high-ranking police officer.

The latter, however, should be seen as a paradox in the police reform agenda. Police can be violators of human rights, but at the same time they play an essential role in the protection of human rights.

Third, the police have almost brought to a close their final pursuit of prime terrorist suspects, although combating terrorism still needs other complex measures.

However, it is also undeniable that in public perception and supported by some surveys, the Indonesian police force is still synonymous with torture, misuse of firearms, corruption and extortion, particularly among marginalized groups such as drug dealers, repeated criminal offenders and sex workers.

To make things worse, the officers who perpetrate these violations enjoy impunity because of the ineffectiveness of both the internal and external accountability mechanisms.

Amnesty International's recent report on police accountability in Indonesia only underlines the problem. The police surely have to reform their own internal accountability mechanism, but lawmakers should also establish an external mechanism that can investigate independently abuse of power perpetrated by police officers.

Existing independent commissions, with the exception of the KPK, have insufficient mandate to investigate the police's abuse of power.

The police are also being tested in areas emerging from conflicts such as Aceh and Papua.

They seem to have problems dealing with serious crimes committed by alleged military or intelligence members, who are still trying to maintain their effective control in those regions.

To guarantee that police reform is still on the right track, we also need to strengthen public oversight, including better engagement between the police and civil society groups. After more than 11 years of reform, we fortunately still have vibrant civil society groups, including NGOs and the media.

The latest police regulation on human rights was also the result of constructive engagement between the police and civil society groups, although this relation is not without problems.

Due to the fact that police can be both human rights violators and protectors, the relationship between many NGOs and the police has often been characterized by ambiguity. To establish social trust between them needs more years and experience.

However, by acting as a watchdog, the NGOs can also assist police internal reform by lauding or lambasting, depending on the situation. This engagement is inevitable, since the police are one of the closest state institutions faced by the people every day.

Both writers work for the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence(Kontras), founded by assassinated human rights activist Munir Said Thalib.