Problems rife in Indonesia's police

Problems rife in Indonesia's police
United Press International, Asia

By Papang Hidayat, 2 March 2010

Jakarta, Indonesia — The successes of Indonesia's police were the highlight of public interest over the past year. The police were credited with stripping terrorist groups of their powers and hunting down key terrorists, including the country's most wanted terrorist, Noordin M. Top, the alleged mastermind behind terrorist actions in Indonesia in the past nine years.

But the widely praised and successful war on terrorism suddenly lost significance in the public eye as a new national controversy appeared. The Corruption Eradication Commission, or the KPK, filed a corruption case against the police after two of its commissioners were arrested. The case came to be called "the gecko versus the crocodile," referring to the relative power of the commission and the police.

The case caused a huge loss of public confidence in the police, especially the controversial testimony of a high-ranking police officer, which challenged the credibility of the police as an institution.

Actually, the real issues that shame the police as an institution are not the ones seen in media reports. They are the practice of violence and the abuse of authority. Cases of police torture, arbitrary detention, denial of civil liberty and excessive use of force, which sometimes results in death, are all documented by human rights organizations.

The police are public servants meant to protect social and public order. As an institution, the police are a de jure and de facto part of public life.

The police are in a paradoxical position, however. Their role as protectors of human rights and public security gives them the privilege of using their authority, in the context of law enforcement, to deal with criminal complaints. This includes the right to use violent means.

On the other hand, improper or excessive use of violent methods can result in human rights violations. The remedial process is vulnerable to the bias of the institution’s interests, and regulated according to its relative degree of accountability and independence.

Various international human rights instruments have addressed this paradox by adopting rules and principles to govern the use of violence by police, including a proportional principle, urgent need, legal validity and accountability.

In the Indonesian context, there is an absence of effective remedies, corrective mechanisms and accountability in providing justice, especially to victims of human rights violations.

Indonesia has ratified several international human rights instruments that require it to fulfill certain obligations. These were expected to bring about better police accountability, either through internal reform or by establishing an external and independent body to supervise the police. But that does not seem to have happened.

Three aspects of security sector reform that Indonesia needs to consider include democratic oversight, rule of law and human rights.

It is important for the police to restore internal accountability. There must be clear and measurable sanctions against human rights violations to ensure that impunity is minimized or eliminated.

Effective internal affairs divisions are important in raising the level of trust among citizens. Bureaucracy should not be able to block the effectiveness of these divisions. The police force should also open itself to complaints regarding misuse of power as well as incidents of violence by its members at the lowest levels.

Furthermore, the National Police Commission must have the mandate to conduct investigations into cases of human rights violations by the police.

A recent report by Amnesty International on the issue says there are no effective external oversight mechanisms or internal accountability in the Indonesian police force regarding abuses of power. However, both the government and non-governmental organizations have undertaken several initiatives to enhance accountability in the police force.


(Papang Hidayat heads the Research and Development Bureau of the Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence, KontraS, in Jakarta, Indonesia. He holds a Masters degree in Arts from the University of Essex, United Kingdom. KontraS provides legal defense for victims of human rights violations and deals with issues related to transitional justice and security sector reforms.)