Violators in remote areas gain impunity: Commission

Violators in remote areas gain impunity: Commission
The Jakarta Post, 11 December 2010

By: Bagus BT Saragih

Law enforcers and military officers in regions, especially in remote areas, gain impunity for their human rights abuse due to lack of media and public exposure, a national organization and rights activists say.

The National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM) marked International Human Rights Day on Friday by releasing a year-end report that highlighted rampant torture and killing by military and police officers.

“The number of complaints we received this year against law enforcers from remote areas remains high. This is because of the lack of transparency, both by the National Police and the Indonesian Military, in imposing penalties for violators of human rights,” commission chairman Ifdhal Kasim said.

Security forces elites reportedly seemed reluctant to openly bring perpetrators to criminal court, but instead only imposed “lenient administrative sanctions”, lending impunity to soldiers and officers with violent mentalities.

The minimal media exposure at local levels also contributed to the increase in rights abuses in remote areas, Ifdhal said. “The dearth of exposure and absence of fair punishment has resulted in freedom to abuse their power.”

Among regions with high numbers of human rights abuse committed by officers included Papua, Kalimantan, Aceh, North Sumatra, Riau, and South Sulawesi, the commission reported.

“Those regions are home to lucrative mining and plantation businesses. The financial magnitude in these sectors adds to the lack of human rights awareness of local officials, which contributes to a high number of human rights violations, usually by police and military officers,” Ifdhal said.

For example, small budget allocations for the police have led to justifications for officers accepting “security jobs” from plantation or mining companies. These “side jobs” often led to conflicts with civilians and indigenous communities.

Komnas HAM also highlighted rampant violence against Ahmadiyah followers across Indonesia. “Most of the cases were reported to the police, but they did not stop the violence properly. The police seem to justify actions to burn Ahmadiyah’s houses of worship and attack its followers,” Ifdhal said.

Komnas HAM member Syafruddin Ngulma Simeulue said people frequently complained that they actually lost the feeling of safety because of the police’s presence. “It’s an irony. The police should be a guarantee of safety for the people, not the opposite,” he said.

National Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) deputy coordinator Indria Fernida recalled a torture case by military officers in Papua in October, which had drawn international attention.

Under global pressure, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono quickly responded to the revelation by ordering an open trial of the perpetrators.

A Papua-based military court, however, tried different perpetrators of a different violation; abuse much milder than the actions depicted on the infamous YouTube video. The three military soldiers, found guilty of kicking and beating 30 residents, were sentenced to five months imprisonment.

President Yudhoyono has not responded to the outcry from human rights NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch, which decried the fact that the court failed to try the perpetrators in the video showing horrific crimes against Tunaliwor Kiwo, a farmer shown in the video having his genital scorched by soldiers using burning bamboo sticks.

“We have never seen any real intention by the government to stop human rights violations, particularly those committed by [security] officials,” Indria said.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon dedicated this year’s International Human Rights Day to defenders of human rights, including civil society organizations, journalists and individuals.

“Human rights defenders share a commitment to expose wrongdoing, protect the most vulnerable and end impunity. They play a vital role in the fight against discrimination, investigate violations and help victims gain justice and support,” he said in a statement.

Indria applauded the statement, which she deemed as an “admission of the importance of civil society in promoting human rights, particularly in countries like Indonesia whose administrations are weak in promoting human rights and responding to violations.”