Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Indonesia: Police killings in Aceh must be investigated

Source: Asian Human Rights Commission

The AHRC is deeply concerned about violence against civilians during anti-terrorist operations in Aceh. On February 23, a civilian was killed and another severely injured while the police arrested four alleged terrorists. During another crackdown on March 3, a suspect was shot dead. This raises the issue of strong police and military presence in Aceh province and abuses committed by the authorities with impunity in the name of counterterrorism.

The killing of a civilian at the end of February was widely relayed by the press and NGOs. Kamaruddin, 37, was fishing with his son Suheri, 14, at the Krueng Lintang River, Jantho, Aceh Besar Regency, when the police were deployed to arrest four alleged members of regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah. According to Aceh Police Chief Insp. Gen. Aditya Warman who spoke at a news conference in Banda Aceh on Tuesday, the police opened fire on the two Jantho residents after Kamaruddin, who was carrying an air rifle, resisted an order to surrender. The father was shot dead and his son suffered gunshot wounds in the left leg. Apparently, the two victims had been mistaken for paramilitary trainees.

The police acknowledged what it called an "accident" and offered an apology and its condolences over the incident.

It must be underlined that the shootings happened in the context of anti-terrorist operations in Aceh province. The four arrested suspects – Ismet Hakiki, Zakky Rahmatullah, Yudhi Zulfahri and Masykur Rahmat – are alleged members of Islamic terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). "More than 100 officers from the Aceh Police and Brimob (Mobile Brigade) have been deployed to hunt down about 50 members of an armed group linked with JI in the Jalin Jantho area," Warman said. They were deployed after police intelligence uncovered a paramilitary training camp in the area.

Aside from the gravity of the act – the killing of an innocent civilian and the injury of a young boy – the AHRC condemns the lack of responsibility from the police. An acknowledgement and public apology are not sufficient reparations. A proper investigation should be launched and the perpetrators should be prosecuted and fairly punished. The fact that the incident took place during an anti-terror operation should not undermine its gravity. The fight against terrorism must not be used as an excuse to undermine the rule of law and provide impunity for police officers.

The 28-year-old suspect was travelling in a bus coming from the Seulawah region of Aceh Besar with two other men. When the police asked the passengers to get off the bus, the three suspects started running. The police explained that, after firing warning shots, the man in question reached into his bag and pulled out a gun. They shot him at that moment. What exactly happened is not clear. Even though this shooting is a worrying matter, the most important thing to look into is the context in which it took place. As noted by a witness in the Jakarta Globe, "This is the first time I have been caught in an ID raid since martial law ended in Aceh in 2004." The police are taking a very military approach in dealing with counter-terrorism. First, it might not be the proper way of catching scattered individuals. Then, it is certainly not the right way of cooperating with the local population, whose majority does not share the same political and ideological point of view as the few extremists."

In the clash between terrorist activities and counterterrorist measures by the state, the public often stands without hope for justice between the two sides violating their rights.

The AHRC regularly receives cases of torture, extra-judicial killings and violence by the police and the military, especially in remote provinces such as Aceh. It also regularly denounces the widespread culture of abuses and impunity in Indonesia, which was also denounced in the Amnesty International Report, Unfinished Business: Police Accountability in Indonesia, published in 2009. The AHRC regularly reports cases of police violence, some of which still have to be punished. See for example AHRC-UAC-168-2009 : No investigations have been started into the torture of an indigenous Papuan, detained in a case of mistaken identity, AHRC-UAC-152-2009 : The killing of a Papuan at a demonstration remains unpunished.

The Indonesian government expressed its will to put an end to police violence. The Regulation of the Chief of Police Number 8 of 2009 regarding Implementation of Human Rights Principles and Standards in the Discharge of Duties of the Indonesian National Police is a good example of this effort. An implementation of these regulations would signify a major improvement. However, police abuses remain common and the document and the ongoing police practice lack provisions for enforcement in particular by failing to provide disciplinary measures in cases of violations of the code.

The AHRC calls for a greater accountability from the police, whose role includes the implementation of rule of law and the protection of human rights. Those found responsible must thus be brought to justice and satisfying reparations must be granted to the victims.

The other question that has to be raised is why such incidents occurred? Warman explained that "the shootings (in Jantho) occurred because the officers were very vigilant and alert." The many cases of police misconduct, often covered up by such excuses, suggest more probable explanations such as negligence or lack of training and professionalism from the police officers. Moreover, the lack of accountability of police officers within the police force and within the state continue to encourage the abuse of office and firearms. An investigation should be conducted until the events leading to the killing of an innocent are clear to the public and the justice process.

A peace agreement has been signed in Aceh, but the strong police and military presence jeopardizes the reconciliation process. Peace will not be fully implemented until the police and military are held accountable for past and current violence against civilians.

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