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Indonesia: Police now bigger concern than military

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6 August 2010 12:59

Greta Nabbs-Keller is writing a PhD at the Griffith Asia Institute on the impact of democratisation on Indonesia's foreign policy.

Last May, footage* of a mortally injured Papuan man apparently being taunted by Indonesian Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) personnel was leaked on the internet. The video appears to be a shocking example of a human rights incident perpetrated by the Indonesian National Police (Polri), but is also a metaphor for the wider impunity and corruption systemic in Polri.

The footage, posted one year after the death of Papuan separatist, Yawan Wayeni, shows Wayeni defiant and dying, officially from an accidental bullet wound, though it looks more like disembowelment. Brimob officers appear to stand around taunting the dying man about the stupidity of Papuan independence aspirations without proffering any urgent medical assistance or even empathy, based on the evidence of the video. Media reports claim Indonesia's Ministry of Law and Human Rights will investigate the video.

The Indonesian military (TNI) has long been the focus of human rights concerns by international NGOs and foreign governments, but the emphasis on Indonesia's civil-military relations has arguably obscured a more serious threat to Indonesia's democratic consolidation: Polri. 

TNI reform remains an ongoing process, but arguably, constitutional and legislative changes separating the police from the military and mandating TNI responsibility for external defence, combined with a general culture of reform within TNI itself, have largely been successful. This is not to say that TNI does not need further reform, but the systemic corruption and excesses within Polri, evidenced in recent years by a raft of corruption and intimidation incidents, and now the Wayeni video, are cause for real concern.

The specific concern is that Polri now acts with the same impunity as TNI did, and that the incremental scaling back of TNI's internal security functions now means that Polri's paramilitary unit, Brimob, appears to be continuing the past excesses of TNI in Papua.

The general concern is that Polri, an institution pivotal to upholding Indonesia's democratic laws, is shockingly corrupt and undermining Indonesia's democratic consolidation. This is compounded by the nexus between Polri and Indonesia's notoriously corrupt judiciary. Finally, Jakarta's determination to deal with Papua unilaterally, away from the attention of the international community, is also at risk if the government and legislature do not seriously address Polri excesses.

* Ed. note: The Interpreter has decided not to link to the footage, which is extremely distressing and graphic. Readers can search for it at their own risk.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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