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Indonesia: Human Rights Groups Denounce Use of Security Law

(Jan. 17, 2012) Both governmental and nongovernmental human rights organizations in Indonesia have raised questions about the way police have implemented the country's security rules. On January 10, 2012, Poengky Indarti, the director of the nongovernmental human rights group Imparsial, accused police of recently using a security regulation to justify violence against protestors in two locations: Mesuji, in the province of Lampung, and Bima, in the province of West Nusa Tenggara. Pointing to the recent use of firearms by police, resulting in several deaths, Indarti stated: “[t]he standard procedures are highly vulnerable to the use of violent measures and abuse of power,” and she also said that under these procedures police have “a blank check” on the use of firearms to restore order. (Ronna Nirmala, Security Law Gives Police “a Blank Check” for Violence, THE JAKARTA GLOBE (Jan. 11, 2012).)

The law in question is the Standard Procedures to Deal with Anarchism, or SOP No. 1/2009. It sets up a series of actions, to be taken in sequence, to deal with public disruptions: prevention; oral instruction; soft-barehanded measures; hard-barehanded measures; blunt weapons usage; and, only as a last resort, firearms.

Indonesia has a National Commission on Human Rights, Komisi Nasional Hak Asasi Manusi or Komnas HAM, operating under Law No. 39 of 1999, Concerning Human Rights. (Indonesia, Asia Pacific Forum website (2011); see also Tentang Komnas HAM [About Komnas HAM], Komnas HAM website (Oct. 13, 2010).) This Commission has said that the police did not follow these procedures in responding to demonstrators in Bima on December 24, 2011. The charge is that police used firearms without going through the prior steps outlined in the SOP. According to the Commission, despite the fact that protestors were following police directions and not offering any resistance, police in Bima used various forms of violence, including punching, kicking, and shooting, against the civilians. Several police officers and a greater number of protestors have been named as suspects in the confrontation. (Police Breached Standard Procedures in Bima: Komnas HAM, THE JAKARTA POST (Jan. 4, 2012).)

A coalition of civic groups has looked into the Bima incident and argues that, based on the police plan that included giving 500 officers firearms, placing snipers on top of nearby buildings, and having ambulances ready to go, the police intended to use violence and violate human rights prior to the confrontation with protestors. (Id.)

Taking on the broader issue of the nature of the SOP itself, Indarti has pointed out that “[t]he concept of 'anarchy' is open to many interpretations and rather subjective.” (Id.) She contrasted the Indonesian practices with United Nations' guidelines on the subject of firearms usage by police, which, she stated, indicate that such weapons should only be used “when the situation is out of control, for self-defense, or against dangerous criminals who attempt to flee justice.” (Nirmala, supra.) Indonesian police have said that the SOP was based on these U.N. guidelines. (Id.)

The U.N. guidelines state in article 9:

Law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting their authority, or to prevent his or her escape, and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives. In any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life. (Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (adopted at the Eighth U.N. Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Aug. 27-Sept. 7, 1990), Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website.)