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Fears fuelled that military and police enjoy culture of impunity

Jakarta Globe - May 3, 2012

Bayu Marhaenjati & Markus Junianto Sihaloho – A brush between his car and a motorcycle prompted an Army captain to pull out his gun and fire it into the air before striking the biker's head in West Jakarta on Monday.

But only when the assault became a hot topic after a video of it was uploaded to YouTube did authorities begin investigating.

On Tuesday, 15 drunk police officers assaulted customers at a bar in Manado, North Sulawesi, before pointing their guns at them and trashing the establishment. While not confirming the attack, the Manado Police said they would look into the report.

The disdainful official response to the two cases, and others like them, have fuelled fears among rights activists and lawyers that police and military personnel are being allowed to act with impunity.

Those concerned point to last month's killing of two people by motorcycle gangs as they rampaged across Jakarta. Despite the killings and assaults by hundreds of gang members, believed to be from the Navy, only eight servicemen were ordered detained, and only for a few weeks.

"A lack of punishment and the very lenient sentences guarantee that military and police attacks against civilians will continue," said Hariyadi Wirawan, a political expert at the University of Indonesia, on Wednesday. "The culture of impunity among the police and military still reigns, 14 years after the collapse of the New Order era."

During the 32-year reign of Suharto, who was supported by the military establishment, extra-judicial killings against civilians were common incidents.

"Bad habits die hard. Example after example of military impunity encourages more violent conduct," said Haris Azhar of the National Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras).

Hariyadi said weak law enforcement, relatively low living standards and a culture of arrogance among many personnel let the military and police assaults continue.

"It's time for the government and military authorities to uphold the law while gradually increasing soldiers' salary. If not, it will be chaotic because they will take the law into their own hands," Hariyadi said.

Opposition legislator Eva Kusuma Sundari called for the government to improve the welfare of soldiers while moving their barracks to border areas and places far from cities.

"They have a duty to defend the country by continuing to train themselves. The state has a responsibility to guarantee their basic needs," the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) legislator said.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) said the 1997 Military Tribunal Law was undemocratic as it prohibited soldiers from being tried in civilian courts, even if the victims were civilians. It called for harsher punishments for such soldiers as a deterrent to others.