Sebastian Strangio – Indonesian police and soldiers have carried out at least 72 extrajudicial killings over the past year, in the context of a broader narrowing of the country's political space, a local rights group claimed in a report last week.
The report, which was published by the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, or KontraS, addressed the state of human rights in Indonesia during the period between December 2021 and November 2022.
According to the KontraS report, the police were responsible for 50 of unlawful killings, with the remainder committed by military personnel.
"The widespread practice of extrajudicial killings throughout 2022 by security personnel shows that they are like wolves in sheep's clothing who are ready to pounce when there's an opportunity," KontraS researcher Rozy Brilian told reporters, according to a report by BenarNews. The article quoted Rozy as saying that most of those allegedly killed by police were under criminal investigations and at least 12 of the cases involved torture.
KontraS, a human rights organization established after the fall of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998 to investigate forced disappearances and acts of violence, publishes human rights reports each year ahead of International Human Rights Day (December 10). This year's report situated the unlawful killings in the context of a "narrowing of democratic space" and "massive violations of rights related to the basic principles of democracy" by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's administration.
While six Indonesian soldiers were arrested recently for their involvement in the deaths of four Papuans in Mimika regency in the unsettled Papua region, the report claims that the security forces still enjoy a high degree of impunity for illegal behavior.
This is a reminder of the considerable degree of continuity between Suharto's military-backed New Order, in which the security forces enjoyed political prominence and vast power, and the democratic system that was established after the regime's fall in 1998.
Far from investigating or prosecuting those responsible for past rights outrages, the Indonesian government has very often promoted them to key positions in government. In particular, KontraS pointed to the appointment of Maj. Gen. Untung Budiharto, the alleged perpetrator of enforced disappearances during the terminal crisis of the Suharto government in 1997 and 1998, as commander of the Greater Jakarta Command Area. His commander in the late 1990s? Prabowo Subianto, whom Jokowi appointed to his cabinet as minister of defense in late 2019.
Moreover, the fact that most of the unlawful killings alleged by KontraS were carried out by the members of the Indonesian National Police signals a shift of the relative balance of impunity between the two branches of the security forces since the end of the Suharto era. As the military has retreated from the "dual function" (dwifungsi) that saw it permeate many spheres of Indonesian society under the New Order, the police grew in prominence, assuming internal security responsibilities once exercised by the military. This responsibility brought it new power – and growing impunity.
The question of police impunity was cast into sharp relief in recent months by the tragedy that occurred in October at a stadium in Malang, East Java, after police shot teargas at crowds, causing a panicked rush for the exits. At least 125 people were killed in the ensuing crush.
This came shortly after the breaking of the bizarre case of Brig. Yosua Hutabarat, a junior police officer who was murdered in suspicious circumstances during a shoot-out at the Jakarta home of Inspector Gen. Ferdy Sambo, the head of internal affairs. Yosua's murder was subsequently covered up, and it was only the public's massive interest in the case that forced the police launched an investigation. Here, at least, was a case too large to sweep under the carpet.
The Kontras report can be read here: https://kontras.org/2022/12/09/catatan-hari-hak-asasi-manusia-2022-ham-dalam-jeratan-kesewenang-wenangan-kekuasaan/
[Sebastian Strangio Sebastian Strangio is Southeast Asia editor at The Diplomat.]