Police abuse and impunity in Indonesia must end

The Indonesian police carry out widespread abuse with impunity against criminal suspects and poor and marginalized communities, according to a new Amnesty International report published on Wednesday.

The report, Unfinished Business: Police Accountability in Indonesia, reveals the torture and ill-treatment of criminal suspects, repeat offenders, drug users, and sex workers during arrests, interrogation and detention.

The report also details numerous cases of excessive force being used against suspects, sometimes leading to fatal shootings. These abuses are rooted in a culture of impunity and the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.

“The report shows how widespread the culture of abuse is among the Indonesian police force,” said Donna Guest, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Deputy Director. “The police’s primary role is to enforce the law and protect human rights, yet all too often many police officers behave as if they are above the law.”

The report acknowledges the changes the government of Indonesia has introduced to regulate police conduct and to introduce greater accountability in police codes and practices, but these changes have failed to stamp out cases of physical abuse and intimidation.

Amnesty International spoke to scores of victims of abuse and others including police officials, lawyers and human rights groups in Indonesia over the last two years. The organization found that drug users, repeat offenders and women including sex workers were particularly vulnerable to abuse. Many of those interviewed said police officers attempted to extract bribes from them in return for better treatment or a reduction in sentencing.

Internal disciplinary mechanisms set up by the police are unable to deal effectively with complaints about police abuse, according to the report. Victims usually do not know where to report abuses and are vulnerable to further abuse if they make a complaint directly to the police. The report also illustrates how current external police oversight bodies do not have  adequate power to bring to justice those responsible for abuse.
“At a time when the government of Indonesia and senior police figures have made the commitment to enhance trust between the police and the community, the message is not being translated into practical steps on the ground,” said Donna Guest. “Too many victims are left without access to real justice and reparations, thus fuelling a climate of mistrust towards the police.”

Amnesty International’s report called on the government of Indonesia to acknowledge publicly that police abuse is widespread and initiate prompt, impartial and effective investigations into every credible report.

The organization said that those found responsible must be brought to justice and victims granted reparations. It also said that, in order to make these changes, the government should review the internal system for submitting and processing complaints of police abuse to ensure that investigations into police misconduct are prompt, impartial and independent.

Amnesty International also called on the government to establish an independent police complaints mechanism to receive and deal with complaints from the public.