INDONESIA: Torture is still big homework for Indonesia

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) supports Indonesian civil society organisations to promote the eradication of torture. The organisations consist of the Sekretariat RFP (Aliansi Masyarakat Sipil untuk Reformasi Kepolisian), the LBH Masyarakat (LBHM), the Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia (YLBHI) and the Komisi untuk Orang Hilang dan Korban Tindak Kekerasan (KontraS).

June 26 is an important moment for the international community to commemorate the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. This warning began with the formation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture [CAT]) which came into force on 26 June 1987 for all Member Countries. The enactment of the CAT is the main instrument in the struggle to prevent the practice of torture and to respect human dignity.

Indonesia is one of the Member States that has ratified the CAT through Law Number 5 of 1998, exactly 25 years ago on 28 September 1998. However, the practice of torture and cruel punishments still occurs in the law enforcement cycle in Indonesia. Based on the findings of the YLBHI and LBH Jakarta, from 2013-2022, there were at least 58 victims of torture by members of the Police, 25 of whom were victims of wrongful arrest or wrongful conviction and six who were children. From these findings, all the actors or perpetrators were members of the Police. In 2022-2023, the YLBHI and LBH recorded 46 cases of torture with a total of 294 victims. Meanwhile, during 2020-2023, there were 24 victims of extrajudicial killings in detention handled by the legal aid offices. These extrajudicial killings all occurred by means of torture, most of which were carried out by members of the Police. 

Apart from that, from the documentation carried out by the LBHM in three Detention Centres (Rutan) in the DKI Jakarta area in the January-May 2024 period, there were 35 (three women and 32 men) out of a total of 204 detainees who admitted to being tortured. As many as 15 of the 35 detainees who admitted to having experienced torture were suspected of being involved in narcotics cases, and the remaining 20 were suspected of committing general crimes (as regulated in the Criminal Code). The torture cases occurred during the Police investigation stage. This data is a small part of the darkness of the criminal justice system, especially at the Police level, which has minimal supervision and intervention from the civil society.

Meanwhile, the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) throughout the June 2023 – May 2024 period also documented 60 cases of torture and cruel punishment related practices spread across Indonesia. During this period, KontraS again noted that the Police was an institution that was consistently the dominant actor in various cases of torture which occurred with 40 cases, followed by the Indonesian National Army (Army, Navy and Air Force) with 14 events; and the Warden or Correctional Institution Officer with six cases. The increasing number of torture cases based on KontraS monitoring data from the previous year (2023) shows that the culture of violence in various State institutions is still a problem that must be resolved thoroughly. This ongoing practice is caused by the absence of an adequate legal system and legal culture to prevent and eliminate all forms of torture related practices.

The Government’s steps in ratifying the CAT were not accompanied by the establishment of more rigid regulations at the national level. In fact, to date, Indonesia has not yet ratified the Optional Protocol to the CAT which actually shows the Government’s compromised attitude and disregard for the act of torture itself. 

On the other hand, it took more than 20 years to accommodate acts of torture as a criminal offense in Law Number 1 of 2023 concerning the Criminal Code (New Criminal Code). 

Articles 529 and 530 actually contain elements of acts of torture that are almost similar to the CAT. However, the threat of punishment given to officials who commit acts of torture is not rational enough. Article 529 carries a maximum prison sentence of four years, while Article 530 is a maximum of seven years. This is very different when compared to criminal acts of abuse – where acts are carried out by ordinary civilians – with variations in prison sentences from six months to 15 years, and can even be made worse by qualifying certain actions (Articles 466 to 471 of the New Criminal Code). 

Apart from that, there are also many other power related practices that are equivalent to torture but may be excluded from these torture related Articles. One example is the death penalty which is part of a type of punishment that degrades human dignity. Based on data from the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR), as of 19 October 2023, there were at least 509 people on death row in Indonesia. The majority of the cases on death row were for narcotics, namely 351 people (69%). Apart from being a type of punishment that demeans human dignity, the waiting line phenomenon is also a form of torture that causes great psychological suffering because they continue to live in endless terror over the threat of death which could occur at any time.

Regulations in Indonesia still have a number of problems in the formal or procedural legal aspects of the criminal justice system, especially at the Police level. The freedom to carry out detention for 60 days opens up room for torture. A new torture test mechanism can be proposed after coercive measures are taken when someone has the status of a suspect or defendant. As the starting point for the operation of the criminal justice system, the Police actually has enormous authority without optimal supervision. Internal and external monitoring institutions (Propam and the National Police Commission [Kompolnas]) often become tools of impunity for perpetrators of precision related jargon. 

This condition is exacerbated by the discourse to revise Law Number 2 of 2002 concerning the Police of the Republic of Indonesia (RUU Polri), the substance of which actually expands the authority of the Police in invading human rights without clear control and supervision. Torture and cruel punishment should not be underestimated. The Government needs to take serious steps to prevent repeated acts of torture and create a law enforcement climate that relies on human rights based principles.

Based on the above, we encourage the Government and the law enforcement officials to:

  1. The Government and the House of Representative (DPR RI) must immediately ratify the Optional Protocol to the CAT;
  2. The Government and the DPR RI must immediately revise or amend the Criminal Procedure Code, specifically regarding control and testing mechanisms for the authority of law enforcement officials, as well as for the reparation for victims of acts of torture;
  3. The Government and the DPR RI must immediately stop discussing the National Police Bill which threatens democracy and human rights. The revision of the Police Law of the Republic of Indonesia should be carried out comprehensively, not carried out behind closed doors and ignoring the meaningful participation of citizens. The Bill needs to be directed at institutional and system reform that ensures that the National Police becomes a professional, transparent and accountable institution through a humanist approach, rather than strengthening the character of militarism with large powers of repression but without supervision;
  4. In order to effectively prevent the practice of torture, institutions that are the dominant perpetrators, such as the National Police, the National Military (TNI)correctional institutions and prison guards, must improve and develop preventive and anticipatory steps in order to reduce the number of torture cases in their respective institutions. These various institutions can build intensive collaboration with various external supervisory institutions to encourage public accountability;
  5. There must be an improvement in the supervision and law enforcement system that is impartial, transparent and fair to perpetrators of torture, whether in the National Police, the TNI, correctional institutions or other institutions so that there is no impunity for the perpetrators and the practice of torture does not continue to be repeated.