INDONESIA: Torture occurs repeatedly as perpetrators enjoy impunity

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on the occasion of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

Torture remains a serious problem in Indonesia, even after 18 years of police and legal reform. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has noted some fundamental problems that prevent the elimination of torture in the country: 1# Indonesia has yet to issue a national law to punish the practice of torture; 2#, torture is embedded in the culture of police investigation; 3#, the pre-trial detention mechanism under Indonesia’s Criminal Procedure (KUHAP) Code encourages the practice of torture in custody; 4# overcrowded prisons in Indonesia also contribute to the practice of torture; 5#, there is little accountability for the perpetrators of torture.

Until today, the Indonesian police are still the most frequent perpetrators to commit torture. This is linked to the fact that the police are also an agency that deals with the community the most. Aside from law enforcement, the police also oversee public order and security, issuing of driving licenses, dealing with terrorism, conducting vehicle and motorcycle safety operations. At all levels however, there is no proper oversight mechanism for the police.

It is thus not surprising that the incidents of police abuse of power is high, compared to the military, prosecutors or prison guards. One of the key abuses is torture committed to obtain confessions from suspects or even witnesses. Police investigators still consider that forced confessions will make the investigation process easier, despite this not being in line with the Indonesian Criminal Procedure Code (KUHAP). This occurs due to the lack of knowledge of the police investigators, and also the lack of effective oversight mechanism. In reality, victims of torture are mostly poor, uneducated people with little understanding about their legal rights. Despite the enactment of Law No. 16 of 2011 on Legal Aid, the law has yet to function effectively for the poor who face criminal investigation processes. The majority of torture cases involve suspects who are unable to access lawyers or public defenders. When public defenders are present, the police are unhappy, due to their lack of perspective upon the right to have legal counsel at every judicial stage.

The AHRC recently reported a case of torture of three detainees in the custody of Jakarta Metropolitan Police (Polda Metro Jaya) (AHRC-UAC-050-2017 and AHRC-UAC-049-2017 ) to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment calling for his intervention. The police tortured the detainees to force them to confess to a theft they did not commit. This case is unfortunately representative of police torture in Indonesia, where police commit multiple violations, ignore the right to legal counsel, and fabricate evidence.

There are also cases in which victims have died from police torture, and their families face difficulties in seeking justice. The problem is that the internal mechanism (ethic mechanism) and internal investigation conducted by Propam, a special unit within the police institution that investigates police abuse and violence, is not easily accessible to the public.

Apart from torture to obtain forced confessions, police are also known to torture victims for personal reasons, as in the case of Mr. Afriadi Pratama. In a love triangle between Mr. Afriadi, police officer Mr. Adil S Tambunan and Eka Boru Niraja, there was a fight between the two men in which Mr. Adil was stabbed. Mr. Afriadi tried to escape, but was arrested without a warrant, detained and tortured to death (AHRC-UAC-006-2017).

Light punishment and impunity also contribute to the bad picture of law enforcement in dealing with torture cases. Indonesian judges and prosecutors fail to impose high standards of law in prosecuting and sentencing a case of torture before the court. In the case of four police officers who tortured Mr. Suharli to death (AHRC-UAC-014-2016) for instance, while the judges recognized that the victim’s death was caused by torture, the judges were not brave enough to levy a heavier sentence to properly punish the police officers.

Lack of external oversight role

Other independent agencies, particularly the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), also failed to develop high standards of law in dealing with torture cases. In 2016, the commission received 135 torture complaints, with 120 cases committed by the police, and the remaining committed by military, prison guards and other government officers. Despite Komnas HAM having a written agreement with the police, in fact it does not contribute to ensure effective law enforcement over torture cases. In some cases, Komnas HAM merely notes that individual torture does not fall within the scope and requirement of crimes against humanity, and therefore it transfers the case to police or even military if the perpetrators are military personnel to be prosecuted before the military court.

The National Police Commission (Kompolnas) also fails to contribute to eradicating torture cases. Lack of mandate and authority is the main problem faced by the Kompolnas, because its mandate, as regulated by Presidential Decree No. 17 of 2011, only allows it to make recommendations, nothing more. The recommendations mostly go to the institutions where the perpetrators come from.

Meanwhile, the parliament, in particular the Commission III dealing with law and human rights, has yet shown its contribution and seriousness as part of an external oversight mechanism, to hold hearings with the Chief of National Police to mitigate torture and strengthen legal instruments to combat it. Despite Indonesia ratifying the International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment since 1998, the government and the parliament have failed to develop high legal standards to prosecute and punish torture.

Considering the above situation on 26 June 2017, the AHRC urges the Indonesian government to consistently implement the International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The government should develop high standards of law to prosecute and punish torture, including finishing the drafting of the New Penal Code by the Parliament, which is ongoing for the last 10 years. The government should also develop effective oversight mechanisms to ensure that all forms of torture and abuse of power conducted by state agents are punished, and that the culture of impunity is abolished.

Last but not least, the AHRC would like to congratulate the Indonesian civil society, which has been consistently working against torture for many years. Let us strengthen our work and network, and not let victims walk alone while seeking justice, because justice for torture victims is justice for all.