A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the Occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, June 26, 2011
Has the video showing military torture in Indonesia in October last year created any serious concern for torture in that country? In the video, members of the Indonesian military tortured two indigenous Papuans to obtain information about alleged separatist activities. While some of the perpetrators got a few months of imprisonment for disobeying the orders of their superior, nobody was punished for the torture committed, nor did the victims receive any compensation or medical treatment. The extreme practices shown in the video shocked the public even though numerous cases of torture had been documented by NGOs and the National Human Rights Commission for years.
Torture is frequently used by the Police and the Military to force confessions, intimidate or to obtain information. The infliction of severe pain by public officials for the above and certain other purposes is prohibited in the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (full text in English, Bahasa Indonesia). This definition of torture and its prohibition also applies to Indonesia. Experts in and outside the country have repeatedly pointed out the neglect for institutional reform that the government has shown so far to effectively end this medieval practice.
Indonesia decided to ratify the Convention in 1998 and make it thus fully applicable into its legal and institutional system. While this may have appeared as a dedicated choice towards human rights, this promise from 1998 has never been kept. After 13 years, the government and parliament have failed to take even the basic key steps to end torture. As a result, torture continues to be applied.
What are the next steps to end torture? To make torture a crime! Amending the Criminal Code to make an act as defined in the international Convention punishable by law is a minimum requirement. Instead of fulfilling this requirement the government makes reference to maltreatment articles that actually only cover some parts of the problem as well as conduct guidelines for the police, which are neither promoted nor effectively enforced within the service.
Torture can be a convenient methodology for unprofessional members of the police force or the national military to “get things done”. Obtaining confessions, intimidating protesters, threatening minorities, producing quick case reports or to increase the income through bribes. Many dedicated staff in the national police, the national police commission and other related bodies have made considerable efforts to end this practice in their institutions but to support their efforts, more needs to be done.
Moreover, many see the use of torture as a legitimate and necessary mean to deal effectively with any wrongs ranging from petty crimes like theft up to organised terrorism. “Tough crimes need tough responses”, some may respond while forgetting that punishment is not part of the role of the police and military. Punishment for crimes is to be applied after a judicial process has established the guilt of the perpetrator and may then include imprisonment or other forms of non-violent punishments. But leaving an entire justice process in the hands of a police officer cannot be further away from fair trial and a just society.
Sunday June 26, 2011 is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Indonesia has thousands of victims, probably more. Many of them have not committed any crime and the majority of them is poor or from marginalised groups. Persons undergoing serious torture often suffer from the post traumatic stress disorder syndrome, cannot sleep well, relate personally to society and are violated and broken in their heart and soul. Decades of medical research have shown how tremendous and long lasting the impact of torture for the body and mind are for the victims and often also for the perpetrator.
Justice does not need torture as the eradication of the practice proves in other countries. In fact as long as torture continues in a society, violence prevails. This practice can end if the use of torture is effectively punished and fully prohibited. To fulfil the promise Indonesia made in 1998 to the Indonesian people the Criminal Code needs to be reformed immediately. The victims of torture need our support.