Tuesday, August 10, 2010

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Interview with Norman Voss

I am working for the Asian Human Rights Commission on the Indonesian desk.
Torture in Indonesia is carried out by the police and by the military.
A few years ago, before 2002, the police and the military were one body.
While they were later separated, the police practice is still lacking a civil and law based approach.

In Indonesia there is no law against torture and it is thus not a criminal offense. In many cases, when police torture somebody, they arrest them and beat them but no legal action is taken against this behavior. There is no strong punishment meted out to them. Because of the lack of a criminalization of the act of torture, they have not clearly violated the law. People think violence by the police this is the norm: police beat criminals because they are criminals and should be treated harshly. Often people have been tortured because they repeatedly file complaints about many forms of injustice such as complaints that both the police and the military are running businesses and that they infringe on civilian interests.

Today, we received a case of a journalist who was beaten by a military commander because he discovered that the military command was running a logging business in the forest. He wrote an article, published it in the local newspaper and as a result the military commander came and assaulted him.

What are the reasons why police use torture?

According to cases we have received, the police torture for the following reasons: to further the vested interests of others, to intimidate people, to obtain a false confession, to punish people for something they have done that others may not like. There have been people so violently tortured that they died as a result of the torture.

What do the human rights organizations do for torture victims in Indonesia?

Their options are limited. They can facilitate legal aid, and a free lawyer, if the people are poor. They can only help in filing a complaint because there is no law in the penal code to cover torture. There is not much they can do to bring the perpetrators to justice, because torture is not illegal.

Are Indonesians knowledgeable about the concept of torture?

Not very many are aware of the basic concepts. They equate torture with violence. They do not realize that torture is specifically related to officers of the State. They accept to some extent that police torture. Take an example, from local television programs, which depict police beating a citizen. This would cause outrage in other countries because it is seen as wrong. But, in Indonesia, it is not understood entirely as a wrong. Most people who are affected by torture are themselves criminals. For example, thieves: they steal, police apprehend them and they are beaten up. They don’t often complain because they are not sure that this is wrong treatment.

They may reason that because they committed a crime they should get this type of punishment. So, they do not complain. But, this is not a reasonable opinion to hold, because in fact the police are not allowed to punish. The police are only allowed to investigate under orders. Punishment should only be dispensed after a Judge decides that a person is guilty of a crime. Punishment can be imprisonment but not torture in any form.

As a staff member of the AHRC, how do you work with partner Organizations?
We are interacting with groups in Indonesia who are working on Torture. It is much easier to work in Indonesia than say compared to working in Burma .They can write articles for newspapers, they can make complaints. Many organizations are doing just that. They can lobby the parliament to change the penal code so that torture becomes a crime. They can work on changing the criminal procedure code which is the process for arresting someone and bringing them before the courts.

It should include safeguards to ensure that police cannot do what they want during the process. And there are some empowerment activities going on. There are some groups that are more strongly affected by police torture, namely drug users, prostitutes or poor incomes groups. They are easily subjected to torture .The local organization explains to them what are their rights, what they can do and should do when they are arrested. Plans are made for campaigning and organizing rallies.

What is your challenge in working for Indonesia?

Groups, such as legal aid groups are working in different local offices in the country where victims can come to them. However, in some places like Papua, police would be suspicious about their activities. There are many inter-acting agencies which intimidate by their presence. As a result, people find it difficult to talk openly about the issues or feel constrained to go to an internet café or even to talk with friends on the street about human rights issues. So, our biggest challenge is to communicate and publish effectively. It is very easy to send an email from a regional organization like ours, to update the website, to make posters, or to make phone calls.

Is there any specific law against torture in Indonesia?

There is no specific law against torture in Indonesia, but there are some laws that are related to torture such as police assault or mal treatment. Legislators and some members of parliament responded to requests for a new law against torture saying that there are already suitable laws in place. But, regarding human rights violations, there is no law in Indonesia implementing the standard of the UN Convention against Torture.

Is there anything else to add?

Lack of public awareness on the subject of torture is a big problem. At the present time, there are mostly human rights groups who are educated about torture, together with a few victims groups. They have decided to support the struggle against torture. They are freely advocating calling for reforms in the law, not to mention international pressure from UN bodies. Generally, the public does not perceive torture as the most important issue. Poverty is seen as the priority problem, corruption is seen as a priority problem but torture is not perceived as a problem personally affecting them.

The code of conduct for the police was reviewed to effect police reform. The new code of conduct strongly prohibits the use of torture. Internal police regulations also reinforce this prohibition. And if police continue to engage in torture, they would be disciplined internally or fired from their positions but with no jail time. That is much different from criminalizing torture.


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