The murder of four detainees in their cells in Cebongan prison in Yogyakarta on March 23 cannot be justified by any means. The incident constitutes a serious threat to rule of law in Indonesia, especially because it occurred inside a state institution at the heart of the criminal justice system.
Army investigators have announced that 11 commandos from Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) Group 2 were behind the raid and the executions. Credit should go to the Army and to the National Police for launching probes of the case. However, the initial findings of the Army Military Police are just the beginning. The perpetrators must be tried under an independent, transparent, accountable and fair mechanism of justice. Most importantly, the homicides should be solved in a democratic process.
The Army’s report has left several questions unanswered, including a claim that the attack was “spontaneous”, which is almost impossible, given the intense communication among the commandos before and during the raid; the use of Army-issued weapons in the assault; the specific target location, Cebongan prison, which is some distance from their base in Kartasura, Central Java; and the execution of the detainees.
The Army has also given contradictory information related to the attack. On one hand, investigators said the atrocity was committed after three commandos returned from training on Mount Lawu in Karanganyar, Central Java, while eight others joined en route to the prison. On the other hand, the commander of Kopassus Group 2’s intelligence unit stated that none of his 800 troops were outside of their barracks when the incident took place.
Without further explanation, the credibility of both the Army and the National Police investigation will be at stake. Civil society groups have urged the President to set up an independent team comprising representatives of the Indonesian Military (TNI), the National Police, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), all to no avail.
In the middle of investigation, the commander of the Diponegoro Military District overseeing Central Java and Yogyakarta and the Yogyakarta Police chief were replaced. While TNI headquarters said that the replacement of its officer was a regular personnel change, the person in the street is smart enough to make the leap between the transfer and the prison attack. The general had publicly denied the involvement of TNI members in the incident just hours after it had occurred.
However, the transfer has raised eyebrows, since Kopassus Group 2 does not fall under the Diponegoro Military District. If any Army soldier had to be removed following the incident, it should be the commander of Kopassus Group 2.
The Army’s team should investigate whether the Kopassus Group 2 commander was involved or failed to control his soldiers.
Nevertheless, Kopassus chief Maj. Gen. Agus Sutomo stated his readiness to take full responsibility for the act of violence. This acceptance of responsibility is rare, especially considering that the legal process against the commandos has not even started. In a stark contrast, no senior military officer ever publicly claimed responsibility for the abduction of student and anti-government activists in 1997-1998 that allegedly involved Kopassus commandos.
The involvement of 11 commandos in the prison attack has only shown that ongoing military reforms have not reduced, let alone stopped, acts of violence perpetrated by TNI members. In other words, reforming the Indonesian Military is a pressing concern for the nation.
Further, the Cebongan case may just be the tip of the iceberg. There are potentially many acts of violence involving TNI members that have gone unreported. Only one month before Cebongan, a group of TNI members attacked a police station in Ogan Komering Ulu, South Sumatra. The civil society coalition for security sector reform has recorded more than 80 cases of violence involving the military between 2004 and 2011.
The cases cannot be deemed as individual crimes, because such incidents have repeatedly occurred. This shows a gap within the TNI system that has created interstices, either directly or indirectly, allowing some to commit violent acts. The interstices have occured because of the TNI’s flawed education system — particularly pertaining to the rule of law, a misinterpretation of esprit de corps, an entrenched New Order military culture dominated by nepotism, weak oversight of soldiers and their use of weapons, the failed restructuring of the territorial command system, the poor pay and benefits afforded to rank-and-file TNI members and a military justice system which tends to give minimum sanctions resulting in a minimal deterrence effect.
If there is a blessing in disguise following the prison attack, it should be new momentum for the President and the House of Representatives for military justice reform. It is therefore of great importance that the President issue a government regulation in lieu of law (Perppu) to revise the 1997 Military Court Laws so that the commandos can be tried in a civilian district court. While such an amendment was included on the national legislative agenda for 2004 to 2009, it was never brought for a vote.
The purpose of the Perppu is to make a clear demarcation between military and district courts. As suggested by many civil society groups, military courts should focus on military crimes, while military personnel who commit general crimes should stand trial in district court.
Revision of the military justice system is an integral part of military reform as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono himself has said. Such an amendment is mandated not only by the TNI Law No. 34/2004, but also the Constitution, which says all citizens are equal before the law.
The much-awaited completion of the military reform will not happen unless the military justice system fulfills the constitutional mandate.
Imparsial Program Director
JAKARTA POST, 11 April 2013