In recent years, the armed forces of key allies of Indonesia, including the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States, have sought improved ties with Indonesia’s elite military special forces, Komando Pasukan Khusus, known as Kopassus. While Kopassus was once scorned by such countries because of its long history of human rights violations, it has come to be seen as an important partner on a range of issues, particularly counterterrorism. Australia has resumed regular trainings with Kopassus, and the United Kingdom plans to commence training. US military leaders, once prohibited by Congress from allowing Kopassus personnel to join certain training programs, have had increased contact with Kopassus commanders. One justification for the intensified contact is that it would contribute to the reform of Kopassus, leading to an improved human rights record. The armed forces of countries like Thailand, South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia all have contact with Kopassus forces.
This report presents new evidence that Kopassus’ abusive activities continue with impunity. While Human Rights Watch was conducting research in the vicinity of Merauke, a town in the southeast corner of Indonesia’s Papua province, numerous residents reported Kopassus abuses. From March to May 2009, Human Rights Watch researchers conducted more than 20 interviews with victims of Kopassus abuses, their relatives, and eyewitnesses. What emerged is a picture of frequent brutality against ordinary Papuans.
Residents of the Kelapa Lima neighborhood in Merauke told us that Kopassus soldiers pick Papuans off the streets or from their homes without legal authority. The soldiers typically do not wear uniforms and have no formal role in policing, but act on their own or in response to complaints of public disturbances. Those taken back to the Kopassus barracks in town are likely to be ill-treated, including by beatings with a rubber hose or by being forced to chew very hot raw chilies. Many ethnic Papuans chew betel nut, which opens scratches in the mouth that makes chili-eating intolerable.
One former detainee of Kopassus told Human Rights Watch: “They stripped us down to just our underwear. They immediately beat us, without saying anything. They used a water hose. They beat us till we bled and had cuts. Then they asked us to go to the tennis court. They forced us to face the sun and chew chilies ... We were not allowed to spit. It was very hot.” Another victim said, “They kicked me in the chest with their boots on... an officer shouted at me, ‘You Papuans, one single Kopassus soldier can kill you like chickens.’”
The cases of abuse documented in this report do not involve politically motivated violence against suspected Papuan separatists, for which Kopassus forces have often been alleged responsible, but ordinary law and order matters, which are not in the force’s authority. Local residents say that their complaints against Kopassus soldiers go unheeded by the police. Local police have no jurisdiction over Kopassus soldiers. Local police do not refer cases to military police, being simply too afraid of retaliation to take any action. The Kopassus command structure has not made a serious effort to uphold military discipline or hold soldiers accountable for abuses.
The long history of political tensions and abuses by the Indonesian security forces in Papua have created a climate of fear in the province. The role Kopassus is playing in Merauke deepens that fear. An elderly man in Merauke told Human Rights Watch, “It happens so often, almost every week, that, finally, we consider abuse to be normal. The police are helpless. Kopassus acts like they are the policemen in Merauke.”
The cases in this report illustrate how violence thrives when a culture of impunity persists in the heart of what is supposed to be one of Indonesia’s best trained fighting units.
Detailed recommendations to the Indonesian government and concerned foreign governments are provided at the end of the report. Human Rights Watch urges the Indonesian government to conduct independent and impartial investigations into alleged human rights violations by Kopassus in Papua, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other ill-treatment, and discipline or prosecute perpetrators and responsible commanding officers as appropriate.
Human Rights Watch also calls upon the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and other concerned governments to withhold training for Kopassus personnel until serious efforts are made to investigate and hold accountable Kopassus members, regardless of rank, for past serious rights violations, including the incidents in Merauke reported here.