The Jakarta Post
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo must not consult the House of Representatives only but also — and more importantly — the public at large before signing a regulation on the involvement of the Indonesian Military (TNI) in the country’s fight against terrorism.
The House’s political support for the draft presidential regulation is pivotal as mandated by the 2018 Terrorism Law, but we cannot expect much from such a deliberation that will end up with the House rubber stamping the government’s intention to give TNI new roles and powers in countering acts of terrorism.
The ruling coalition reigns supreme in the House and with the strange amity between political parties and the military in the country so far, the draft presidential decree looks set to go unchallenged.
However smooth the political process can be, Jokowi should not turn a deaf ear to mounting criticism from civil society groups and individuals who are concerned about the danger the draft regulation may pose to democracy and the rule of law.
While the terrorism law allows the TNI to be involved in combatting terrorism, it is clear that the National Police as the institution responsible for homeland security takes the lead and coordinates countermeasures to deal with terror threats. The draft regulation arms the military with authorities that include preemptive measures through intelligence, territorial and information gathering operations.
Rights groups and activists have particularly warned the government against granting such excessive powers to the military, given the TNI’s past trajectory in human rights abuses under the guise of security operations. There is a little hope for a fair mechanism to hold soldiers accountable for possible human rights violations committed during counterterror operations as the TNI, for technical matters, is subject to the Military Court, which has helped prolong impunity.
Worse, the draft regulation loosely defines acts of terrorism the TNI can handle, which include attacks on serving and former presidents, vice presidents and their families. While the safety of those dignitaries is beyond compromise, the draft regulation fails to provide a clear framework as to when the TNI’s involvement is needed. The draft regulation, as it is, may give the military a blank check to act against enemies of the government, including critics and the opposition.
The military approach runs counter to the criminal justice mechanism the police have upheld in fighting terrorism. Despite imperfections in the police’s operations to counter terrorism, such as alleged abuses, a control mechanism is in place. The way the police through its counterterror squad Densus 88 prevents and enforces the law against acts of terror has been internationally acknowledged.
Not only will the wide-ranging authorities to be given to the military undermine the criminal justice system adopted in the country’s combat against terrorism, they may create overlap, preventing coordination between the police and military.
Operation Tinombala launched in Poso, Central Sulawesi, to crush a terrorist group led by Santoso in 2016 is living proof of the successful collaboration between the police and TNI. Indeed, with terror threats developing in scale and manifestation, the cooperation must continue.