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UN expert finds torture largely unpunished in Indonesia

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The UN Special Rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak visited Indonesia
from 10 to 25 November. While acknowledging improvements, he said that
impunity and a lack of legal and institutional safeguards meant that
persons deprived of their liberties were extremely vulnerable to
torture and ill-treatment.
(Bangkok, 30 November 2007) Persons deprived of their liberty in Indonesia are “extremely vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment”, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak. This vulnerability flows from a “prevailing structural impunity” and the lack of legal and institutional safeguards in the country, he said. 

Nowak was speaking after carrying out a two-week visit to Indonesia from 10 to 25 November, on the invitation of the Indonesian government. He visited correctional institutions, pre-trial detention centres, police and military detention facilities in Jakarta, Papua, South Sulawesi, Bali, Yogyakarta and Central Java. He met with detainees, government officials, lawyers and NGO representatives. While the overall access he was granted was acceptable, he regretted the fact that in a number of cases he was unable to carry out private interviews with detainees, in contravention of his terms of reference. 

His key message was that perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment in Indonesia operate in an atmosphere of impunity. He noted, for example, that government officials “could not cite one instance in which a public official was sentenced by a criminal court for committing torture or ill-treatment”. He called upon the government to make torture a criminal offence without delay as a demonstration of its commitment to remedy the situation. 

The Special Rapporteur also found that there were practically no legal safeguards against torture, particularly at the pre-trial stage. He drew attention to the considerable period of police custody allowed under Indonesian law, during which many detainees have no or very restricted access to courts. He recommended that the government reduce the time limits for police custody and introduce effective habeas corpus by providing access to courts, lawyers and independent medical examinations to all persons in detention. The creation of an institutional framework at the national level to prevent torture was also called for, which would include a monitoring body and an accessible and confidential complaints mechanism.

Nowak was of the opinion that detainees were more vulnerable to abuse while in police custody than in prison. Torture and ill-treatment appeared to be less pervasive in pre-trial detention houses and prisons, though the Special Rapporteur had received credible reports of corporal punishment in some such institutions. 
Conditions of detention were relatively good in many of the prisons Nowak visited, though some were “seriously overcrowded”. Conditions were generally worse in police custody facilities, often involving limited ventilation, no natural daylight and no possibility to exercise. The high number of deaths in places of detention was highlighted as a major cause for concern.

On the situation of women, the Special Rapporteur was concerned that in many cases there were no, or insufficient, female guards in places of detention. He briefly addressed domestic violence as a form of torture and ill-treatment, noting that a 2004 law banning violence in the home in Indonesia was not yet being fully implemented.

Nowak will deliver a full report to the UN Human Rights Council in March next year.