Fri, 04 May 2001

Time for RI to humanize security

By Makmur Keliat

JAKARTA (JP): Following the fall of Soeharto in May 1998, discussion of the need for constitutional reform, new electoral laws and decentralization have continued unabated.

Yet all political parties have neglected the importance of democratizing political institutions. Instead, they have set up and maintained organizations that operate like an army, the "militias" -- whose physical performance, symbols and slogans in various rallies have often increased public anxiety.

Hence, Indonesia's paradox of free public debate and a strong tendency toward violent conflicts. To some extent, this may be seen as an inevitable phase of democratization. Democracy indeed provides a voice for not only the angels but also the evil within society.

Nevertheless, the priority of stakeholders in democratization must be to scale down the tendency to take the law into one's own hands. One alternative is advocating the need for argument instead of force regarding controversial issues.

This long term process needs a mental deconstruction in the mindset of the policy-makers concerned with security. Under the New Order regime, the government made no clear-cut distinction between the functions of security and defense. The military was given a mandate to carry out both functions. But shortly after Soeharto was ousted from power, the government decided to differentiate the functions and now the military (TNI) is mainly responsible for carrying out the task of defense, while the police (Polri) are primarily responsible for security.

However, given the historical legacy, this new division of labor faces looming hurdles. First, the mentality inherited over more than 30 years of the New Order rule has led to "security" being primarily perceived in the context of military threat.

From the point of view of this conventional perspective, state security is considered far more important than the security of the human being. The latter was not uncommonly sacrificed for the sake of state security. The kidnapping and murder of civilians by military apparatus were clear examples.

The strength of this legacy is now reflected in the gray area that separates the tasks assigned to the TNI and Polri, leading to some hostility between them.

A second hurdle is that there are few people knowledgeable and interested in the non-military aspects of security. This deficiency has been partly contributed to by the former primacy of state security and also because the issue has become unfashionable among champions of democratic forces here.

The "security approach" was often used as a pretext to attack democratic forces in the past, discouraging discourse on security in a comprehensive context.

In fact security encompasses the survivability of human beings, not only in terms of military security but also in terms of the economy, society and the environment. Understanding security only in military terms denies human needs for economic welfare, preservation of social values and a preserved environment. These needs should actually be the primary focus of "security".

Third, while there has been a political commitment to guiding the TNI back to its original function of defense, the above alternative, "people-oriented security", has not gained currency.

Instead, there has been a strong tendency for communities to become "security-oriented people" -- meaning that each community unilaterally determines who their enemy is, what kind of threats the community may be facing and what instrument they could use to overcome the threat.

To a large extent communal conflicts, such as those in Ambon and Sampit, exemplify this new tendency. This tendency must be checked as it is unlawful and against the cultural pluralism fundamental to Indonesian society. Furthermore, such a tendency could also justify arguments to revive the notion of state security.

Indonesia, then, faces three main challenges. First, to promote the idea that security of the human being is more important than the security of state. Second, to launch widespread public advocacy of the concept of security in the context of non-military principles. Third, to avoid the emergence of "security-oriented people" which goes against the notion of "people-oriented security".

In short, there is now an urgency for Indonesia to dismantle the monopoly and humanize the notion of security.

The writer lectures on international relations in Social and Political Sciences, University of Indonesia, and is also a fellow at the Jakarta-based Research Institute for Democracy and Peace.