Indonesia has admitted that its soldiers tortured Papuan detainees and promised a thorough investigation after online footage showed them being beaten and humiliated.
The pictures showed the soldiers applying a burning stick to the genitals of an unarmed suspected separatist, and threatening another with a knife, as they interrogated them over the location of a weapons cache.
“Based on our preliminary report, we found that soldiers on the ground overreacted in handling those people who had been arrested,” Djoko Suyanto, Indonesia’s security affairs minister, said on Friday.
Suyanto said that a comprehensive investigation of the “unprofessional” behavior was under way.
He said the troops involved in the incident, which reportedly occurred in May in the Punjak Jaya region of eastern Papua province, would be dealt with “according to military regulations”.
“It has attracted public and world attention. We’ll settle it properly,” he said.
The graphic video drew international media attention to allegations of widespread torture and abuse of activists and civilians in restive Indonesian regions such as Papua and the Maluku islands.
Phil Robertson, from Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera that while admitting the torture took place is a step in the right direction, the issue is what is going to happen with the investigation.
“Will it be credible, thorough and transparent and will it result in the soldiers coming before a civilian criminal court as opposed to a whitewashed military tribunal?” he said.
“In the past, the military tribunals the men are brought before don’t do much at all. They defer judgment or pass very lenient judgment or administrative punishment.
“Often the case dwindles away after the spotlight leaves. I expect if this is not dealt with in a timely way it will become a bilateral issue between Indonesia and the US [due to Barack Obama’s, the US president, upcoming visit to Indonesia]”.
Rights groups including Amnesty International have demanded Indonesia investigate and punish the unidentified soldiers in the video, citing an entrenched culture of impunity in the country’s security forces.
Amnesty called for the government to appoint a national human rights commission to lead the investigation and publish the findings while ensuring the safety of investigators, victims, witnesses and their families.
“The authorities must send a clear public message to all members of the security forces in Indonesia, especially in Papua, that torture and other ill-treatment is strictly prohibited at all times and, if it occurs, full criminal investigations will begin,” Donna Guest, its deputy director, said.