UN urges Indonesia to tackle police abuses

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JAKARTA, Nov 23 (Reuters) Indonesia has made great strides combating rights abuses since autocratic president Suharto was ousted in 1998, but torture of detainees in police custody still appears rife, a UN investigator said today.

Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture who is on a two-week tour of detention centres across Indonesia, said he had arrived at three police stations as beatings were actually in progress.

''The problem of police abuse appears to be sufficiently widespread as to warrant immediate attention,'' he said in a statement.

He said the types of police abuses reported, and backed up by medical examinations, included beatings by fists, rattan or wooden sticks, cables, iron bars and hammers.

In other instances, police had shot detainees in their legs from close range, or electrocuted them, he said, adding that in most cases the purpose appeared to be to extract confessions.

He urged Jakarta to speed up plans to make torture a crime and to ensure that perpetrators were brought to justice.

''In all the meetings with government officials nobody could cite one case in which a police officer was ever found guilty and sentenced by a criminal court for ill treatment or other abuse of a detainee,'' he told a news conference.

Nowak urged that the time a suspect could be held in police custody be limited to 48 hours, adding that detainees were more vulnerable to abuses because they were liable to spend many weeks or even months in police custody without seeing a judge.

He called for the settting up of an independent criminal investigation mechanism against alleged perpetrators of torture along with an effective complaints system.

Under Suharto's rule, which ended amid mass protests, security forces were routinely accused of abusing detainees.

Asked for his general conclusions on the situation in Indonesia now, he said: ''Certainly I cannot find that torture is systematic in the country, it's systematic in a few places.'' Nowak said that treatment in prisons he had visited appeared generally better, including in Papua where security forces have been accused of rights abuses. A low-level separatist insurgency has gone on for decades in the remote area.

He noted, however, serious overcrowding in Jakarta's Cipinang jail and the Pondok Bambu pre-trial detention facility.

He also expressed concern about the high death toll, often officially put down to natural causes, in some places of detention, where autopsies were rarely carried out.

The UN investigator visited prisons, as well as police and military detention facilities in the capital Jakarta, Papua, South Sulawesi, Bali, Yogyakarta and Central Java.

He is to submit a full report on his findings to the UN Human Rights Council.

Reuters RC GC1808

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