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The Perils of Private Security in Indonesia: Guards and Militias on Bali and Lombok


The devolution of authority over some police functions to civilian auxiliaries and private security organisations should be a source of concern to those concerned about police reform in Indonesia. While much donor aid is going into community policing, the trend in parts of Indonesia seems to be to allow local civilian groups, untrained and unaccountable, to provide protection or fight crime instead of the police. The trend is worrisome under any circumstances, but particularly so given political tensions in the lead-up to the 2004 elections.

The dependence on civilian security groups is the product of three factors:

  • the perceived breakdown in law and order following the collapse of the Soeharto government in 1998, combined with general distrust of the police, which has led in many parts of Indonesia to vigilantism and a demand for protection from private groups;

  • a massive decentralisation program that has given far more political and economic power to local government, particularly at the sub-provincial level; and

  • a shortage of police to cope with post-Soeharto problems, particularly after the formal separation of the police from the armed forces in 1999.

This report focuses on civilian groups on the neighbouring islands of Bali and Lombok.

In Bali, traditional ritual guards – pecalang – have taken on both a security role, as a police partner, and a political role, as the protectors of President Megawati Soekarnoputri’s party, the PDI-P. But as an ethnically Balinese force at a time of growing anti-migrant sentiment on Bali, the pecalang may prove to be a liability in maintaining law and order.

In Lombok, just east of Bali, traditional religious leaders – tuan guru – have acquired their own private militias – pam swakarsa – the size of which is an indication of an individual’s mass following. As support from tuan guru is essential for anyone with political aspirations on the island, these militias have frequently been turned into protection forces for candidates. They are even more problematic when they also take on, as they tend to do, a crime-fighting role in the absence of an effective police force.

In both Bali and Lombok, following the fall of Soeharto in 1998, these groups were welcomed as part of a broader decentralisation program to reduce the role of the military in providing internal security. The public perception was that they were empowering local residents to protect their villages from crime and infiltration by political provocateurs. Over five years, however, they have become increasingly involved in extortion and violence to the detriment of legal and political reform in both provinces. While their standing has ebbed and flowed, they are likely to gain in influence in the run up to the 2004 elections as political parties rely on them to help with their mass mobilisation campaigns.


To the Indonesian government:

1. Increase the recruitment and training of community-based police to decrease dependence on civilian groups.

2. Disassociate from the police any civilian auxiliaries linked to a particular ethnic group religion or political party, discourage their formation under any circumstances, and see to it that none is involved in duties that involve criminal procedure and law enforcement.

3. Consider a program to train and incorporate members of existing private security groups into the police or the municipal guard units called tramtib (a civilian corps employed by district governments to enforce local codes and regulations).

To donors:

4. Explore ways to reduce the reliance of political parties on their own security forces, and help expose Indonesians from government and non-governmental agencies to models from other countries where the police have gradually taken back control of security and protection from private, politically-affiliated groups.

5. Work with the police to study the problem of overlapping jurisdictions of village, district, and municipal security organisations and develop clearer lines of authority.

6. Support education programs that present vigilantism not as an expression of cultural or political power but as an abuse of traditional values.

To Balinese government officials:

7. Cease the practice of using pecalang to collect taxes and conduct identity checks of migrants, which exacerbates tensions between Balinese and non-Balinese.

8. Revoke any local regulations that discriminate against non-Balinese, including local taxation.

To Lombok government officials:

9. Disband the pam swakarsa militias in Lombok and institute a highly visible initiative to improve local policing skills and the behaviour of police in the community.

Jakarta/Brussels, 7 November 2003

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