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Lalit against police violence and torture

14.02.2004

Lalit has been particularly concerned at the rise of police violence and torture over the years. We have kept a special file on deaths in detention based on information received by our militants, press cuttings, and official information. It is obvious from this list of deaths in detention why there was a revolt right after Kaya was found dead in high security cells in Alcatraz with over 30 injuries on his body. The number of deaths, and the already high number of reported police brutality cases is only the tip of the iceberg. Most police brutality cases go unreported for fear of reprisals by police.

Yet governments refuse to put a stop to it: the PT-PMXD government refused to arrest and charge the officers in charge of cells when Kaya died - these police officers were not even suspended. One of the main themes of the MSM-MMM in the general elections of 2000, was the issue of "law and order". This "law and order" had more to do with giving the police a free rein than anything else. Up to now, the MSM-MMM government have still not charged and arrested the police officers in charge of Kaya's cell when he died. Neither have they arrested the respective police officers in charge when six young men died in detention between 2001 and 2004.

The Minister of Justice and of "Human Rights", Mr. Emmanuel Leung Shing, just as police officers were becoming notorious for kidnapping, violence and torture in cases (such as those of Jerry Cadine, Bernard Maigrot, Cehl Meeah, and Martine Desmarais), declared on the occasion of Human Rights Day in 2001, that "Mauritians must not make frivolous and unsubstantiated allegations against the police for brutality". We, in Lalit, were at the time so alarmed by the rise in deaths in police detention and police violence and torture that we had been campaigning for the government to send in a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture to open up an inquiry. The only response to this was that of Prime Minister Jugnauth who on Labour Day in 2001 at an MSM-MMM rally declared that police should "avoid giving excuses to people to run campaigns against Mauritius in the press abroad".

In 2001, it was announced in the press that the MMM-MSM controlled Municipality of Curepipe intended to give special honorary status to Inspector Raddhoa against whom numerous complaints of violence and torture had been made, and who had become a symbol of police impunity. Lalit spearheaded a campaign in Curepipe, organising families of victims and a petition of inhabitants to oppose this and to demand that municipal councillors take a firm stand against police violence and torture - which they finally, publicly, had to do. In the municipal elections, Lalit managed to make this a major theme in the elections, and mobilised enough political strength to get Inspector Raddhoa transferred to the SMF garage, where he has no contact with the public.

In March 2002, two Lalit militants, Roland Fozoo and Devianand Narrain, were arrested when they visited a man who had come to see Roland Fozoo twice the previous day to appeal for assistance because he had been beaten up by police. Roland Fozoo and Devianand Narrain went to see him at his house the next day. It was just as the man started narrating how he had been beaten up, that police intervened, and arrested Roland Fozoo and Devianand Narrain and put false charges of "Rogue and Vagabond" on them. The judgement in their case confirmed that the man they had visited had in fact been beaten up by police, and confirmed that police had trumped-up charges against them when they visited this man.

The MMM-MSM's response to police violence and torture is to advise victims to go to the Police Complaints Bureau, or to the National Human Rights Commission. Yet, the National Human Rights Commission Act (1998) states that the Commission shall, in the first place, attempt to resolve a complaint by a conciliatory procedure! And even should the complainant refuse such conciliation with a police aggressor, and even if the NHRC believes the complainant's version, there is little the NHRC can do apart from "referring" the matter to the DPP, a disciplinary Service Commission, or some chief executive officer of a public body.

Despite the limits imposed on the NHRC by the State, Lalit wrote to the NHRC in May 2001 to call on the NHRC to draw up a register of names of detainees who have died in police custody, and in each case, to specify the names of police officers in charge of the detainee, including Enquiring officers, supervising officers and officers on duty at the time of death. We also called on the NHRC to draw up similar forms in cases of police violence and torture. We demanded that such lists be made public. Public scrutiny would increase social pressure on police officers to stop aggressing detainees. Through this system, it would also become possible to find out whether the same police officers are repeatedly involved in cases of violence and torture. The NHRC would then be in a position to recommend that they be transferred to work in a post where they have no contact with detainees. And if their name appears again, to recommend that they be removed from the police force altogether.

We again call on the NHRC to draw up these forms, and make them public. The NHRC, despite all its efforts up to now, has been unable to curb police violence and torture. Up to the point where Mr. Jacques Achille, a journalist, has been arrested, aggressed, tortured, given a death threat as well as threats of false charges. All this supposedly as a lesson to journalists.

We again call on the government to charge and arrest police officers and prison officers in charge of detainees who are injured, tortured or die in their custody. The government must stop its complicity with police violence and torture at once.

Rajni Lallah
For Lalit
12 February, 2004