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On Police Brutality: No To Violence by Public Officials

21.10.2019

Who is responsible for police brutality? Since the colonial period, it is mostly the investigative branch of the police (such as the CCID) that is involved in police brutality. It is the sub-department of police responsible of solving misdemeanours and crimes that is routinely involved in beating, blackmailing and torture. In other countries, what happens is the investigative branch of the police first conducts an investigation, then proceeds with an arrest. However, in Mauritius, it’s the complete opposite. Arrest first and then conduct the investigation. Often the sole form of “investigation” is to obtain a confession, often uncorroborated, by any means. Police officers thus simply have recourse to violence, often extreme, without respect for the person accused. This violence is, in itself, a criminal offense. And yet it is very rarely investigated. 


So, as a way of supposedly addressing social crises like unemployment, drug abuse and family disputes in over-crowded “inheritance” housing, which are ultimately due to the pervasive effects of the capitalist system, the State finds no other alternative than to use blatant repression. More powers are thus granted to police officers, instead of bringing about meaningful political solutions to the very real social and economic crises in society that produce the crime. 


Since 1979, LALIT has always taken a stand against police brutality. We have kept a record, or “register” of deaths in detention. In 1999, following the vast public protests cause by the death of Kaya at Alcatraz, LALIT voiced out against police brutality and the impunity that immediately followed. As a reminder, no police officers were arrested, though Kaya had 33 marks of ante mortem injuries on his body. 


Our actions over the years have successfully led to an amendment in the Criminal Code as a new offense of “Torture by Public Official” was created in 2003. But cases have been few, and convictions notoriously absent. LALIT also contributed to setting up and organizing the Association “JUSTICE - Kont Vyolans par Ofisye Leta”, which regroups police brutality victims who have survived, and the families of those killed in detention. The Association Justice was then run by people in LALIT and the Muvman Liberasyon Fam together with human rights lawyers like Jean Claude Bibi.  There was then an adequate platform for victims and their siblings to publicly expose the torture and violence cause by public officials. With regards to police chiefs taking action, we were able to bring about enough change in public opinion to force them to arrest police officers at once (as in the case of the death in 2006 of Rajesh Ramlogun) and suspend police officers as soon as possible (in the case of Nitin Chinien in 2013).  With regards to other political parties: We have been able, after long years of active campaign, to make mainstream political parties change their archaic views of encouraging police brutality as a way to maintain law and order.  We are even able to make some members of Parliament publicly to take a firm position for their constituents against public brutality. 


As at date, most of the editorialists and journalists are against police brutality, which was not the case in the past. They now report such barbaric actions. This is an important improvement. Not too long ago they said things like, “No-one is harmed by the odd clout”, to justify police violence. 


 LALIT demands



  1. The Prime Minister, acting also as the Minister of the Interior: 


* Stop protecting police officers responsible of police brutality, but arrest and prosecute for a criminal offense.


* Invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to carry out a thorough investigation and to issue recommendations to prevent torture by public officials.


* Carry out an independent investigation on torture methods used in police stations (what apparatus are used, for electric shocks, for putting hoods on prisoners, and from where the perpetrators get such tools, and in what drawer they keep them, how they pay for them);


* Introduce the automatic suspension of police officers after a death of someone in custody (until end of enquiry), as is already done in the case of fatal car crash:


* Modernise the forensic department so that police officers stop relying only on uncorroborated confessions gathered by use of violence and torture, and use their powers of thinking, and simple tools like fingerprinting as well as DNA, money trails, telecom checks and so on.


2. The Prime Minister should introduce laws which:


* Make confessions only admissible if made before a court of law; 


* Require the police to formally inform the individual if he or she is a suspect or a witness, as well as keeping his/her family informed of his or her exact location;


* Require the DPP to press charges against responsible officers, where an individual in custody is victim of police brutality and to provide public explanations of such measures immediately after a death in detention.


* Democratise the NHRC and make it totally independent from the police. Keep a Register of those acting as responsible officer, and on duty at the time of a death, with the aim of being able to identify violent police officers because of the repeated deaths under their watch.


* Remove arbitrary powers conferred to the police force such as conferred in the Dangerous Drugs Act, Data Protection Act and Prevention of Terrorism Act (as was arbitrarily used against Ish Sookun and K. Sooklall in 2016);


3. Members of the Opposition should stop campaigning for repressive populist measures under the heading of more “law and order” as a political tool against the Minister of the Interior. We believe that such actions increase repression and arbitrary powers conferred to police officers. Representative of constituencies shall protect their constituent and acts towards the end of police brutality;


4. Professionals should stop cover-ups of their peers. The Bar Council, Medical Council, Magistrates (through their monthly meetings), Police Trade unions and Press organizations should establish clear codes of practice and protocols prohibiting collusion and cover-ups. JUSTICE has already drafted ideas on each of these.


If you agree with our program, please do show your support to us during this upcoming election by voting LALIT.