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LALIT's letter to NHRC members


The National Human Rights Commission has just submitted its annual report in the National Assembly. In this context, we publish Lalit's letter written to NHRC members in February this year to call on them to propose changes in the NHRC to make it an instrument to halt police violence and torture instead of being drawn into State cover-up, or else to resign.

153 Main Rd, GRNW, P. Louis

President Mr. D. Seetulsing and Members, Mr. M. S. Namdarkhan, Ms. B. Peerun, Mr. J.R. Rosalie
National Human Rights Commission
NPF Building, P. Louis
17th February, 2007

Dear Sirs and Madam,

We write to the Commission respectfully concerning the future of the NHRC as an institution that can protect human rights. We remind the Commission that the NHRC Act was voted in 1998, before the nation-wide explosion of anger in reaction to the violent death in detention in 1999 of the musician, Kaya partly because there was already a good deal of anger building against police brutality.

Unfortunately, the same deep anger against the police is building once again. The NHRC does not seem to be able to have any effect on this systematic torture and violence. It is a justified common belief that Mr. R. Ramlogun need not have died, had the authorities acted in time against notorious squads. Dozens of young men need not have been marked for life by torture, had institutions like the NHRC been structured independently, and had they followed sound, democratic procedures.

There was so much persistent criticism of the NHRC from the time the law instituting it was first debated in the National Assembly that the present Minister of Justice finally publicly announced that there will be a complete "overhaul" of the NHRC.

Yet, the Commission itself remains silent.

One of the Commission's duties is to propose changes in laws. Members are nominated inter alia to do this work. Yet, we hear nothing as to the changes in the legal framework that the Commission is proposing, even when the Minister publicly announces that he will overhaul your Commission. We hear nothing from the Commission proposing how to best overhaul the opaque and secretive procedures you follow that have paved the way for violent police officers to outwit the Commission. It is as if you did not hear the Minister's announcement.

It was not made out of the blue either. It followed severe criticism from the UN Human Rights Committee [1] in 2005 after a hearing in New York in the presence of Government representatives, from UNDP consultant Prof. C. Anyangwe [2] in 2006, and from dozens of Mauritian NGO's who have met at two Table Ronde organized by Justice to discuss the NHRC. These criticisms are not emitted for the sake of criticism, but because torture, beating, swearing, abuse, threats, sequestration ... all this totally illegal behaviour -- have continued [3] despite the existence of the NHRC in its present incarnation. Torture, abuse and threats by officers of the State are damaging to the individual who suffers them, to society as a whole, and even to the police perpetrators, who become brutes. Criticisms have become passionate because Mr. Ramlogun was found dead from a head injury, and with the hallmark of torture i.e. bruises on the soles of his feet, even after so many previous complaints of torture by the same team. Then, after a weak NHRC report, charges on the police who killed Mr. Ramlogun have been reduced to next to nothing, even though the Judicial Enquiry found there was foul play and the police initially filed murder charges.

LALIT believes that the Commission has reached a point in its history when it is essential that you, as Members, make a choice. Either you urgently prepare and publish drafts of the kind of overhaul you believe the Minister should undertake i.e. profound amendments you envision in the NHRC Act that would make the Commission more effective against torture, and publish proposed radical changes in the procedure of the NHRC to make it more transparent and democratic. Or, if this minimum of commitment to try to end torture and police violence is not forthcoming, we in Lalit will be obliged to call, with reasoned argument, for the resignation of all four members of the Commission. And if you refuse to resign, we will have no alternative but to call for your revocation in the context of the overhaul proposed by the Minister, the UN, the UNDP consultant, and all the concerned associations in the country. Already, we no longer have sufficient confidence in the structure and procedures of the Commission to advise members of the public to go to you with complaints, when we know they will face secret findings after not having the right to know the police officers' defence, which in our humble experience habitually contain lies and childish patterns of cover-up, let alone rebut it.

But there is something extremely important that has happened recently. The Commission, with its existing history of inability to expose and halt the pattern of ongoing physical, verbal and psychological violence and torture by officers of the State, has now failed an acid test: the NHRC has denied protection to a Human Rights Defender [4], Barrister Jean-Claude Bibi, when he, himself, suffered verbal violence, abuse and threats from a band of officers under Mr. Raddhoa, while he was trying to perform his professional duty of upholding his client's human rights [5]. It is publicly known that a long list of barristers have been abused by Mr. Raddhoa [6], while the NHRC has done nothing to stop this.

Now, in a letter to Mr. Bibi, the Commission informs him his complaint has not been substantiated. This is shocking. When a lawyer and citizen of the reputation of Mr. Bibi, an ex-Minister of Justice, an ex-Ambassador, a known human rights defender, one of the few lawyers who has the courage to stand up to the extreme violence of certain police officers, has been through what Mr. Bibi went through at the hands of the MCIT team that day in Curepipe, only to have the NHRC berate him for exercising his democratic right to criticize the Commission, then fail to call his witnesses, while keeping the police officers "defence" secret, and then announce that his complaint has not been substantiated, it is evident that the Commission, unless it acts to change its structure and procedures, is now part of the problem.

To make the NHRC letter all the more shocking, it concludes with the words "However, the matter has been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration ..." As if Mauritius has become Alice's Wonderland where thrown-out complaints are submitted for prosecution.

The unacceptability of the procedure of the Commission is now patent.

We saw the 9-line letter Mr. Bibi received from the Commission. A journalist, however, has surprised everyone by publicly referring to the contents of the secret NHRC findings. The findings were at some stage, the journalist says, in her possession. We believe her, and assume that the document was not forged. On this assumption, such a leak further damages the NHRC by exposing the unfairness of its secretive procedures. How do findings so secret Mr. Bibi who made the complaint can't see them, end up in a newspaper? It just shows the injustice of secret proceedings.

To make matters worse, the journalist's denial that it was Mr. Raddhoa who was her source, is thoroughly unconvincing. A scandalous leak like this of the secret findings to one of the very police officers accused of abuse and threats, if true, is additional cause for the Commission to put itself in question: either suggest legal framework changes and procedure changes, or submit resignation from this doomed Commission.

This recent debacle follows, as we have mentioned, the preventable death of Rajesh Ramlogun in Alcatraz a year ago, a death that was a direct result of the failure of the Commission to call for the disbandment of the MCIT, despite detailed testimonies made previously against the team. We have no evidence of the NHRC ever having suggested charges of torture be laid against police officers under the 2003 Criminal Procedure Act [7] even when there are medically certified bruises under their victim's feet. Mr. Ramlogun's death was sufficient cause for concern about the Commission's structures and procedures. The Report by the NHRC only added further concern. And Mauritian society waited for yet another death. Tragically, Mr. Roland Said who never recovered from being kicked and bashed on the head by a police officer at Curepipe CID premises, so hard that blood oozed out of his ear and nose, has eventually died of brain trauma. It is disturbing to realise that the truth about whether his death was related to the torture he suffered will, as things now stand, never come to light.

What is needed, as the Minister and the UN Human Rights Committee have both so clearly said, is a complete overhaul of the Commission's legal framework, which is what has, together with a self-restrictive interpretation of its powers and the secretive procedures adopted, permitted it to deviate from its role as protector of human rights. Lalit supports the Association Justice in calling for the UN Guidelines to be used as a basis for a new, constitutionally-protected Commission, truly independent of Ministers and Police, with its own budget heading, and with its own enquiring officers, to replace the existing Commission. We call on you to draft such changes urgently. This way the public can debate the changes you propose.

It is often commented that "national human rights commissions" tend to slip into one of two roles: either they develop their independence and add their weight to the forces against torture and police violence, or, they settle in to being part of the State and are drawn into the diffuse cover-up of crimes committed in the name of the State. After the 1999 rebellion, when the NHRC was actually set up, was its historic mission to end the kind of torture that led to Kaya's death, or to make the public believe that there was and is no torture, even though everyone knows there is?

This is why we write this letter. So that Commission members can make their choice as to how best to help prevent torture and police violence: changes in the Commission structure, or resignation as well as the overhaul of the Commission's structure and procedures.

Yours sincerely,

Rajni Lallah and Lindsey Collen, for LALIT, 17 February, 2007

[1] UN International Committee on Civil & Political Rights, Concluding Observations, 9 March 2005 also thinks so: Maurice "devrait veiller à la mise en conformité de la loi sur la protection des droits de l'homme de 1998 portant création de cette commission et de sa pratique avec les Principes de Paris".

[2] See UNDP-OHCHR Consultant Prof. Carlson Anyangwe's Report, July 2006, which is extremely critical of the NHRC (pages 46-47)

[3] UN International Committee on Civil & Political Rights, Concluding Observations, 9 March 2005: "Le Comité [sous ICCPR] note, avec préoccupation, les informations non gouvernementales concordantes faisant état de nombreux cas de mauvais traitements et de décès pendant la garde à vue et dans les prisons à l'encontre des personnes détenues et relevant des agents de la force publique. Le Comité est préoccupé par le fait que dans la pratique, peu de plaintes aboutissent à des enquêtes, à l'établissement des responsabilités et à la sanction des agents responsables. Il relève, avec préoccupation, les limites des enquêtes du Bureau d'Investigation des Plaintes ainsi que les lacunes de la Commission nationale des droits de l'homme (articles 6, 7 et 10 du Pacte). Il est, à cet égard, préoccupé par l'absence d'un Conseil indépendant de recours contre les autorités de police. L'Etat partie devrait s'assurer de la poursuite d'enquêtes sur toutes les violations relevant des articles 6, 7 et 10 du Pacte. Il devrait diligenter, selon les résultats des investigations, des poursuites à l' encontre des auteurs de ces violations, ainsi que l'octroi de réparations aux victimes. L'Etat partie devrait également s'assurer de la mise à disposition pour les victimes de véritables organes indépendants d'enquête sur ces plaintes. L'Etat partie est invité à fournir, dans le cadre du prochain rapport, des statistiques détaillées portant sur le nombre de plaintes à l'encontre des agents de l'Etat, la nature des infractions en question, les services de l'Etat mis en cause, le nombre et la nature des enquêtes et des poursuites engagées, ainsi que les réparations accordées aux victimes."

[4] Mauritius has adopted the 1998 UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms that protects Human Rights Defenders.

[5] Became public in L'Express 12 and 15 March, 2007.

[6] For an incomplete list, see Le Mauricien, 30 October, 2006, article entitled "ASP Raddhoa v/s Many Barristers".

[7] Criminal Code Amendment. Bill Sec. 78 ... anyone who "intentionally inflicts severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, on any other person, by or at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of, a public official or other person acting in an official capacity" is guilty of torture.