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NHRC Chairman Seetulsingh's pathetic reply to Lalits letter


In Le Mauricien of 24th February, 2007, which most people missed because it came out just as cyclone Gamede was approaching Mauritius, there was a key article in which Mr. Seetulsingh replied to Lalit’s letter to the National Human Rights Commission. His reply is rather strange: instead of accepting the fact that police violence and torture continues unabated and welcoming the opportunity to propose structural and procedural changes for the Commission to be in a position to halt this violence, the NHRC Chairman prefers to defend the NHRC with all its limitations, its lack of independence, and its flawed and opaque procedures. Even stranger, the NHRC president prefers to attack Lalit calling it a "parti extreme" which has a supposed "hidden agenda" when what Lalit is doing is to work towards stopping police violence and torture. Why is the NHRC Chairman so hysterical? Why does he protest so much?

NHRC Chairman confirms the NHRCs dependence on police for its inquiries
Mr. Seetulsingh begins by stating that it is not true that the NHRCs inquiries are made by policemen: "Ce n’ est pas vrai de dire que nos enquêtes sont menées par des policiers sur des policiers." But he then goes on to state that the NHRC relies on the CIB (part of the police force) for inquiries. "Dès qu’une plainte est enregistrée, nous réunissons les éléments pour notre investigation, c’est- à - dire, Occurrence Book, Diary book, Statements, et nous faisons ensuite appel au Complaints Investigation Bureau, qui lui mènera enquête s’il y a lieu."

NHRC Chairman admits that the NHRC is powerless

Mr. Seetulsingh admits all the Commission can do is to send its "conclusions" to the DPP, to the PSC or to the disciplinary committee of the police. What these authorities decide to do with these conclusions is up to them. "Les conclusions de la Commission des Droits de l’Homme, rappelle M. Seetulsingh, sont envoyées selon les cas, au Directeur des Poursuites publiques (DPP), à la Public Service Commission (PSC) ou au comité disciplinaire de la police.

NHRC Chairman confirms the NHRCs opaque procedures and attempts to justify them

Mr. Seetulsingh also confirms Lalits point concerning the opaque nature of procedures adopted by the NHRC. He also confirms that the victim who makes the initial complaint does not get a copy of the NHRCs findings on his/her case. He is quoted in Le Mauricien as saying: "Nous fonctionnons comme une commission d’enquête et la loi est très claire sur le droit au silence et à la présomption d’innocence. Quand nous appelons les policiers, ils sont obligés de répondre, ils ne peuvent faire valoir leur droit au silence. Toutefois, on ne peut pas nous servir des révélations faites, ni le plaignant d’ailleurs. Cest la raison pour laquelle nous ne pouvons remettre au plaignant les éléments d’enquête. Tout ce que nous avons à faire c’est d’informer le plaignant et de soumettre nos conclusions".

Did NHRC Chairman not understand Lalit’s point or did he choose not to?
Mr. Seetulsingh answer concerning proposed changes and amendments to the Commission is misleading. He pretends that Lalit is merely criticising the NHRC for not making any proposals at all. When in fact, Lalit’s call was for the Commission to propose very specific amendments and changes to change the nature of the NHRC so that it becomes an effective instrument against police violence and torture. Which, to our knowledge, it has not made yet.

NHRC Chairman’s erroneous answer on how NHRC members get appointed

Mr. Seetulsingh’s answer on the appointment of NHRC members, the Chief Justice and the President of the Republic is shockingly erroneous. He is quoted in Le Mauricien as saying: "Nous ne sommes pas des hommes du Premier ministre. Le chef juge est nommé par le Premier ministre, le président de la République est nommé sur les recommandations du PM, est-ce que cela veut dire que le Chef-Juge est un homme du PM?" In fact, the Constitution specifies that the Chief Justice is appointed by the President of the Republic and not by the Prime Minister. Judges are appointed by the President acting in accordance with the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission. The President of the Republic is certainly not appointed on the recommendations of the Prime Minister. The Constitution stipulates that the President is elected by the National Assembly on a motion presented by the Prime Minister. This is something you would have thought Mr. Seetulsingh, a former judge, would know.

The NHRC Chairman does not tell us the whole truth about how NHRC members get appointed or re-appointed

What Mr. Seetulsingh does not tell us is that the NHRC Chairman and members are appointed by the President acting on the advice of the Prime Minister (not consultation, but advice), "on such terms and conditions as he thinks fit" for a term of 4 years. Note that members are eligible for "re-appointment" for another 4 years if the Prime Minister wants them to be re-appointed. What Mr. Seetulsingh also does not tell us is that the Prime Minister can advise the President to REMOVE any NHRC member for "misbehaviour". This is a far cry from the offices of the Chief Justice and the President of the Republic, which are both Constitutionally-protected.

On NHRCs budget heading
NHRC Chairman Seetulsingh states in response to Lalit that the NHRC has its own budget heading: "Nous avons également notre propre budget voté par l’Assemblée nationale " s’insurge-t-il. De quoi parle Lalit lorsqu’ils disent "a new budget heading" ?" What the NHRC Chairman does not tell us however, is that this has not always been the case. The NHRC budget for 1999-2000, 2000-2001, 2001-2002 was classified under the Attorney-General’s Office and Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. It was only when the NHRC started getting criticised that it got its own budget heading as from 2002-2003.

NHRC Chairman strangely silent on how its "confidential" findings found their way into the press

In our letter to the NHRC Chairman and members, Lalit expressed our concern on an important event which puts the NHRCs credibility totally in question. We considered this question so important that we devoted considerable space in our letter to it. We quote from our letter:

"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 clients 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."

On this question, the NHRC Chairman has surprisingly nothing, not one word, to say.