Mauritius must get to grips with torture if it wishes to restore confidence

The failure to find and convict the killers of Michaela McAreavey has exposed glaring holes in the Mauritius criminal justice system and a worrying reliance on confessions allegedly extracted under torture.

The Mauritian jury’s ‘not guilty’ verdict seems to show that they believed Avinash Treebhoowoon’s allegation that a confession statement produced three days after Michaela McAreavey’s murder was a police concoction, only signed by him after days of torture.

Treebhoowoon made his first official complaint of ill-treatment at a court appearance days after the murder, in January last year.

In short, he alleged he was subject to numerous beatings, whipped on the soles of his feet with a pipe, hit on the head, stripped naked and held down on a table while police tried to suffocate him with a towel and held his head in a bucket of water. On the third day he signed the statement confessing to the murder.

It is the sort of torture allegation which has emerged from the likes of Abu Ghraib, Iraq’s infamous “torture prison”. But in Mauritius, paradise holiday isle?

For the local jury, it is clear that the accusations of confession, extracted by the police under torture, were all too believable. Tragically, such allegations have surfaced all too often in Mauritius and they came as no surprise to Amnesty International.

Mauritius is a party to the United Nations Convention against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other human rights laws. Yet it has struggled to live up its international promises.

Amnesty International has had long standing concerns about allegations of torture and ill-treatment of suspects by police during criminal investigations. As far back as 2001 Amnesty called for independent investigations into widespread allegations of abuse, noting:

The repeated accusations brought against the Mauritian authorities by individuals who claim that their right to be free from torture and ill-treatment and their right to be given a fair trial have been violated put a question mark behind the government’s commitment to the protection of human rights.

Sadly, the last decade has not seen those concerns addressed effectively and the United Nations has since entered the fray.

In 2005, the UN Human Rights Committee reported:

The Committee notes with concern concurring reports from non-governmental organizations on numerous instances of ill-treatment and deaths of persons in custody and in prisons attributable to police officers. The Committee is concerned at the fact that few complaints are actually investigated in order to identify and punish the officers responsible.

In 2007 the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture carried out a visit to Mauritius, where they reviewed the treatment of persons detained in various institutions and conducted interviews with detainees. The findings and recommendations of the mission were given to the country’s authorities, but permission for publication has been refused by the Mauritian government.

In June 2011, just months after allegations of torture emerged in the McAreavey murder case, the UN Committee against Torture reported on Mauritius, noting that the:

Committee regrets that the report [by the government of Mauritius in response to previous concerns raised] was submitted eight years late, which hinders the Committee from ongoing analysis of the implementation of the Convention.

before going on to reiterate, what are by now, all too familiar concerns:

The Committee is concerned that only few complaints for torture, excessive use of force or ill-treatment by law enforcement or prison officers or cases of death occurred in police custody are investigated and prosecuted…

So, over a decade of documented complaints about torture of detainees, yet the same allegations persist, and the Mauritian authorities appear unwilling to take action to stamp out the practice.

The upshot appears to be that police and prosecutors bring cases to trial, reliant on little evidence other than confessions extracted under torture.

The victims aren’t only the accused – abused, threatened and beaten – but the relatives and friends of crime victims, who want to see, but are denied, justice for their loved ones.

Until Mauritius gets to grip with its policing practices, glaringly exposed by this high profile trial, then, locally and internationally, crucial confidence in its administration of justice will remain absent.

And more families like the McAreaveys and Hartes will be left heart-broken, twisting in the wind, waiting for justice.

That’s the message that our politicians and, if they are going to assist in this case, the PSNI and the Gardaí must bring to the island’s authorities.

A version of this article was published in yesterday’s print edition Belfast Telegraph and has just been published online.

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  • Padraigin Drinan

    Excellent article.
    And a Country that names its detention centre Alcatraz gives cause for disquiet.

  • I think the torture allegations came as a surprise as Mauritius from the outside looked a decent kinda place. Clearly it was under the radar.
    When allegations are made, defence counsel has a duty to go with that. And certainly the callousness of the Mauritius police was given credence by other witnesses, including those for the prosecution.

    But I wonder if reporting on television really is compatible with Justice. The Mauritius Case is just one of three high profile cases reported extensively on TV News where the defendant/s have been found “not guilty” and many seem to find the judgements perverse.
    The “many” of course are those not actually in a courtroom. But watching thru the prism of TV.
    Notwithstanding recent payouts for contempt of court, newspapers have a very proud record of reporting court cases. Words like “allegedly” and “at hearing” and “the case continues” carry more neutrality than when used on television.
    Necessarily TV news at 10 oclock carries a couple of high profile cour cases. Images of a suspect/defendant being whizzed into court in a police car, or in handcuffs or simply entering the court via the front door with several bodyguards or lovingly holding the hand of a devoted wife are important images.
    As week or month long cases (with the prosecution evidence first) are rolled out, we watch the late news with a kinda running commentary on our sofas.
    I dont like the look of the defence barrister. That witness seems a bit “iffy”. The journalist seems to be doubting that.
    The consequence is that there are real results in real courtrooms and fantasy results talked about at “water coolers”. Mauritius is such a result.

    In the particular case of Mauritius….torture or its allegation …..was an issue. But in all these and other cases, the actual nature of court reporting on TV is a bigger issue.

  • arsetopple

    This is a very sad case leaving no one with any closure & the feeling that justice has not been done. I feel that at the heart of this problem was a lack of good forensic investigation ( CSI etc). The robbery was planned but the murder not so there must have been some evidence of the perpetrators at the scene or on their clothes. I seem to remember how alleged terrorists here on both sides where able to withdraw statements & walk free from court claiming police brutality. The PIRA bombing of the forensic labs was not because they got fed up with burning furniture stores.
    We can only hope that those guilty can be brought to justice & stopped from carrying out similar attacks.

  • andnowwhat

    The “she’s one of our’s. The wogs must be guilty” mentality on local media was fek’n disgusting. We see this a lot in the British (and I’m sure, other nation’s press) where one of our’s is a victim or charged with something and the immediate assumptions kick off.

    We had the British media with snide remarks about the Portugese police over the Medeleine Mc Cann case and the American media attacking the Italian judicial system over the Amanda Knox case.

    Of course, this mentality skips to a new track when it is a British (or whatever) citizen of Asian origin who is left to rot and be tortured via extraordinary rendition and years of depravation in Guantanamo Bay. It then falls to the like of The Guardian and The Independent, as well as Wikileaks (oh and an honourable mention for Channel 4 news and Dispatches), to expose their case (wogs again).

    I’m extremely uncomfortable with the media over the Mc Areavery case. Michaela’s murder happened in a country where this is the kind of justice that can be expected. I’ve been to the Philippines and Thailand a fair bit and whilst one relaxes and has fun, one must learn before going how things work in those countries. In honeymoon style places, the idea is to get a conviction ASAP for the sake of it’s tourism and show to the world how safe and authoritive it is. Meanwhile, the indigenous people have to live with this justice and we really couldn’t give a toss until the next time it affects one of our’s

  • Im afraid it works both ways.
    French tourists in Cork for example.
    But I have little sympathy for “tourists” caught up with drug smuggling in Bangkok prisons.
    But there is a built in prejudice against the justice system in any other country.
    Extraditing rich businessmen to Texas is always a problem.
    And extraditing computer hackers to Washington DC seems a problem also.

  • andnowwhat

    FJH

    My favourite sign that I ever saw was in the old Bangkok airport. It was something like “YOU MAY BE EXECUTED IF CAUGHT WITH DRUGS”. It was right there behind passport control and the very definition of unambiguous.

  • innis

    Oh aye, ours abroad are always innocent and the foreigners must have got it wrong. And if the cops are accused of violence they must be “under the radar” rather than “wrongly accused by the defendant”. I don’t know I wasn’t there so I won’t talk with the certainty of others.

    Maybe a beating in a back street house in the Shankill or a cattle shed in South Armagh is what is needed. That’ll show them how it’s done.

    Get a grip lads.

  • Padraigin,

    “Alcatraz” in this case is an ironic nickname, particularly since it is originally an Arabic word…

  • Padraigin Drinan

    Thanks Andrew.
    Perhaps they could have instead called it, ironically, Castlereagh

  • Mo ti rest laba huit mwa. Back in 1977 the Mauritian Police were mainly local coppers, knowing all the local criminals. But political struggles got worse, for a time the government was Marxist, so this might have corrupted the police.

  • Mister_Joe

    Dave,

    At what time?
    What to you mean by Marxist? (I don’t believe the local remaining communists ever ruled.)
    Even so, how and why would that have corrupted the police?