Documents Mauritius

2010 Human Rights Report: Mauritius

Mauritius is a constitutional parliamentary democracy of approximately 1.3 million citizens governed by a prime minister, a council of ministers, and a National Assembly. The Alliance of the Future, a coalition led by Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam, won the majority of National Assembly seats in the May 5 election, which was judged by international and local observers to be generally free and fair. Security forces reported to civilian authorities.

The following human rights problems were reported: security force abuse of suspects and detainees; prison overcrowding; restrictions on media freedom; official corruption; violence and societal discrimination against women; abuse and sexual exploitation of children; some abuse based on sexual orientation; discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS; restrictions on labor rights, antiunion discrimination, and child labor.

 

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including

Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year.

There were no further developments regarding the lower court’s May 2009 exoneration for lack of evidence of four police officers involved in the 2006 death in custody of Rajesh Ramlugon; the officers were initially accused of abuse of authority and concealing evidence. In June 2009 the L’Express newspaper reported that the director of public prosecutions (DPP) appealed the exoneration to the Supreme Court. The officers remained free on bail.

 

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

 

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there continued to be reports of police abuses.

According to media reports, on December 29, motorcyclist Wesley Agathe narrowly avoided hitting a plainclothes police officer, who allegedly had been pushed in front of Agathe’s bike by five other plainclothes officers. Agathe stopped his motorbike to reproach the six plainclothes officers for the near collision and reported the incident to uniformed police officers who drove towards him. During the incident one of the six plainclothes police officers accused him of stealing a mobile phone and 7,000 rupees ($229). The six officers then took Agathe to the Pamplemousses police station and, in view of two other uniformed police officers at the station, beat Agathe so severely that he lost consciousness and sustained bruises on his face and neck. Agathe was subsequently released without charge. The police officers involved in the beating retained their positions pending an investigation.

According to July 4 media reports, some of the 34 inmates who escaped from Grand River North West Prison on June 27 were observed with bruises and facial swelling after they were recaptured and transferred to the Beau Bassin Central Prison. A detainee’s relative reported that prison guards had beaten some of the inmates.

There were no developments in the September 2009 case of a man whom the police allegedly beat and sexually assaulted. The police investigation of the case continued during the year.

 

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The media reported cases of prisoner abuse, overcrowding, and drug abuse in the country’s five prisons. Unlike in the previous year, no data was available on the number of abuse complaints filed by prisoners.

As of November 30, the Central Prison, which has a capacity of 1,064, held 1,476 prisoners, including 138 female prisoners and 1,338 male prisoners. Three boys and three girls were held in juvenile prisons. Pretrial detainees were held together with convicted prisoners.

There were no developments in the February 2009 death of an inmate in Central Prison who died after being stabbed by another prisoner. A police investigation was still ongoing at year’s end.

Prisoners and detainees had access to visitors and were permitted religious observance. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhumane conditions. Authorities investigated credible allegations of inhumane conditions and documented the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner. The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

The government permitted prison visits by independent observers, including the press, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the UN. The local NGO Association Kinouete also ran programs to rehabilitate prisoners.

The country had no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees to consider such matters as alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, circumstances of confinement for juvenile offenders, or improving pretrial detention, bail, and recordkeeping procedures to ensure prisoners did not serve beyond the maximum sentence for the charged offense.

 

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The police force is headed by a police commissioner who has authority over all police and other security forces, including the Coast Guard and Special Mobile Forces, a paramilitary unit that shares responsibility with police for internal security. The police commissioner reports directly to the Prime Minister’s Office. Police corruption and abuse of detainees were problems. The Office of the Ombudsperson, the NHRC, and the Police Complaints Bureau investigated security force abuses.

By October 31, the NHRC had received 26 complaints of physical or verbal abuse by police: nine complaints were withdrawn or dismissed for lack of evidence, and 17 cases remained under investigation. The NHRC may report cases of police abuse to the Office of the DPP.

Orientation training for all new police recruits included a segment on human rights. Management-level officers were required to take a refresher course every five years. More than 200 police officers who qualified on the basis of years of experience participated in human rights courses during the year.

 

Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention

The constitution and law require that arrest warrants be based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official and that the accused be read his or her rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. The law requires that suspects be brought before the local district magistrate within 48 hours. Police generally respected these rights, although police sometimes delayed suspects’ access to defense counsel. Detainees generally had prompt access to family members, although minors and those who did not know their rights were less likely to be provided such access. Indigent detainees facing serious criminal charges were provided an attorney at state expense. A suspect can be detained for up to a week, after which the suspect may bring the issue of bail before a magistrate. Alternatively, a suspect may be released on bail the same day as an arrest, if police concur. Individuals charged with drug trafficking may be detained for up to 36 hours without access to legal counsel or bail.

Due to a backlogged court system, approximately 20 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention. Pretrial detainees generally remained in remand for one to two years before being tried. In practice judges applied time served in remand to subsequent sentences.

 

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence in practice.

Trial Procedures

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, and trials are public. Juries are only used in murder trials. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult an attorney in a timely manner. An attorney is provided at public expense when indigent defendants face serious criminal charges. Defendants can confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants and attorneys have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases, and defendants have the right of appeal. These rights were respected in practice, although an extensive case backlog delayed the process, particularly for obtaining government-held evidence. The law extends the above rights to all citizens.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters. The law provides access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. The constitution provides for an ombudsman to investigate complaints from the public and members of parliament against government institutions and to seek redress for injustices committed by a public officer or authority in official duties as an alternative to the court system. The ombudsman has the authority to make recommendations but cannot impose penalties on a government agency.

 

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or

Correspondence

The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

 

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press; however, at times the government did not respect these rights in practice.

Individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately without reprisal.

The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.

The government owned the sole domestic television network, Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) TV, and opposition parties and media experts regularly criticized the station for its progovernment bias and unfair coverage of National Assembly debates. International television networks were available by subscription or via a cable box.

During the year La Sentinelle group, a media conglomerate, noted that since 2005 government agencies had gradually stopped buying advertising space in its publications after newspapers it owned criticized the government. In May various government agencies cancelled their subscriptions to L’Express newspaper, a member of La Sentinelle group. At year’s end the boycott was still ongoing.

On May 27, police prevented journalists from L’Express and 5-Plus Dimanche newspaper, also operated by La Sentinelle group, from attending a news conference given by the finance minister. On May 31, La Sentinelle requested a Supreme Court injunction to prevent such action. The court heard both parties and on June 14, the attorney general and La Sentinelle Group signed before a Supreme Court judge an agreement that terminated the boycott of the group’s journalists and photographers.

The prime minister regularly warned the press about tougher media laws that were being developed.

The Satanic Verses continued to be banned, as it has been since 1989; however, authorities did not fine bookstores for carrying the book during the year.

Officials used libel laws to suppress media criticism of political leaders.

For example, on July 1, police arrested chief editor Ananda Rajoo of the weekly Le Nouveau Militant for libel for an August 2009 article questioning the government’s official statistics on the H1N1 flu outbreak; Rajoo was released on bail the same day. On October 7, the DPP dropped charges against the chief editor.

On October 4, police arrested chief editor Dharmanand Dooharika of the weekly Samedi Plus for libel for a September 2009 article questioning the appointment of a manager in the national aviation company. Dooharikao was brought to court and released on bail the same day.

On September 16 and 17, the University of Mauritius and the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization sponsored a conference on press freedom.

 

Internet Freedom

There were no government restrictions on the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. According to International Telecommunication Union statistics for 2009, approximately 23 percent of the country’s inhabitants used the Internet.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

 

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.

 

c. Freedom of Religion

For a description of religious freedom, please see the Department of State’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/j/drl/irf/rpt/.

 

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.

 

The law prohibits forced exile, and the government did not use it.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

 

Protection of Refugees

The country is not a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, or the 1969 African Union Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of the Refugee Problem in Africa, nor do its laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. However, in practice, the government has not expelled or returned refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

The six Iraqis who in 2008 were detained for entering the country with fraudulent documents, granted refugee status by the UNHCR, and released on bail in March 2009 departed the country on January 19 for an evacuation transit center in Romania; the six were assisted by Amnesty International and the UN Development Program.

 

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to

Change Their Government

The constitution and law provide citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections based on universal suffrage.

 

Elections and Political Participation

International and local observers characterized the May 5 national election as generally free and fair. The constitution provides for 62 National Assembly seats to be filled by election. It also provides for the Electoral Supervisory Commission to allocate up to eight additional seats to unsuccessful candidates from minority communities through a “best loser system” (BLS). In the May 5 election, the ruling Alliance of the Future (AF), led by the Labor Party, won 41 parliamentary seats; the Alliance of the Heart (AH), led by the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM), won 18; the Mouvement Rodriguais (MR) won two; and the Mauritian Solidarity Front won one seat. Under the BLS, the AF subsequently obtained four additional seats, the AH two, and the Organization for the Rodriguan People one seat.

Problems noted by international observers in the May 5 election included unequal representation due to electoral constituencies not being redrawn; inability of persons who turned 18 between January 2009 and May 2010 to vote due to use of the 2009 voters roll; lack of accommodation to facilitate voting for persons with disabilities; and lack of legal authority to provide domestic election observers. Various candidates also claimed that some politicians distributed gifts in their constituencies prior to the election and that some polling materials were not available in Creole, a language spoken by more than 90 percent of the population.

Opposition parties stated that the government-owned television station MBC TV favored the ruling party. Opposition and MMM leader Paul Berenger claimed that MBC TV provided more airtime to and better picture quality of the prime minister. On April 13, MMM filed a complaint with the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), an independent regulatory body, regarding airtime provided to the ruling party on March 31, when Prime Minister Ramgoolam announced the dissolution of the government and presented the new government alliance. On April 15, the IBA ruled in favor of the MBC.

The constitution requires all candidates to declare themselves as belonging to one of the following four “communities”: Hindu, Muslim, Sino-Mauritian, or general population (all persons who do not belong to one of the other three categories). The BLS is based on the demographic makeup of the country as found in the 1972 census. However, there were concerns that the 1972 census results no longer reflected the country’s demographic composition. Various political observers charged that the BLS undermined national unity and promoted discrimination.

Political parties operated without restriction or outside interference.

There were 13 women in the 70-seat National Assembly. Following the May 5 National Assembly elections, there were three female ministers in the 25-member cabinet. Of the 17 Supreme Court judges, seven were women.

Although historically the Hindu majority dominated politics, no groups were excluded from the political system. In the National Assembly there were 37 Hindus, 21 members of the general population, 11 Muslims, and one Sino-Mauritian. In the cabinet there were 17 Hindus, four Muslims, three members of the general population, and one Sino-Mauritian.

 

Section 4 Official Corruption and Government Transparency

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement these laws effectively. There was a widespread public perception of corruption in the legislative and executive branches. The World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a problem.

On December 17, police arrested Johnson Roussety, the leader of the Rodrigues Regional Assembly and an MR member, for traffic of influence in forcing a civil servant to employ 200 workers who were allegedly MR partisans.

During the year the governmental Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) registered 73 complaints of corruption against police officers: 35 cases were rejected for irrelevancy, 15 cases remained under investigation, one case was referred to the DPP, and 22 were discontinued for lack of substantiation.

The ICAC continued to investigate the following 2009 cases: the overpayment by the District Council of Pamplemousses-Riviere du Rempart of a cleaning contract and the alleged bribery by the former director of th