Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Boycotting Mauritius will not bring justice for Michaela McAreavey

Sanjeev Teeluckdharry is held aloft by supporters of the Treebhoowoon family
John and Michaela McAreavey were on honeymoon in Mauritius last January when she was killed
Michaela McAreavey's widower John and her father Mickey Harte follow her coffin at St Malachy's church outside Ballygawley

Peter Robinson is perfectly correct. It was, indeed, “utterly contemptible” for a Mauritian newspaper to print crime-scene images of the body of Michaela McAreavey. It's right, too, that Eamon Gilmore, Ireland's deputy prime minister, has sent a message of protest over this “disgraceful” episode.

There are serious questions for the Mauritian authorities to answer, both about the leak of these grotesque photographs and their publication, and about the deeply-flawed police probe into the McAreavey murder itself.

What's more, Amnesty International has had long-standing concerns about allegations of torture and ill-treatment of suspects by Mauritian police.

Behind the shimmering skies and white sandy beaches of this exotic destination, there is obviously a dark seam of poverty, greed and violence.

Yet all the wild, emotional talk of ‘boycotting’ Mauritius, here in Ireland, should stop.

It's understandable that public feelings of anger and frustration are running high. How could you not feel the deepest sympathy for the quietly dignified Harte and McAreavey families, whose distress — both at the loss of Michaela and the terrible ordeal of the court case — is unimaginable?

But some of the anti-Mauritius sentiment steers perilously close to outright racism, implicitly painting us as a civilised, sophisticated society and Mauritians as incompetent savages or worse.

By all means call the Mauritian authorities to account for their failings.

But you cannot condemn the entire island and all its citizens. Thousands of people have signed up to a Boycott Mauritius page on Facebook.

GAA fan Eamon McGee spoke for many when he tweeted that “surely no Irish man or woman will holiday in Mauritius now”.

Yesterday, the deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, said a dark shadow hung over the holiday island and that he would not consider going there.

Then there's Donegal travel agent Caroline Davies, who has publicly declared that she won't sell any more trips to Mauritius, apparently out of solidarity with the McAreavey family.

No doubt Ms Davies means well — I wouldn't like to think that there was any attempt to seek publicity for her own business out of this terrible tragedy — but all such gestures do is ramp up the emotional temperature, already febrile, and that helps no one.

Irish Travel Agents Association spokesman Pat Dawson was right when he said that the murder and the scandal over the published photos was “personal to the Irish people”.

One of our own — a beautiful young woman — was brutally murdered in a foreign land, far away from home. This in itself brings out all our hidden cultural xenophobia, the ancient, buried prejudices about foreign people with strange-sounding names and different-coloured skin.

Mistrust was further fuelled by the rowdy behaviour in the Mauritian high court during the trial: the inappropriate laughing, the crowds, the jostling.

I'm sure that was deeply unpleasant for the McAreaveys, seeming to make light of the dignity of their grief. There was certainly not the weighty formality that we would expect to encounter in a European court.

Yet that shouldn't, in itself, encourage us to condemn Mauritians as unfeeling, or their justice system as inferior or inept. It is simply a different culture with different rules, different customs to our own.

And while there are clearly problems to address there, Mauritius has consistently come out top in the stringently-researched Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which measures human rights, personal safety and legal and civic institutions in 53 African countries. We are not talking about a lawless banana republic here. The truth is that many Mauritians are equally appalled by what happened to Michaela, equally disgusted at the publication of the crime-scene images.

Yousuf Mohamed, a leading Mauritian barrister and former government minister, said that he was scandalised by the photographs and that he had never seen anything like it in more than 50 years at the Bar.

Let's not forget that there have been terrible failures in justice and policing in our own jurisdiction. There are also many, many victims of brutal, inexplicable violence out there who still have no answers — and probably never will. It would be hypocritical for us to hold ourselves up as paragons of social and moral virtue, against the perceived chaos and squalor of the Mauritian rule of law.

Here in Northern Ireland, we — of all people — should know what it's like when a whole country gets unfairly vilified as the result of the reprehensible, corrupt, or violent actions of a minority of individuals.

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