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Lies, torture, fear: all is not well on paradise isle

The jury's not guilty verdict showed that they believed Avinash Treebhoowoon's allegation that a 'confession' produced three days after Michaela McAreavey's murder was a police concoction signed by him only after days of torture.

Treebhoowoon made his first official complaint of ill-treatment at a court appearance two days after the murder, in January 2011.

In short, he alleged he was subjected 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 at all 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 has had long-standing concerns about allegations of torture and ill-treatment of suspects by police during criminal investigations.

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As far back as 2001, we called for independent investigations into widespread allegations of abuse.

We noted then: "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 our 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.''

In 2007, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture carried out a visit to Mauritius, where it 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 before allegations of torture emerged in the McAreavey murder trial, the UN Committee against Torture reported on Mauritius.

It noted: "The committee is concerned that only few complaints of 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.

Until Mauritius gets to grip with its policing practices, glaringly exposed by this high-profile trial, then more families like the McAreaveys and Hartes will be left heartbroken.

That's the message that our politicians, the PSNI and Garda must bring to the island's authorities.

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