Friday, May 12, 2006

Correctional Reform Bill Press Release

Transparency International Vanuatu
Press Release
May 9, 2006


The testimonies of Marc Neil-Jones on the human rights abuses inside the old French jail have now been confirmed by the recent incident of prisoners escape last May 5 after allegations of maltreatment by the police within the prison quarters.

In his opinion column published last April 14, 2006 in the Daily Post, a few days after he was released from detention on careless driving charge, Neil-Jones narrated the prisoners’ account that they were “repeatedly whipped with hosepipes” by the prison guards. Neil-Jones
described the prisoners as being “shackled together with chains and others shuffling about with leg irons chains.”

Neil-Jones eyewitness account was further substantiated through a letter that the escapees sent to Chief Paul Tahi, head of Malvatumauri, a day after they escaped the prison. The escapees claim that they were subjected to a brutal treatment by the police chaining them together for months with leg irons chains.

While the government is now preparing for the passing of the correctional reform bills, a common question now runs in the minds of the people of Vanuatu: Will these new correctional reform bills finally resolve the deep-seated problems in the Vanuatu prisons now?

Marie-Noelle Ferrieux-Patterson, President of the Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV), says that although the new bills protect the rights of prisoners to a certain extent, it does not adequately ensure that prisoners are kept in safe conditions and that minimum international standards for prisoners’ and prison conditions are met.

Malvatumauri should be congratulated for taking the prisoners’ letter seriously and for bringing it to the government’s immediate attention. “The government should conduct an investigation on the alleged maltreatment of the prisoners and ensure that the prison officers liable are held accountable,” Patterson said. “It is the duty of all prison officers to treat prisoners with humanity and impartiality. All prison officers should be complying with the international minimum standards of treatment of prisoners.” It is also the role of the Ombudsman to look into this matter of maladministration and abuse of human rights following a complaint or of his own initiative, as the prisoners do not have any normal recourse

Though the new legislative framework for the Vanuatu Government’s Correctional Reforms has included amendments of the old Prison (Administration) Act which are now in line with the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners adopted by the United Nations in 1955, TIV believes that the current Ombudsman should take action on the increasing complaints from the prisoners on how their rights were violated. Otherwise, the prisoners will have no one to turn to except to take the law into their own hands as what happened with the recent incident at the old jail.

The escapees also state in their letter to Chief Tahi that they were chained together by their legs and “when one has to go to the toilet, one has to drag the other to the toilet.”

The new correctional reform bills now state that restraint of a detainee is only necessary to prevent from injuring himself or herself or any other person and to prevent the escape during a movement to and from the correctional centre. (Sec. 22, 1-3)

This follows the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners which states that “instruments of restraint, such as handcuffs, chains, irons and strait-jacket, shall never be applied as a punishment (Sec 33a).”

The escapees also mentioned in their letter to Chief Tahi that they were not given any access to telephone, no access to a doctor when they are sick, no access to lawyer and no visitation rights.

Section 10 (2i to 2l) of the new correctional reform bill seeks to repeal the old Prison Act which does not allow prisoners access to communication and visitation without the permission of the Superintendent and if violated a fine up to VT 15,000 may be imposed. Visitation rights are recognized internationally as a right of prisoner, but for several years, Vanuatu penalizes anyone that tries to exercise their basic human rights.

Though this Bill is now in accordance with UN Conventions on the treatment of prisoners and international best practice, TIV is calling for the new set of officers of the Correctional Services to abide by the United Nations International Minimum Standards for Prisoners. “This will ensure the safety and wellbeing of the prisoners,” said Patterson. “Counselling of the prison guards is absolutely necessary and if it does not achieve its purpose, discipline must be imposed on the prison staff.

Further more to resolve the immediate problems, why has this matter not been stopped by the Acting Commissioner of Police since the public complaint of the journalist from Daily Post last month? Can the Acting Police Commissioner answer to the public?

For further information, please contact:

Transparency International Vanuatu
P.O. Box 355
Port Vila, Vanuatu
Tel: (678) 25715
Fax: (678) 25716


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