human rights news & views

Tongan police & military abuses documented

Some 700 people were arrested in the South Pacific nation of Tonga last year following riots on 16 November. Arson and looting on the main island of Tongatapu caused extensive damage to the capital Nuku’alofa and beyond.

A preliminary human rights report issued shortly after the crisis documented violence and other abuses by police and soldiers involved in arresting and detaining suspects.

A full report, issued today in both Tongan (pdf, 616kb) and English (pdf, 600kb), provides more extensive evidence of serious rights abuses against detainees. Its findings are based on detailed interviews with 84 alleged victims.

  • 41% of respondents claimed to have suffered violence during their arrest and transfer to detention
  • 53% claimed they were beaten or otherwise intimidated during police interrogation
  • 21% of those held incommunicado at the Central Police Station were children

Cells were overcrowded and unsanitary, while children were housed together with adults, contrary to the Convention on the Rights of the Child which Tonga has ratified.

The 81-page report makes 22 recommendations to the Tongan Government and international donors with the aim of addressing the abuses and improving Tonga’s human rights record.

The non-governmental National Centre for Women and Children, under whose auspices the original, 16-page report was issued, has since distanced itself from the report’s findings, alleging flawed methodology.

Author of both reports, Australian legal advisor Gus McLean, has been working as a volunteer in Tonga some three years, including for the government. His new report is endorsed by the Community Para-Legal Taskforce on Human Rights, which claims to defend human rights enshrined in the Tongan Constitution and in international law.

McLean retreats from his original accusation of torture, preferring in his latter report the lesser, though equally indefensible, charge of "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment." He reminds his readers of the absolute prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, regardless of the suspected or proven crimes of a detainee, whatever state of political crisis or lawlessness may prevail.

This report on prisoner abuses is the first of a series planned by the Para-Legal Taskforce addressing human rights concerns relating to the civil unrest in the Kingdom in 2006.

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