March 12, 2013

Torture in Fiji video breaks international law - UN

Updated 12 March 2013, 10:52 AEST
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned the bashing of recaptured prisoners by Fiji security personnel.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned the bashing of recaptured prisoners by Fiji security personnel.

It says the video posted on the internet appears to show the two handcuffed men being subjected to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.

The UN Human Rights body is calling for an investigation by an impartial and competent authority, not the Fijian police, and it wants the finding to be made public.

Presenter: Richard Ewart

Speaker: Rupert Colville, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva

COLVILLE: Basically it's pretty clearly torture and inhuman degrading human treatment as you said earlier. These are two men who were totally powerless, they're both handcuffed. One is lying in the back of a pickup, completely helpless and just being repeatedly assaulted with a variety of weapons with some heavy rubber piping, a metal rod, a stick and what looks like some sort of hammer. And it's a really odious scene, you actually see people aiming for the most painful bits of the legs, like the ankles and stuff to hit with a metal rod or a hammer. It's a very deliberate effort to cause pain and completely unacceptable, authorities shouldn't behave in that fashion.

EWART: So in terms of the investigation to follow we know that the Fijian police say that they're going to attempt to establish the facts in the case. But as far as the UN is concerned you want more than that?

COLVILLE: Well I think it's pretty clear something awful has happened in the video. People's faces are visible, the number plate of the vehicle is visible, so it should be fairly easy to establish who are the people who are assaulting these two helpless prisoners. So we hope the Fijian police will pretty quickly come to some conclusions and it's hard to see how they could possibly not bring prosecutions in this kind of case.

EWART: But from what we're hearing and not least from the interim prime minister Commodore Bainimarama, it would appear that these men may not face punishment for their actions, the prime minister is saying he'll stand by his men?

COLVILLE: Well maybe he hasn't seen the video, but I mean clearly there's a breach of international law in these pictures, torture is against the law in all circumstances anywhere at any time. And it remains to be absolutely clearly defined this is torture, but it looks awfully like it from looking at the video. So there's absolute prohibition under international law. So if people are doing it and it's caught on camera and you can see the people doing it, there shouldn't really be any let-out for them.

EWART: But in terms of a wider investigation, an impartial investigation, do you believe that as a body that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights can bring pressure to bear on what after all is an unelected military regime?

COLVILLE: Well I think international opinion does have an effect and I'm sure the Fijian government won't hear it only from us. And obviously this type of thing is not very good news for a government, if its authorities under their command are pictured doing this type of act and if they do nothing about it. But we don't know for sure they will do nothing about it. Let's hope they do because I think it's extremely important to stop this kind of activity and the best way to stop it is to punish people who are doing it.

EWART: So to what degree do you think that the countries closest to Fiji with what you might call broad international influence, so therefore obviously Australia and New Zealand, what impact do you think they could have? And New Zealand's parliament is due to vote today I believe on a motion condemning the violence captured on the video. Australia hasn't gone that far yet, but do they need to?

COLVILLE: Well I think it's important that everyone, especially the Fijians themselves look long and hard at this and what are the implications of it, what does it show about the rule of law in Fiji, what needs to be improved and really take action to do it. And in a sense there is an opportunity here. I mean this type of act of course does occur in the dark, it's not always caught on a cell phone, but in this case it's pretty clear what's happened and there really is an opportunity to deal with it and in dealing with it create a better situation in the future in Fiji. And I think if that's not done, it's clearly going to reflect very badly on the Fijian authorities both internally among Fijians, which should be of political interest to the authorities, but also externally. And it will colour relations with that country with other countries, because it's really a very graphic and pretty shocking video.

EWART: Now plainly we're talking about the implications of what's happened here because that video surfaced on the internet. How concerned are you that this may be an example of a wider problem within the Fijian police and the Fijian security personnel, but because these other cases haven't appeared on video we know nothing about them yet?

COLVILLE: Well that is a concern, I mean it isn't the first time, they've been allegations of this type of treatment in very similar circumstances. I mean these were allegedly as I said the circumstances need to be fully established, but it seems these were, or at least one of these men was an escaped prisoner. There was another incident last September when there were five escaped prisoners and they all ended up in hospital. And in fact one of them had a leg amputated. So there are very, very big question marks about what happened to those men when they were recaptured. And there have been other incidents in the past few years as well. So it is an ongoing issue, but as I said this very what appears to be at this point a pretty clear cut case does present an opportunity to start to really set an example, stop this kind of behaviour. And any country needs to do that, I mean otherwise you lose the trust and the credibility from your own population.

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