8 Oct 2013

Vanuatu watchdog questions lack of action over prisoner's death

5:35 pm on 8 October 2013

Transparency International Vanuatu says a lingering threat remains from the para-military Vanuatu Mobile Force, the VMF, and this is why there has been no action over the killing of a recaptured prisoner by officers four years ago.

In 2010 a New Zealand judge, serving as the coroner, wrote a scathing report into police involvement in the death of John Bule.

He described the VMF as a power unto itself, that considered itself above the law.

But there has been no action taken by the government, nor have police made any efforts to charge Mr Bule's killers.

TIV's Marie-Noelle Ferrieux Patterson says the politicians are frightened about confronting the police.

MARIE-NOELLE FERRIEUX PATTERSON: If we do not clear the past we are always subject to his happening again. But at the moment there is better satisfaction of the public with the police services. As I said, we need to find out what happened. The report that came out by Judge Dawson was absolutely scathing in the sense of especially showing the force, which was the VMF, only answerable to themselves, having no loyalty to the law. So at the moment the police is on their side, because we have got together the police and the army. So it's on the side of the army that I think the challenge was the worst because they were brought in to go and catch the prisoner. And that's the army that considers themselves more disciplined, more effective. But in fact they've got typically, as an army, more loyalty to their own members, but at the same time forget to respect the law. And I think that is always a frightening, lingering threat that we have in our police force together that cannot be going away unless this matter is really studied and investigated and some sanctions are taken and motivated and justified so people can understand what happened.

DON WISEMAN: The politicians have not spoken out about this publicly at all. Are they scared to do that?

MFP: It's exactly what I'm saying. There is a lingering threat.

DW: They're scared of the police.

MFP: Yeah. When it's a lingering threat we have - anyone criticising the police at some point, if you push too far, has got that threat in their head. It was against a prisoner. The police was known - I haven't heard recently many incidents - to basically catch people, put them in what we call that little cell in the police station, Number Six - give them a hard time, batter them. So you don't know when that can happen again. So in this way, yes, the past of the police is [viewed] as a threat. And the politicians are very unsettled with that, probably even more than the public, because the aspect of a coup, those attempts in the past have not been successful, but it's always there, too, so the politicians prefer to be friends with the police than enemies with the police. And to have them on their side, working together or whatever it is, but to have them on their side is really going into confrontation and demanding accountability.