Allegations of torture and mistreatment
In the aftermath of the riots in Nuku’alofa on 16 November 2006, hundreds of people were detained by police and soldiers, supported by Australian and New Zealand police and army personnel. In subsequent weeks, there were a series of allegations that detainees had been mistreated and beaten by Tongan soldiers and police officers, often while being held without charge.
The allegations were compiled in two reports published by Tongan community groups in 2006 and 2007, which asked for Australia and New Zealand to take up the issue when designing programs to strengthen the Tongan police and military forces in the aftermath of the riots.
Tongan authorities have questioned the accuracy of the reports, while the Tonga Defence Services has stated that ‘it does not approve or condone torture or ill-treatment of prisoners and civilians, and will investigate any allegations that have been reported directly to the Services.’
The systematic torture and abuse of prisoners by the Government of Tonga following civil unrest in November 2006, National Centre for Women and Children, November 2006
“The National Centre for Women and Children (NCWC), concerned by recent allegations of prisoner abuse and mistreatment by security forces in the wake of the November 16 Nuku’alofa riots in the Kingdom of Tonga, has today released an independent report, “The systematic torture and abuse of prisoners by the Government of Tonga following civil unrest in November 2006”. This report, which includes first hand accounts from prisoners and photographs of alleged physical abuses, highlights that there is an urgent need to review and strengthen current monitoring of prison conditions and prisoner welfare, including the introduction of independent monitors.”
[Download video for footage of Tongan and NZ troops, including statements by Tongan soldiers admitting beating of prisoners]
“Following the pro-democracy riots in Tonga in 2006, troops from New Zealand and Australia were sent to quell the rebellion and restore Monarchical order. This documentary was filmed in the week after the troops arrived detailing the riots, the pro-democracy movement, the abuse of people by Tongan forces and the operations of the New Zealand and Australian army. The movie stands very much at odds with the mainstream media account of the events.”
Documenting the treatment of detainees and prisoners by security forces in Tonga, Community Para-legal taskforce on Human Rights, Nuku’alofa, March 2007
“This report documents the ill-treatment of persons arrested and/or detained by members of the Security Forces (Tonga Police Force and Tonga Defence Service) since civil unrest in Nuku’alofa, Tonga on the 16th November 2006 …Statistical analysis was conducted to quantify the extent of ill-treatment, and revealed inter alia:
- 41 % of arrested persons said that they suffered physical violence during arrest by Security Forces. All of these persons suffered head and facial injuries ranging from bruising and swelling to broken teeth, bones and eye damage. The predominant perpetrators of violence during arrest were members of the Tonga Defence Service.
- 30% of arrested persons reported that they were interviewed by Security Forces with violence and/or threats of violence and intimidation intended to elicit information and/or confessions prior to reaching the Central Police Station.
- 53% of persons interviewed by Police at the Central Police Station reported that they had suffered violence and/or threats of violence and intimidation intended to elicit information and/or confessions during interview by Police Officers.
- 21 % of detainees and prisoners who had been held at the Central Police Station and interviewed for this report were children.
- Concerns have also been raised in relation the widespread neglect of standard criminal procedures by Security Forces, the psychological impact of violence and detention, issues associated with judicial oversight, identification of perpetrators of violence and the integrity of formal complaint procedures.
“Recommendations have been provided to assist the development of strategies to address the issues raised in this report.
“Recommendation: That the Tonga Police Joint Assessment Mission from the Australian Federal Police and New Zealand Police Force consider the issues and recommendations raised in this report when preparing and designing a framework of assistance for the Tonga Police Force.”
Government Does Not Condone Alleged Torture and Abuse of Suspects, Government of Tonga media release, 2 December 2006
“The Prime Minister’s Office wishes to make clear that the Government of Tonga does not condone the alleged torture and abuse of suspects as stated in the report produced by the National Centre for Women and Children on 1 December 2006. The ‘executive summary’ page of the report, which is titled, ‘The Systematic Torture and Abuse of Prisoners by the Government of Tonga Following Civil Unrest in November 2006,’ states ‘This report exposes the systematic nature of torture and abuse of prisoners arrested and held in the cells of the Nuku’alofa Police Station by Tonga Defense Service (TDS) personnel and Police Officers from the Tonga Police Force since the Nuku’alofa riots on 16th November, 2006.’
“Speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister’s Office, Lopeti Senituli said, ‘The Government is looking at the various allegations of torture and physical abuse made in the report before it addresses the report’s recommendations. In the meantime it needs to be made very clear that the Government of Tonga does not condone any form of torture or physical abuse of suspects that have been detained because of their alleged role in the violence of 16 November.’ “
Discredited human rights report was work of unscrupulous volunteer, Government of Tonga media release, 21 December 2006
“The National Center for Women and Children, NCWC, has dissociated itself from the report released under its name, alleging systematic abuse and torture of prisoners captured in the aftermath of the events of November 16th. In various interviews with the media, officials of the National Center for Women and Children have expressed dismay that the author of the report, volunteer worker Gus Mclean, has betrayed the trust and the integrity of the organization. According to the Vice Chairperson of the NCWC, Dr. Toakase Fakakovikaetau, the volunteer produced and released a report purportedly under the authority of the NCWC, without the knowledge and endorsement of the Board.”
Tonga Defence Services review of the allegations, TDS Press release, 23 May 2007.
“The Tonga Defence Services wishes to reiterate that it does not approve or condone torture or ill-treatment of prisoners and civilians, and will investigate any allegations that have been reported directly to the Services. However, the Tonga Defence Services will use force as necessary (including force causing death) as stated in the TDS Act 1992 to restore and maintain Law and Order in the Kingdom.
“The Tonga Defence Services has received a report from the Community Para-Legal Taskforce titled as Report on the Treatment of Persons Arrested and Detained by the Security Forces. The aim of the report as stated was that it “will attempt to collect and document allegations of ill-treatment and furthermore present statistical analysis to quantify the extent of these allegations.”
“The Tonga Defence Services is currently reviewing this Report to see if these allegations add any new information to the previously defunct allegations by the same author titled, “The Systematic Torture and Abuse of Prisoners by the Government of Tonga following Civil Unrest in November 2006.” These previous allegations were made under the National Centre for Women and Children allegedly without their consent, and it seems that they have been watered down and supported by “statistics” and presented under a new front with an ulterior motive.”