What’s new? You’ve seen the footage and photos posted on social media about alleged police brutality happening in Santo. If you have not seen it, you can read about it in this Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation story, or visit social media sites, including our page to get a sense of it. But it is the typical story about what we have been trying to get across to authorities to try and stem the tide of impunity and negligence that is the sad reality of this Northern Police Command Centre.
It’s the sort of thing that creates fear amongst the population, especially women and children. No one feels safe there when they hear the sound of police these days – ironic, when you consider that the police’s own favorite catchphrase is ‘polis hemi fren blong yu.’
We’re sorry but Luganville and Santo as a whole seems to be ruled by a police department that pays very little attention to the rule of law and the oath of allegiance they swore.
No one is questioning their role in providing proper security and maintaining peace and order in society. The Police Act might even allow for them to apply some force; but only as and when it is necessary. The law does not give them limitless freedom to use excessive power, especially brute force to carry out their duties, either during raids, or while arresting citizens and residents. Therefore, we must question if the type of force applied over the past few days at Big Bay on a Baptist Pastor and others was justifiable under law.
The above is a nice segue way to the subject of this blog piece – the collusion of a government department, such as Immigration to mastermind unlawful arrests and cause personal harm to two young visitors who have been here to visit friends 7 years ago. The incident involved both the Department of Immigration and the Police in Luganville.
Our concerns are not so much to raise an issue about the length of time it took to obtain justice, because thankfully the persons concerned have since returned to their home country; albeit with very bad memories about this country.
Background in Brief
The 2013 incident happened when Immigration Director, Alfred Raupepe (then Immigration Manager) masterminded the unlawful arrests of two young Swiss nationals who had arrived in the country in May of that year. Ona Dri Suter and Oliver Nicholas Overhage – both estimated to be about 21 or 22 years of age, had arrived on 30-days tourist visas on May 28th. The very next day, they went to Immigration to extend their visas – something that is provided for under law and laid out clearly in the Immigration website.
Instead of assisting them the then Manager, Raupepe started hurling abuse at them as they tried to lodge their applications. Mr Raupepe proceeded to interrogate them and then accused them that they had come to work.
To cut a long story short, eventually visa extensions were granted when the applications were lodged directly at the main Immigration office in Port Vila.
But then come December (while the two still had time on their visas) they were arrested and jailed at the Correctional Centre. They were interrogated and not allowed to call anyone, even the Swiss Embassy. They were held without charge until the matter was brought before the Magistrates Court in Santo. That was when they learned that they had been branded as ‘prohibited immigrants’.
This case (and others of similar severity) is sadly symptomatic of a sickening system of injustice and blatant abuse of power, which leads to mistrust and a sense of helplessness for anyone whether citizen or not.
After all, to whom should residents and citizens revert to when they are confronted with injustice?
Worse, it appears the Immigration office in Luganville is being run by someone who is bent on making life difficult for anyone he doesn’t agree with. Mr Raupepe likes to localize the interpretation of the Immigration Act – often forcing visitors on 4, 7 or 12 month visas to have to continue to return to his office, as if to control and manipulate them.
The question to ask is: ‘how is it possible that the Police and the Immigration Department can have two sets of rules for visitors entering the country?’ A set of rules looks to be correctly based on the Immigration Act, while another set appears to be administered only against people who are not ‘friends’ of Immigration officers in Luganville.
Apparently, Mr Raupepe happens to be a claimant in the Big Bay land where Eden Hope is currently located. It is clear he had abused his authority by applying the law arbitrarily, thus preventing people having proper access and recourse to justice.
C4J urges that the Government through the ministry of Internal Affairs address this appalling behavior and bring Mr Raupepe to account before more harm is brought on the reputation of this high government institution.
The Prosecutors in the case later became aware that there was no evidence to substantiate the charges, so Ona and Oliver had to be released forthwith from the Correctional Centre – sparing them more harm and cruelty.
If the Immigration and Police officers could frame Ona and Oliver by trumping up false charges of ‘prohibited Immigrants’ – contrary to section (1) (b) & (c) of the Immigration Act N0). 17 of 2010, they can do it to just about anyone?
Recently, C4J followed up with the Police Department in Luganville about the status of the string of complaints filed regarding the duo’s unlawful arrests. Unsurprisingly there were no records of these available in their files.
Under normal circumstances, when a Police officer receives a complaint, the complaint is then recorded in a formal Police Complaint form. The complaints are then registered into a Police Occurrence Book (OB), from which the Police Record Officer allocates Crime Report Numbers and opens docket files, before referring them to an investigation officer.
After 40 years of independence should we allow such unlawful police behaviour to continue at will?’