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Monday, August 31, 2009

Dheerujlall Seetulsingh’s flawed and prejudicial Human Rights

Dheerujlall B Seetulsingh
Chairperson of the Mauritian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)

Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states : « All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood ». Such rights refer to basic rights and freedoms irrespective of race, sex, colour, religion or other status. They include civil and political rights, the right to life and liberty, freedom of expression, equality before the law, economic, social and cultural rights, and the right to food, work and education. Having, as Solicitor General in 1998, denied an adopted orphan the right to officially bear the name of her adoptive Father, Dheerujlall Seetulsingh was appointed Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Mauritius in April 2001.

Human Rights Report 2008 (Mauritius)
The Mauritius National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was set up under the « The Protection of Human Rights Act 1998 ». The functions of the Commission are to enquire into written complaints made (i) by any person who feels that any of the human rights enshrined in Chapter II of the Constitution has been violated or is likely to be violated by the act or omission of a public officer or employee of a public body; (ii) by any person against an act or omission of a member of the police. Public body is defined as (a) a Ministry or Government department; (b) a Local Authority; (c) a Parastatal Body; (d) a Company where Government by holding shares or otherwise is able to influence that company's policy or decisions. Hence, the Mauritian NHRC cannot enquire into any human rights complaints made against a non-government body. It is also clearly stated as a limitation: « The NHRC does not deal with complaints relating to economic, social and cultural rights »? Another limitation is that the NHRC is not empowered to « enquire into any private dispute between individuals or any complaint against private employers or professionals, e.g lawyers, doctors, etc. ».

However, in his Human Rights Report 2008, Me Dheerujlall Seetulsingh, former Solicitor General, former Judge and Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Mauritius since April 2001, went outside what he is authorised to do (ultra vires) by proposing constitutional amendments to include proportional representation (which is not a right), the protection of economic and social rights (which is excluded from his functions), the Creation of a Court of Appeal (which has to do with the reform of the judiciary rather than human rights). The Chairperson also advocated positive discrimination (affirmative action), which is not a right, in order to increase the number of women lawmakers because of « gender imbalance », and he criticised the Legislative Assembly for not having addressed the issue at the adoption of the Equal Opportunities Act in December 2008. All this sounds more like a political agenda.

‘Awareness’ of Human Rights
Even in areas which fall within the functions of the NHRC, Dheerujlall Seetulsingh’s Human Rights Report 2008 is littered with flaws. In his interview published in Mauritius Times of 17 July 2009, speaking about Mauritius, Dheerujlall Seetulsingh says « There are no important human rights violations which are considered worth reporting in Amnesty International’s Annual Report » and that « Mauritius was reviewed favourably this year by the Human Rights Council in Geneva », upon which he concludes that Mauritians « have good reasons to be proud » of their Human Rights records. Mauritians are bound to wonder why so much taxpayers’ money should be spent on the Human Rights institution if all Dheerujlall Seetulsingh can do is rely on what other Human Rights organisations are saying or not saying. He speaks of « awareness amongst the Mauritian public of basic human rights » rather than protection of their Human Rights. He also speaks of alleged police brutality as « having stabilized » as if this is an acceptable yardstick in the measurement of respect for Human Rights.

In fact, in its 2002 Annual Report for Mauritius, Amnesty International reported : « At least four detainees were reported to have died in police custody as a result of torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Others alleged torture and ill-treatment by police at the time of arrest. The government established a National Human Rights Commission in April which opened investigations into allegations of police torture, but international standards for such inquiries appeared not to have been met. »

DNA database and Police States
In the matter of objections to the holding of DNA profile of innocent people (including children), Dheerujlall Seetulsingh argues that « requiring a person to give his/her DNA sample does not really infringe upon his/her right to privacy » and that « there is no such thing as the right to privacy in our Constitution » [Mauritius Times, 17 July 2009]. But, even if the constitution does not specifically mention the right to privacy, the law does recognise such right, with certain limitations. He appears to be all for a DNA national database. He clearly does not believe that this is a civil, hence, a human right that should be protected while all other Human Rights organisations across the world are fighting tooth and nail to protect such civil liberties and to prevent the establishment of Police States. The European Courts of Human Rights even ruled that this violated people’s fundamental rights to privacy. It is striking that Dheerujlall Seetulsingh proposes no amendment to the Constitution in order to protect citizens’ civil rights, especially given that DNA analysis is not a precise science and subject to interpretations, and that DNA mismatch and the risk of contamination are not uncommon. Israeli scientists recently claimed that DNA could be falsified. Professor Allan Jamieson, director of Edinburgh's Forensic Institute, said « I fear innocent people will be mistakenly identified as suspects as a consequence of being on this database ». When innocent people are on such a database, this means that they are permanent suspects, which Dheerujlall Seetulsingh wrongly believes is not an infringement of those citizens’ rights. His stance is prejudicial to the protection of Human Rights, and regarded by many as anti-Human Rights.

Religious discrimination
By letter dated 6th January 1998, Dheerujlall Seetulsingh, then Solicitor General, rejected, without giving any reason, Ms Sen Seetulsingh’s (my wife’s) application for official change of name as the adopted daughter of the late Ramduthlall Seetulsingh of Curepipe and as having been brought up as a member of the Seetulsingh family for nearly 25 years. An appeal by way of judicial review was lodged and the matter was settled in her favour and the annotation « Sen Seetulsingh » finally entered in her birth certificate. However, in the article « Prêt à tout pour porter le nom ‘Seetulsingh’ », l’Express 16 April 2009, Sen’s ‘niece’, Sharmila Seetulsingh-Goorah, under the delusion that people are prepared to do anything to bear the ‘Seetulsingh’ name which she believes is of superior Hindu caste or status, stated that the reason for rejection was because Sen (an orphan of Mother) was born of Muslim parents (who were effectively regarded as ‘low caste’ because they were Muslims). To date, Dheerujlall Seetulsingh, a relative of Ramduthlall Seetulsingh’s family, has not disputed S S Goorah’s allegation that the administrative decision to deny Sen Seetulsingh’s human right to bear the surname of her adoptive Father was based on religious discrimination, which is regarded as a form of racism. It is well known in the Seetulsingh family that Dheerujlall Seetulsingh has always been dead against Sen Seetulsingh officially bearing the Seetulsingh name for the same discriminatory reasons stated by Sharmila Seetulsingh-Goorah.

Denial of right to bail
Dheerujlall Seetulsingh brushed aside the internationally reported human rights violations of Muhammad Cehl Fakeemeeah (also called Cehl Meeah), the leader of the now defunct Mauritian Hizbullah Islamic party, who was arrested in December 2000 upon the uncorroborated allegations of one or more self-confessed criminals and kept in police custody for nearly three years without bail (during which time he was tortured). Amnesty International commented on this case in its 2002 Report. The UK based Islamic Human Rights Commission also commented in great length on the plight of Cehl Meeah against whom all charges were dropped in 2003. However, Dheerujlall Seetulsingh is not only silent on the matter, but he proposed no amendment to the constitution to prevent such violation either. Nor does he propose the repeal of the post US 9/11 « Prevention of Terrorism Act 2002 » (PoTA), a piece of legislation in breach of human rights and designed primarily to target Muslims in Mauritius in the aftermath of 9/11 and which law former President Cassam Uteem rightly refused to give assent to and resigned.

In his 2008 Human Rights Report, Dheerujlall Seetulsingh makes no recommendation for the protection of the rights and interests of adopted children, but chose to make ultra vires recommendations on social and economic rights, on positive discrimination in favour of women politicians, and so on. How does he propose to force women to do politics, force political parties to select women candidates and force voters to vote for them ? Is it proper for the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission to advocate any form of prejudice or discrimination?

Pro-DNA database and pro-discrimination Dheerujlall Seetulsingh appears to obtain his inspiration from human rights violators from countries like Egypt, a brutal dictatorship under Mubarak, South Africa, a country still grappling with the fallout of apartheid, France, an intrinsically racist country violating Human Rights, especially of Muslims, every single day, as he specifically mentioned those countries as examples to follow in matters of ‘human rights’. His refusal letter against the right of an adopted orphan to officially bear the surname of her adoptive Father because of a racist caste system and religious discrimination needs no further explanation. In view of such bias and prejudice, can Dheerujlall Seetulsingh be regarded as defending the Human rights of every citizen? Furthermore, his 2008 Report contains too many obvious flaws and ulra vires comments and recommendations that he should, in the public interest, resign as Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Mauritius.

M Rafic Soormally
31 August 2009

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