No Right Turn
Tonga: What We Supported
Last month, the New Zealand government sent soldiers and police to Tonga "to help maintain law and order". At the time I
was deeply uneasy
about this move, as it smacked of propping up a corrupt feudal regime against its own people
. But I didn't know quite how bad it was.
The National Centre for Women and Children - an NGO funded by NZAID
to lobby for an end to sexual violence in Tonga - has been interviewing those detained by the police in the wake of the
riots, and produced a report on The systematic torture and abuse of prisoners by the government of Tonga following civil unrest in November 2006
[PDF]. It is horrifying reading. It reports widespread violations of civil liberties by Tongan police, including
arbitrary and unlawful detention, denial of legal advice, and prison conditions that constitute cruel treatment. Worse,
according to the report, Treatment amounting to torture under the common law of Tonga and International law has also been reported as occurring
Prisoners were routinely beaten with rifle-butts when arrested by Tongan troops, to the extent that three quarters of
prisoners entering one cell had serious head injuries. Several were beaten into unconsciousness. One reported being
pistol-whipped, and then having a loaded and cocked pistol pointed at him while being threatened with death. Prisoners
were routinely beaten by police on arrival at the police station, and subjected to threats and physical violence during
interrogation: [O]ne prisoner was threatened with physical and sexual violence by a Police Officer holding a large broom stick.
One prisoner estimated that about 40% of the prisoners in his cell had been subjected to some form of physical violence
during interrogation. He described that one of the prisoners had had a wooden chair broken over him while being
A prisoner interviewed for this report said that he observed another prisoner being forced to make a confession by
police who were slapping and punching him about the face and head. The prisoner had provided Police Officers with a list
of items he had stolen but according to the prisoner who witnessed these events, the Police Officers were trying to get
the prisoner to confess to more items.
And that's not the worst of it. Some prisoners were handcuffed for extended periods of time. According to one witness, One of the prisoners was crying – crying like he was at a putu [Tongan funeral]. He was begging too. His handcuffs had been on for three days straight. They [the Police] wouldn’t
even take them off when he went to do a shit. The cuffs had worked themselves so tight that they had cut through his
skin and you could see his wrist bones exposed.
This is outright torture. Its not as sophisticated or calculated as that carried out in places like Iraq (whether by the
former dictator or his replacements), but it is torture all the same.
This is what we sent troops to Tonga to protect: a regime of corrupt, feudal, torturing kleptocrats.
I hope the government is feeling proud of themselves.