Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Human Rights abuse in Seychelles

Stigmatized for life

Elvis Labonté was arrested nearly six months ago on Praslin on suspicion of rape. Yet after spending 48 hours in police custody, the man was released and no charge pressed. But the damage had already been done: he lost his job and he is stigmatised on Praslin where he lives. And in a poignant reversal of roles, he has been chasing the police for the past months so that he can clear his name but the police are dodging him. He even went to the Human Rights Commission, in vain.

The rape was allegedly committed on 1 January of this year. Elvis Labonté, a 48 year old resident of Baie St Anne Praslin says that his arrest was completely arbitrary and unjust. He was detained on Praslin, then Mahé for 48 hours altogether and then released without so much as an explanation or a return ticket home. He avers that he is stigmatized by the community over the whole incident and even lost his job as a result of the accusation.

“It was on 17 March of this year that five police officers came and arrested me at my place of work,” a desperate Elvis Labonté told this newspaper. “They charged me with rape and I was held for 24 hours on Praslin after which they sent me to Mahé. I was then held for another 24 hours before being subjected to a DNA test which involved a cheek swab. I and the other detainees were not even given food or water until they released me the next day”, he recounted.

Worse, he was released without a return ticket to Praslin and he had to pay for his own way home. Even more telling, Mr Labonté was not charged by the police, which suggests that they realised they had the wrong suspect.

But the consolation was bitter. For things were not as before when he reached home. Upon his return to Praslin, Mr Labonté was informed by his employer that his services were no longer required and that he was declared “persona non grata” at the tourism establishment where he worked in Côte d’Or as a maintenance handyman.

“This made things worse as I was a casual worker and my employer could dismiss me after hearing these allegations,” the man says. Elvis Labonté managed to find another job but admits that his woes did not end there. “I feel stigmatized by the community because people now see me as a rapist despite the fact that I have repeatedly claimed my innocence and for nearly six months I have tried to contact the police and the officer in charge of the case– but to no avail. I just can’t seem to get in touch with them and their excuses have not gotten me anywhere. I turned to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) with the hope of obtaining some justice but it was the same story from them. They just kept procrastinating and I’m still in the dark. I feel violated and yet can’t even turn to the organization that is supposed to be there to defend my rights,” the frustrated man said.

 Mr Labonté, who is also a single father to a five year old girl told TODAY that, “the police even tried to run tests on my child but I refused since they were not even willing to provide a certificate as proof of the procedure. Her schoolteacher also refused, given that it would be a traumatic experience to the child”, he said adding that the police has never been able to come up with “any concrete evidence that proves any culpability on my part. I am appalled by the way the police handled this situation. They treated me like I was guilty from day one and showed no interest in hearing my side of the story – despite me telling them that I was at home with my daughter when the incident allegedly happened. The lack of support and professionalism from the HRC has also left a bitter taste in my mouth as I had nowhere else to turn to,” he lamented.

As a last resort, Mr Labonté contacted TODAY to tell his story. This newspaper in turn, spoke to the police spokesperson Jean Toussaint who said he wasn’t aware of the case. Mr Toussaint said however that Elvis Labonté should contact the unit that was responsible for investigating such cases.

The officer we spoke to at the Family Squad informed us that they were not at liberty to disclose information of that nature to the press. They added that Mr Labonté could come at the central police station to speak to the officer concerned, if he so wanted. This, for Elvis Labonté, is a case of too little too late. He told this newspaper that “it’s too late now. I have been after them for almost six months and now they suddenly want me to come and see them. Can you believe the audacity?”

Source: Today