Mauritius Truth and Justice Commission

The Mauritius Truth and Justice Commission

Mauritius:

Truth and Justice Commission

NAME OF MECHANISM

Truth and Justice Commission (Commission Justice et Vérité)

PERIOD OF OPERATION

August 2008 – present. The commission was established in August 2008 and officially started its work on 1 February 2009. Its mandate stipulates the length of operation as 24 months, with a preparatory period of three months. The president may extend the operations of the commission by an additional six months.

MANDATE AND OPERATIONS

Mandate: Established by Mauritian President Sir Anerood Jugnauth, according to the Truth and Justice Commission Act of 2008, to “conduct inquiries into slavery and indentured labour in Mauritius during the colonial period.” The commission “may, for that purpose, gather information and receive evidence from any person; determine appropriate measures to be extended to descendants of slaves and indentured labourers; enquire into a complaint, other than a frivolous and vexatious complaint, made by any person aggrieved by a dispossession or prescription of any land in which he claims he had an interest and; prepare a comprehensive report of its activities and findings, based on factual and objective information and evidence received by it and submit the report to the President of the Republic.”

Staff: Five commissioners. Originally chaired by South African Prof. Robert Shell, it has been chaired by South African Prof. Alex Boraine since 2010. The other commissioners are Dr. Vijaya Teelock (vice chair), Dr. Parmaseeven Pillay Veerapen, Mr. Lindsay Morvan and Mr. Benjamin Moutou.

RESOURCES

Truth and Justice Commission Act [2008] Government of Mauritius official website

RESULTS

Since the commission began in 2008 to investigate ways to improve the situation of the descendants of slaves and indentured labourers, much of its work has focused on issues of land ownership in Mauritius, with many descendants arguing that their ancestors were deprived of their land unlawfully. In August 2010, it was reported that of the 350 cases registered by the commission, the majority were land claims [L’Express | 25 Aug 2010].

In March 2010, the commission heard former Minister Kishore Deerpalsing, an advocate for victims of extrajudicial dispossessions of land. Deerpalsing testified about abuses of land rights, mainly under the French and British, stating that the current unequal distribution of land in Mauritius has roots in the poor management of land ownership regulations in the colonial era, which ultimately resulted in numerous indentured labourers losing their right to land [Matinal | 20 Mar 2010].

In March 2011, Dr. Vijaya Teelock noted that while land issues were the commission’s main focus in 2010, it would focus on “other problems faced by the people” in 2011. By that point, the commission had held more than 100 public hearings on the islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues [Independent | 25 Mar 2011].

In April 2011, Prime Minister Navin Ragoolam made a statement concerning the land question, affirming that the illegal dispossession of land was a violation of slaves’ and indentured labourers’ fundamental rights. He said that he expects the final report of the Truth and Justice Commission to aid in curbing the ongoing unlawful appropriation of land. He also noted, however, that the two years allotted for the commission’s work is insufficient time to investigate a system that dates back 300 years [Matinal | 12 Apr 2011].

Much of the criticism of the commission centres on the fact that while it has been encouraged to determine the truth about the past, the issue of compensation and reparations to the descendants of victims has largely been avoided by the government. Some have also suggested that having a non-national at the head of the commission is problematic [Lalit | Nov 2009].

BACKGROUND

Mauritius remained uninhabited until the end of the 17th century, when Dutch settlers brought slaves from the East Indies and Madagascar to work on the island. Slavery continued under France in the 18th century, when slaves were brought from the west coast of Africa. At the peak of slavery, Mauritius had 66,000 slaves from Africa, India and Malaysia [Global Citizen | 19 Sep 2009]. Slaves were not liberated until February 1835, when slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire, which took the island in 1810.

In 1816, a group of Indian convicts were brought to Mauritius to work in construction. In 1829, Mauritian planters introduced Indian contract labourers for the development of the sugar industry. The indentured labourers were often mistreated and, in 1909, the importation of Indian labour to Mauritius was stopped on the recommendation of a committee appointed by the secretary of state for the colonies [Mauritius Post | 2001].

In 2008, the government of Mauritius decided to “research and repay injustices of the past carried out on the island by its colonial masters centuries ago” through the Truth and Justice Commission. According to Prof. Boraine, however, it is not enough to “expand opportunities for just a small section of the Mauritius society,” as “most of the Creole community feel hard done-by by successive governments” [News Now | 2010]. The government elected to base the commission on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

 

About the author

Darren Rodriguez