[From the International Labor Organization's on-line documentation, which is found at the above address]
273. The complaint in this case appears in a communication from the Mauritius Labour Congress (MLC) of 7 October 1997.
274. The Government sent its observations in a communication dated 29 January 1998.
275. Mauritius has not ratified the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87), but has ratified the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98).
276. In its communication of 7 October 1997, the Mauritius Labour Congress (MLC) denounced the decision of the Mauritius Police Authorities to go ahead with prosecution against 11 trade union leaders following advice received from the State Law Office. These actions were allegedly taken in response to the protest march organized on 26 June 1996 in Port Louis by the trade union movement.
277. The complainant alleges that the trade union movement had written to the Commissioner of Police on 12 June 1996 to authorize a peaceful march on 26 June 1996. According to the complainant, the Commissioner had to respect a time frame of 48 hours in connection with his reply in conformity with the Public Gathering Act (PGA) but his reply came only some 12 hours before the scheduled time of the march. Following the refusal to hold the march received in a letter of 25 June 1996, the trade unions in the country decided not to go ahead with the protest march but on the following day the union representatives had to call at Champ de Mars in Port Louis as they could not inform their members about the fact that the march had been prohibited. According to the MLC, on 26 June 1996, some 2,000 people gathered at Champ de Mars and there they were informed by trade union leaders about the decision of the Commissioner of Police to prohibit the march. The MLC alleges that while people were on their way back and while trade unionists wanted to hand over a letter to the Prime Minister, police had formed a ring in the city centre preventing union leaders and people from moving and even brutalized some trade unionists with batons.
278. The MLC then claims that 14 months after these incidents, the police came to the MLC office to inform its General Secretary that he as well as ten other trade union leaders would be prosecuted with regard to the events of 26 June 1996 and to seize their passports. According to the MLC, following the visit of the police to the MLC office, the Government promised an inquiry into the matter but to this date, nothing has been heard about the inquiry and its mandate.
279. In its communication of 29 January 1998, the Government refutes most of the allegations made by the MLC concerning the events of 26 June 1996 as well as the events that followed. The Government states firstly that while it confirms that an application was sent by the All Workers Conference to the Commissioner of Police on 12 June 1996, his reply was dated 24 June 1996 and the letter was dispatched by a police rider and handed over to an official of the All Workers Conference on 25 June 1996. In any case, the Government claims that the All Workers Conference was not entitled, in accordance with section 3(2) of the Public Gathering Act 1991, to advertise the holding of the meeting without prior authorization of the Commissioner of Police.
280. The Government claims that although the trade union leaders were warned on the spot that the gathering was unlawful, the union leaders addressed the crowd that had gathered at the Champ de Mars. The Government then states that the crowd proceeded to the National Assembly with a view to handing over a letter to the Prime Minister. While the union leaders were able to leave the letter at the police post at the gate, the Special Supporting Unit of the police and police officers lined the street near the Supreme Court to prevent the whole crowd from proceeding to Government House without using any force. Furthermore, the Government states that according to section 8(i) of the Public Gathering Act 1991, no public gathering is authorized in Port Louis on any day on which the National Assembly meets and sits, which was in fact the case on that day.
281. The Government goes on by declaring that following "the illegal protest march", which was organized on 26 June 1996 contrary to the provisions of the Public Gathering Act 1991, police investigated the matter and the inquiry was subsequently submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions for necessary action. On 31 July 1997, the Director of Public Prosecutions advised prosecution against 11 trade union leaders for "holding a public meeting in the district of Port Louis on a day the National Assembly held its session in breach of sections 8(1), 8(4) and 18 of the Public Gathering Act 1991." The Government states that in the light of the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the General Secretary of the MLC was contacted by the police and informed that in accordance with the provisions of regulation 14 of the Passport Regulations 1969, he and his colleagues would have to surrender their passports. However, the Government alleges that subsequently they were neither prevented from leaving the country nor were their passports secured.
282. Finally, the Government states that an inquiry into the matter was carried out and it revealed that the police had acted in accordance with regulation 14 of the Passport Regulations 1969 although in this case the Secretary-General of the MLC was only verbally informed that his passport could be seized but at no time was it actually seized.
283. The Committee notes that in this case the MLC denounces the prosecution of 11 trade union leaders following a march of protest on 26 June 1996 organized by the All Workers Conference. The Committee also takes account of the allegations of the use of force to brutalize trade unionists during the same march of protest.
284. The Committee notes firstly that the Government refutes most of the allegations submitted by the MLC concerning the time frame of 48 hours which had to be respected to authorize or prohibit the march of 26 June 1996 as well as the events which occurred on that day. While the MLC claims that the refusal to hold the march was only received some 12 hours before the planned date of the march of 26 June 1996, the Government claims that his reply was dated 24 June 1996. However, the Government admits that the said reply was only dispatched on 25 June 1996. In this regard, the Committee can only deplore the fact that, while the request for the march was made on 12 June 1996, the Commissioner of Police took nearly two weeks to send his reply although he must have known before that he was going to prohibit the holding of the march since the Government claims that the justification for the refusal was the fact that the National Assembly would be sitting on that day. In these circumstances, the Committee recognizes that it was clearly impossible for the MLC to call off the march at such short notice. The Committee recalls that trade union rights include the right to organize public demonstrations. Although the prohibition of demonstrations on the public highway in the busiest part of a city, when it is feared that disturbances might occur, does not constitute an infringement of trade union rights, the authorities should strive to reach agreement with the organizers of the demonstration to enable it to be held in some other place where there would be no fear of disturbances [see Digest of decisions and principles of the Freedom of Association Committee, 4th edition, 1996, para. 136].
285. As for the events of 26 June 1996, the Committee can only note that the information supplied by both sides on the sequence of events - from the meeting, to the handing of the letter to the Prime Minister, to the use of violence against the trade unionists - is substantially contradictory.
286. Concerning the allegations of the use of violence against trade unionists during the march, the Committee strongly reaffirms that the authorities should resort to the use of force only in situations when law and order is seriously threatened. The intervention of the forces of law and order should be in due proportion to the danger to law and order that the authorities are attempting to control and the Government should take measures to ensure that the competent authorities receive adequate instructions so as to avoid excessive violence when controlling demonstrations which might result in a disturbance of the peace.
287. Concerning the allegations regarding the questioning by the police and the subsequent prosecution of 11 trade union leaders which followed the events of 26 June 1996, the Committee strongly emphasizes the fact that measures depriving trade unionists of their freedom on grounds related to their trade union activity, constitute an obstacle to the exercise of trade union rights. Furthermore, concerning the allegation that the trade unionists were informed of the opening of legal proceedings only 14 months after the events of 26 June 1996, the Committee recalls the importance it attaches to such legal proceedings being concluded expeditiously. In this regard, the Committee requests the Government to keep it informed of whether the prosecutions have been in fact carried out, and if that is the case to do everything in its power to ensure that the charges brought against the 11 union leaders are withdrawn immediately.
288. In the light of its foregoing conclusions, the Committee invites the Governing Body to approve the following recommendations:
(a) The Committee requests the Government to ensure, in the future, that the competent authorities strive to reach agreement with the organizers of trade union demonstrations to enable such demonstrations to be held in places where there would be no fear of disturbances.
(b) Regarding the allegations of the use of violence against trade unionists during the protest march of 26 June 1996, the Committee requests the Government to take, in the future, measures to ensure that the competent authorities receive adequate instructions so as to avoid excessive violence when controlling demonstrations which might result in a disturbance of the peace.
(c) As regards the allegations on the questioning by the police and subsequent prosecution of 11 trade union leaders following the events of 26 June 1996, the Committee requests the Government to keep it informed of whether the prosecutions have been in fact carried out, and if that is the case to do everything in its power to ensure that the charges brought against these union leaders are withdrawn immediately.