The Dominican Republic must break with its shameful practise of police abuse now it has ratified the UN Convention against Torture, Amnesty International said.
The international treaty, which prohibits torture and other ill-treatment of police detainees, comes into force in the Caribbean nation on Thursday, 23 February.
Amnesty International has previously documented shocking levels of abuse, including torture and unlawful killings, carried out by police in the country.
“The Dominican Republic should be commended for having joined this important international treaty to combat torture,” said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor to Amnesty International.
“But the country’s authorities – and the National Police in particular – must end once and for all the decades-long practise of abuse, and get to work to meet the treaty’s provisions by enforcing the law in a manner that respects human rights.”
According to the country’s Prosecutor General’s Office, 289 people were killed by police in 2011, up from 260 a year before. More than a tenth of all homicides in the country in 2011 were committed by the police.
Amnesty International research has documented how individuals are often detained and subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in police custody, frequently without being formally charged or convicted of any crime. Research by the organization also showed that most of these cases are not adequately investigated and that authorities deny that torture takes place in the country.
‘12 days of torture’
Police arrested Denis Antonio González in Monte Plata, 50km north of the capital Santo Domingo, in July 2009 in connection with the suspected kidnapping of Jacinto Reinaldo Gimbernard Pratt, a professor who is the son of a respected Dominican academic.
Around 20 police officers arrived at González’s house at 6am on a Friday to arrest him.
Initially, they hung him from a tree and beat him until the chief investigator arrived at the scene and ordered that he be let down. When they did so, González fell from the tree and broke his shoulder.
He was then taken into custody for 12 days, which González describes as “12 days of torture” during which he was deprived of food and savagely beaten.
“Every morning around 8am, they took me out of the cell and brought me to the field to search for [Jacinto Reinaldo Gimbernard Pratt],” he told Amnesty International.
“They squirted pepper-spray into my eyes, put two black plastic bags over my head and gave me electric shocks. Sometimes I spat in the police officer’s face in order for him to kill me, I couldn’t take it anymore….Since we didn’t know where that man was, we couldn’t tell them anything. So it was torture and more torture.”
Denis Antonio González was later released without charge after Jacinto Reinaldo Gimbernard Pratt was found alive and denied having been kidnapped.
Investigations and compensation
To fully implement the newly ratified treaty, authorities in the Dominican Republic will have to ensure that prompt and impartial investigations are conducted whenever there are reasonable grounds to believe that an act of torture has been committed.
They must also ensure that victims of abuse have access to compensation and medical and psychological rehabilitation.
“Victims of police torture in the Dominican Republic must have access to justice and be given adequate reparations for their suffering,” said Javier Zúñiga.
A year after the treaty enters into force in the Dominican Republic, the authorities will be required to submit a progress report to the UN Committee Against Torture.