A Nation of Laws

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

Shortly before noon on Sunday, March 29, two Toyota pickup trucks arrived at a Malapoa residence occupied by 21 year old escaped convict John Bule, his girlfriend and their daughter, aged less than 2. Several men in plain clothes dismounted and entered the house in search of Bule.

Loud voices were heard from within the house, and 3 shots were fired, apparently as a warning. Nobody was hurt. Shortly afterward, John and his girlfriend were escorted from the house, their hands bound behind their back. They were placed together in the back of one truck and driven to the VMF barracks.

The girlfriend later recalled that she pleaded with those holding her to be allowed to return to her home and her daughter. She told them she’d done nothing wrong.

As she pled with them, she says, she heard her boyfriend John crying out in pain in an adjacent room.
Shortly before 2:00 p.m. that same day, authorities brought John Bule to Vila Central Hospital for treatment of wounds to both legs, both arms, his ribs, back and head, which had multiple lacerations, including a gash above his left eye about 10 cm. long and 3 cm. wide.

Soon after 4:00 p.m. Sunday, John Bule was pronounced dead.

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A Matter of Justice

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post.]

On December 5, a remarkable document surfaced. Prison Report 2008, authored in secret by Vanuatu inmates on a contraband laptop, is a long, ambling document that alternates between history, documentary and cri de coeur as it recounts the hardships faced by those incarcerated in Vanuatu’s prisons.

At times uncritical, naive and even occasionally self-serving, the report nonetheless contains well documented reports of violence and mistreatment in our prisons.

The report paints a picture of regular physical abuse and neglect in an environment that resists our best efforts to improve it. The prisoners claim that it is precisely these conditions that not only lead them to escape but allow them to succeed.

The prisoners are frankly foolish in their expectations. They make claims for compensation to the tune of 100 million vatu and finish with a warning that if these claims are not addressed within 14 days the prisoners will walk out.

Director of Correctional Services Joshua Bong initially insisted his department had not seen the report, but has since assured the prisoners that a commission of inquiry will be established to investigate the claims. On Thursday, he indicated his intention to stop any effort to leave the prison – with or without outside help –by blockading the road in front of the Stade.

Notwithstanding all precautions taken, the prisoners made good on their threats. On Friday morning at roughly 9:30 a.m., they set the prison alight. In the ensuing chaos, they exited the building, tossed a bible astride the concertina wire atop the fence, and used that foothold to effect their escape.

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