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Tunisia: UN human rights expert urges setting up of safeguards against torture

Special Rapporteur Juan Méndez
Special Rapporteur Juan Méndez

Tunisia: UN human rights expert urges setting up of safeguards against torture

A United Nations human rights expert today urged Tunisia’s interim Government to seize the opportunity of the current transition to establish and institutionalize safeguards to prevent the torture and ill-treatment of people in the North African country.

“A ‘wait-and-see’ attitude in anticipation of the Constituent Assembly election in July may be hampering the possibility of delivering bold and aggressive steps in restoring justice for past and recent abuses, prosecuting perpetrators and honouring victims,” said Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, at the end of his fact-finding mission to Tunisia.

“The challenges faced by the ongoing transition in the country are daunting. At the same time Tunisians are living through a period that is full of promise and hope for a better future.”

Civil unrest forced Tunisia’s former president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, to flee the country in January as people took to the streets in often violent protests against the rising prices of essential commodities, lack of job opportunities, corruption and limitations on fundamental rights and freedoms.

Mr. Méndez noted that “although the practice of torture and ill-treatment may have decreased vis-à-vis the notorious and endemic practice of torture committed during the Ben Ali regime, episodes of beatings of detainees upon arrest or within the first hours of pre-trial detention, as well as during interrogation, reflect the fact that the old habits of police agents are not easily eradicated.

“Given the lack of effective safeguards during arrest and detention, the legacy of abusive treatment by law-enforcement agents in the past, the lack of sufficiently speedy investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment, persons deprived of their liberty remain extremely vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment.”

On violations perpetrated during Mr. Ben Ali’s regime, and the abuses committed at the time of the revolution, the independent expert welcomed the preliminary monetary compensation offered to victims and their families, as well as the amnesty and pardons granted to many of those convicted in unfair trials.

Mr. Méndez, however, stressed that “swift, effective and independent criminal investigations against alleged perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment should be ensured, and administrative programmes should be launched offering redress and reparation services to victims of past and recent violations.”

“Restoring justice for past abuses, honouring victims and reacting firmly when abuses occur are urgent measures that cannot wait. To ensure the establishment of solid safeguards against torture and ill-treatment, broad and participatory debates should be launched on constitutional, legislative and administrative reforms and on what kind of state Tunisians want to build for their future.”