Tunisia must live up to promises to end impunity for security forces at UN Human Rights Council

The use of torture in custody and human rights violations committed in the name of security and counterterrorism will continue unabated unless Tunisia lives up to the commitments it has made today at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, said Amnesty International.

During today’s session, the outcome of the third Universal Period Review of Tunisia’s human rights record was adopted. The Tunisian authorities accepted 189 recommendations on how to improve the country’s human rights record, including pledging to boost accountability for abuses by security forces, eliminate torture and other ill-treatment and ensure that counterterrorism and national security measures do not jeopardize human rights.

“The commitments made by Tunisia today are a step in the right direction. But the government must swiftly implement these reforms if its promises of human rights progress are to be realised,” said Heba Morayef, North Africa Research Director at Amnesty International.

The commitments made by Tunisia today are a step in the right direction. But the government must swiftly implement these reforms if its promises of human rights progress are to be realised
Heba Morayef, North Africa research director at Amnesty International

Two recent proposed bills have called into question the government’s commitment to accountability. Last week Tunisia’s parliament approved a controversial bill granting amnesty to officials accused of corruption under former President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali’s rule.

Tunisia’s pledges related to security sector reforms will be seriously undermined if the government goes ahead with a bill, known as the “Repression of attacks against armed forces bill”, which would grant security forces immunity from prosecution for unnecessary use of lethal force and criminalize criticism of police conduct. The bill could be reintroduced in parliament as soon as next month. 

 “Tunisia’s promises to end impunity for the security forces will be meaningless if the authorities proceed with a bill that gives the security forces protection from prosecution for human rights violations. The authorities must demonstrate they are committed to keeping the promises they have made today by scrapping this bill immediately,” said Heba Morayef.

Tunisia’s promises to end impunity for the security forces will be meaningless if the authorities proceed with a bill that gives the security forces protection from prosecution for human rights violations
Heba Morayef, North Africa research director at Amnesty International

For years Amnesty International has called on the Tunisian authorities to step up their efforts to reform the security sector and to stamp out impunity. Yet since the 2011, the overwhelming majority of credible allegations of torture and other serious violations by security forces have not been independently and impartially investigated, and there have been only a handful of prosecutions.

Out of 248 recommendations from more than 100 countries, Tunisia has adopted 189, acknowledged 55 and deferred 4 at its UN review session today.

As part of their commitments, the Tunisian authorities have agreed to ensure all allegations of torture are impartially and effectively investigated.

In its February 2017 report Abuses under Tunisia’s state of emergency Amnesty International highlighted how violations including torture, arbitrary arrest and restrictions on movement have been committed in the name of national security since the fall of President Ben Ali in 2011.

 “Tunisia must not squander this chance to adhere to its commitments under its own constitution and international human rights law by implementing the reforms it has pledged to uphold and delivering genuine human rights progress,” said Heba Morayef.

During a recent meeting with Amnesty International in Tunis, Tunisia’s Minister of Relations with Constitutional Authorities, Civil Society and Human Rights, Mehdi Ben Gharbia, discussed the outcome of the UN human rights review. He emphasized that the government takes recommendations relating to “physical integrity very seriously” and that efforts to address torture are ongoing but that it is taking time to overcome the legacy of the Ben Ali era. He added that the authorities are also working hard to end forced anal examinations which are regularly carried out on men suspected of engaging in same-sex sexual relations. Amnesty International considers that these examinations amount to torture.

In this regard Amnesty International welcomed today Tunisia’s acceptance of two recommendations to immediately cease the practice of forced anal examinations and ensure the protection of LGBTQI persons from all forms of stigmatization, discrimination and violence. However the organization deeply regrets Tunisia’s rejection of 14 recommendations relating the decriminalization of same-sex relations by repealing article 230 of the Penal Code. 

During today’s session Tunisia’s authorities also committed to bringing national laws in line with the country’s new constitution and international human rights standards. Amnesty International is now urging the authorities to expedite the long overdue process of establishing a constitutional court and to amend the country’s penal code to ensure all articles relating to freedom of expression, association, torture and the death penalty are brought in line with international law.

Disappointingly, Tunisia rejected a recommendation to end military trials of civilians, in violation of international fair trial standards.

This is the country’s third Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council. Amnesty International delivered an oral statement at today’s session, and ahead of it, submitted a report to the council highlighting the main human rights issues in the country as well as key recommendations.