Tunisia: Open letter urges government to end impunity for security forces

The Tunisian government must end impunity for security forces accused of human rights violations, Amnesty International said today, in an open letter to the prime minister, which has been co-signed by 15 Tunisian and international human rights organizations.

The letter calls on the Tunisian authorities to ensure all complaints of torture and other ill-treatment are promptly and independently investigated. It also stresses that those suspected of human rights abuses should be immediately suspended from duty, pending the outcome of an impartial investigation and fair trial, adding that victims must be protected against reprisals or intimidation. Additionally, the sentences for anyone found guilty of torture or other violations must reflect the severity of their acts.

The letter comes after an incident on 26 February, when a security force union called on its members to boycott securing the Ben Arous court in Tunis until all security officers charged with torture were released. That same day, a large group of security officers also occupied the court premises, pressuring the judiciary to release their colleagues. The events were a serious attempt to obstruct the course of justice and continue the impunity enjoyed by the security forces for crimes such as torture. Additionally, these actions disregard article 109 of the Tunisian Constitution and other Tunisian legislation. 

“The Tunisian authorities must increase their efforts to reform the security sector and stamp out impunity. The overwhelming majority of the allegations of torture and other serious misconduct by security forces are yet to be independently and impartially prosecuted,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s North Africa Campaigns Director.

“By not reacting meaningfully and publicly to security force union interference in the  justice system, the Tunisian authorities are failing to ensure the independence of the judiciary. The authorities are duty bound by their international obligations, and the Tunisian constitution,  to combat torture and other ill-treatment,”  

The letter urged the Tunisian authorities to respect their obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It was signed by Amnesty International, The Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights, The Tunisian Organization Against Torture, The National Tunisian Journalist Union, The Tunisian Committee for the Respect of Rights and Liberties, the Tunisian Observatory of Rights and Liberties , Euromed Rights, , The World Organization against torture, Adli: Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Liberties , Al Bawsala, Lawyers Without Borders, The Tunisian Forum for Social and Economic Rights, Human Rights Watch, The Association of Tunisian Judges, and The International Federation for Human Rights.   

“Our organizations call on the Tunisian authorities to urgently increase their efforts to ensure that the judiciary investigates suspects. Notably by ensuring that members of the security forces summoned for questioning appear before investigators and the courts without threats and other pressures by the security forces. In view of Tunisia’s commitment to promote the rule of law and respect for human rights, it must prioritize progress towards ending the impunity of the security forces in order to build a climate of trust between the security forces and the population.” the letter concluded.

In February 2017, Amnesty International published a report highlighting how violations committed by security forces in during the state of emergency, including torture and arbitrary arrests, are threatening the country’s path to reform.