Tunisia: Human rights and counter-terrorism

Tunisia: Human rights and counter-terrorism - Civic Space

Fighting terrorism and respecting human rights are two sides of the same coin, 46 national and international human rights organisations said today in an open letter addressed to all Tunisians and titled “No to Terrorism, Yes to Human Rights.” Three of the organisations are the Tunisian recipients of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize. Two others represent the families of Tunisian politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, assassinated in 2013 by extremist Islamists. Five Tunisian celebrities, including actors, a filmmaker, a rapper, and a star athlete, affirmed this view in a video also released today.

The organisations stressed the need to combat all terrorist acts and to prosecute perpetrators, instigators, and planners of those acts. They recognised the government’s duty to protect the rights of all persons, including the right to life.

At the same time, they urged the government to keep in mind that abusing rights undermines counter-terrorism efforts in numerous ways:

  • Violating human rights facilitates efforts by terrorists to destroy social peace;
  • Abusing human rights fans grievances, offering excuses to those who carry out violent acts and those who seek to recruit them;
  • Abusive counterterrorist laws inevitably claim innocent, law-abiding citizens among their victims;
  • Guaranteeing fair trials, far from being “soft” on terrorism, means protecting the innocent as well as punishing the guilty;
  • Extracting confessions from terrorist suspects through torture is forbidden under all circumstances by international and Tunisian law and often produces false leads, wasting the security services’ time and resources;
  • Abusive practices alienate potential informants who could help the security forces prevent terrorist acts.

Tunisia experienced several deadly attacks by Islamist extremists in 2015 and 2016 that left dozens of people dead and injured. On March 7, 2016, gunmen conducted a coordinated attack at the military and National Guard barracks in Ben Guerdane, a town bordering Libya, which led to the death of 18 people, including seven civilians. On March 18, 2015, two gunmen attacked the Bardo Museum, adjacent to Tunisia’s parliament, killing 21 foreign tourists and one Tunisian security agent. On June 26, a gunman rampaged through a beach resort in Sousse, killing 38 foreign tourists. On November 24, a suicide attack on a bus killed 12 presidential guards and wounded 20 others, including four civilians.

The 2015 counterterrorism law, which replaced the 2003 counterterrorism law enacted by the government of ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, provides security forces with broad monitoring and surveillance powers, extends incommunicado detention from six days to up to fifteen days for terrorism suspects, and permits courts to close hearings to the public and allow the identities of witnesses to be withheld from defendants, measures that hinder fair trial guarantees for suspects.

Tunisian and international human rights organisations also received accounts from several people who said they had suffered abuses during counter-terrorism operations. They interviewed Alaeddine Slim, a Tunisian filmmaker who told them he spent 33 days in jail in November and December 2015, after counter-terrorist forces raided his home over what he described as a baseless accusation. Slim said that the counter-terrorist forces found no evidence of terrorist activities in his house, and in the end the prosecutors only charged him with cannabis possession.

The organisations also interviewed and reviewed court documents about Nader Aloui, a young unemployed Tunisian who told them that he was detained over terrorism-related accusations for 14 months. He said he was repeatedly beaten and abused in detention, before an investigative judge finally dropped charges against him due to lack of evidence.

Houssam Hamdi, a Tunisian who frequently travels internationally, told the organisations that counterterrorist police told him he was banned from travelling because they had “a file on [him].” Hamdi was unable to learn the basis for the ban, and the lack of written notification left him with no formal recourse to challenge it.

The organisations created a Facebook page and a Twitter account on which they will post special drawings offered by a group of Tunisian cartoonists to support the “No to Terrorism, Yes to Human Rights” campaign, and also articles, interviews, pictures, soundtracks, videos, and other material relevant to the campaign.

List of signatory organisations

Tunisian groups:

1. Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (Tunisian General Labour Union)
2. Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l’Homme (Tunisian Human Rights League)
3. Ordre National des Avocats de Tunisie (National Bar Association)
4. Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux (Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights)
5. Syndicat National des Journalistes Tunisiens (Union of Tunisian Journalists)
6. Association des Magistrats Tunisiens (Association of Tunisian Judges)
7. Organisation Contre la Torture en Tunisie (Tunisian Organization Against Torture)
8. Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates (Tunisian Association of Democratic Women)
9. Al Bawsala
10. Association citoyenneté et Libertés (Association for Citizenship and Freedoms)
11. Association Horizons El Kef Pour Le Développement Intégral
12. Association Nawaat
13. Association Scientifique pour les Études sur la Population, la Migration et la Santé (ASPOMIS)
14. Association Tunisienne de Défense des Libertés Individuelles
15. Fondation Belaid Contre la Violence (Belaid’s Foundation Against Violence)
16. Fondation Mohamed Brahmi
17. Fondation Mohamed Belmufti pour la justice et les libertés
18. CeTuMA (Centre de Tunis pour la Migration et l’Asile)
19. Coalition pour les Femmes de Tunisie
20. Comité pour le Respect des Libertés et des Droits de l’Homme en Tunisie (Committee for respect of Freedoms and Human Rights in Tunisia)
21. Coordination Nationale Indépendante pour la Justice Transitionnelle
22. Fédération Tunisienne pour une Citoyenneté des deux Rives
23. Free Sight Association
24. Groupe Tawhida Ben Cheikh
25. Irtikaa
26. L’Organisation Tunisienne de la Justice Sociale et de la Solidarité
27. Labo Démocratique (Democratic Labo)
28. L’association Amal pour l’environnement Metlaoui Bassin Minier (Amal Association for the Environment in the Mining Basin)
29. L’Association des Femmes Tunisiennes pour la Recherche sur le Développement (Association of Tunisian Women for research on development)
30. L’Association Femme et Citoyenneté (Association Women and Citizenship)
31. L’Association Tunisienne de Défense du Droit à la Santé (Tunisian Association for the Defense of the Right to Health)
32. Ligue des Electrices Tunisiennes
33. Mourakiboun (Observers)
34. Observatoire National sur l’Indépendance de la magistrature (National Observatory on Independence of Justice)
35. Réseau Doustourna
36. Thala Solidaire
37. UTOPIA Tunisie
38. Zanoobya

International groups:

39. Réseau Euro-Méditerranéen des Droits humains (Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network)
40. Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture (International Organisation Against torture)
41. Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme (International Human Rights Federation)
42. Human Rights Watch
43. Oxfam
44. ARTICLE 19
45. International Alert
46. The Carter Center