Amnesty International Finds Growing Abuses by Tunisian Security Forces
by Samantha Parks
A new Amnesty International report alleges that security measures taken by Tunisian authorities in the name of counter-terrorism often have been arbitrary, discriminatory, and disproportionate, leading to human rights violations reminiscent of the Ben Ali era, albeit on a much lesser scale. The report describes ill-treatment perpetrated by the police since January 2015, including 23 cases of torture.
At the release event for the report in Tunis on February 10, Amnesty’s North Africa Research Director Heba Morayef stated, “The fact that abuses are being committed in the name of security has meant that the scale of human rights violations in Tunisia today has thus far gone unaddressed by the Tunisian authorities.” She added, “This report exposes how entrenched impunity has fostered a culture in which violations by security forces have been able to thrive.”
Tunisia has been under a state of emergency for four and a half of the past six years, first in response to post-uprising unrest and then since July 2015 in response to several major terrorist attacks. The state of emergency is regulated by a 1978 decree and gives the Minister of Interior the power to restrict certain rights, such as freedom of expression, association, and movement. The Constitution also allows the President to take exceptional measures in cases of imminent danger threatening the territorial integrity, national security, or independence of the country. Since the state of emergency was reinstated in November 2015, following an attack that killed National Guard officers in downtown Tunis, the authorities have carried out thousands of raids across the country. The Amnesty report asserts that the authorities have often used excessive force and have searched homes without judicial authorization. They have also placed hundreds under assigned residence orders, banned hundreds of others from travelling abroad, and arbitrarily applied border control orders within Tunisian borders.
Amnesty also found that torture and other ill-treatment remains widespread in Tunisian detention centers and prisons, despite the assurances made by Tunisian authorities to address these violations that were systematically practiced under former President Ben Ali.
The report concludes that by arbitrarily targeting citizens for house searches and raids, frequently resorting to excessive and unnecessary force, and failing to obtain and show search warrants or follow other due-process guarantees, security forces have demonstrated a willingness to abuse emergency measures.
The report recommends that Tunisian authorities work to:
Ensure that security forces do not use excessive and unnecessary force during house searches.
Ensure that no one is arbitrarily arrested or otherwise deprived of liberty.
Ensure that all persons deprived of liberty promptly and in full equality receive a fair and public hearing by a regular, independent and impartial court in accordance with international human rights standards, with an effective opportunity to exercise their rights of defence and appeal.
Thoroughly, promptly, effectively and impartially investigate all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment.
Implement the necessary institutional reforms to ensure effective enforcement of existing laws prohibiting torture; and provide full remedy and reparation, including compensation, restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition to victims and their families.
Ensure that any limitations on the exercise of human rights imposed as part of a state of emergency are prescribed by law are temporary and are consistent with the principles of necessity and proportionality, as required under international human rights law. Measures imposed under emergency powers must not have a disproportionate impact on the human rights of those subjected to such measures or of others affected by them.