Progress on Human Rights Being Rolled Back in Tunisia, Says New Briefing

Press Release
October 22, 2012

Progress on Human Rights Being Rolled Back in Tunisia, Says New Briefing

Human Rights Group Cites Restricted Freedoms on Journalists, Artists, Bloggers and Torture of Protesters

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) -- As Tunisia marks the anniversary of its first national elections, Amnesty International warned today in a new briefing that the current government is rolling back progress on human rights, casting doubt on its commitment to reforms.

In the months following Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s departure, the caretaker government made important progress on the road to reform, including the ratification of key international human rights treaties and the release of political prisoners, Amnesty International said in the new briefing One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

However, the new government has failed to maintain these initiatives, and a number of setbacks now cast a shadow on Tunisia’s genuine commitment to human rights.

“Tunisia was the birthplace of the momentous events that swept the region in 2011,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Amnesty International. “And while we acknowledge that measures were taken by the authorities to address the legacy of abuse and move forward, these did not go far enough, and there are now worrying signs that these and other urgently needed reforms could be at risk.”

Amnesty International has been monitoring the human rights situation in Tunisia since the uprising, including its most recent fact-finding visit September 17-28; investigators interviewed many families of people killed during the uprising, and those injured during protests in Kasserine, Regueb, Thala and greater Tunis. They included some of the same families and individuals Amnesty International had interviewed in January 2011 in the midst of the uprising. Investigators also spoke to lawyers, representatives of Tunisian and international human rights NGOs, journalists, government officials and diplomats.

Recent months have seen increased restrictions on freedom of expression, with Tunisian authorities targeting journalists, artists, critics of the government, writers and bloggers under the guise of maintaining public order and public morals. Those injured during the uprisings and the families of those killed feel that the truth has not been told as they wait for justice and reparation.

The Tunisian authorities have also appeared unable or unwilling to protect individuals from attacks by groups believed to be affiliated with Salafist groups.

A state of emergency in place since January 14, 2011 has been repeatedly renewed, most recently until the end of this month.

Protesters who have taken to the streets in different parts of Tunisia over the slow pace of reform have been met with excessive force.

During the year since the election of the National Constituent Assembly, Amnesty International received reports of torture and other ill-treatment, many of them from protesters who alleged they were beaten during demonstrations, during arrest or in detention centers.

In another worrying sign, Tunisia’s new government recently rejected the U.N. Human Rights Council’s recommendation, made during its Universal Periodic Review of Tunisia, to abolish remaining provisions of Tunisian law that discriminate against women, and also to abolish the death penalty and decriminalize same-sex relations.

“Tunisia is at a crossroads,” said Sahraoui. “The authorities need to seize this historic opportunity and confront the painful legacy of abuse and violations of the past and enshrine in law and in practice universal human rights with the aim of making the rule of law a reality in the new Tunisia.

“The Constitution, to be finalized in the coming months, is a key test that will demonstrate whether Tunisia is firmly anchored in human rights and rule of law.”

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.