Annual Report: Tunisia 2013

May 29, 2013

Annual Report: Tunisia 2013

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Tunisia's human rights record was assessed under the UN Universal Periodic Review in May. The government accepted most of the UN recommendations but rejected those urging the decriminalization of defamation and same-sex relations, the repeal of laws that discriminated against women, and abolition of the death penalty.

The UN and African Union Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders both visited Tunisia in September.

Transitional justice

The government created a Ministry for Human Rights and Transitional Justice in January to develop strategies for addressing past human rights violations and to guarantee the future protection of human rights. The following month, however, the new Minister publicly declared that homosexuality was not a human right but a “perversion”.

In April, the Ministry of Justice established a Technical Committee composed of officials and civil society representatives to consult people throughout Tunisia on issues of truth, justice, reparation and reform. The Committee prepared a draft law proposing the creation of an independent Council of Truth and Dignity to oversee the process of transitional justice, which it submitted to the President and the NCA in October.

Following his November visit, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence expressed concern that Tunisia's transitional justice process was not comprehensive and was failing to give equal importance to each of the four elements of transitional justice.

The Fact-Finding Commission on Abuses Committed from 17 December 2010 until the End of its Mandate (known as the Bouderbala Commission) issued its report in May. This described the events during the uprisings which overthrew former President Ben ‘Ali's government, and listed the names of those killed and injured. However, it failed to identify the individuals responsible for the use of lethal force and human rights violations.

The authorities provided financial compensation and medical care to those injured during the uprisings and to the families of those killed but were criticized for not taking into account the severity of victims' injuries and other factors, such as their loss of study or employment opportunities. Some families of people killed refused to accept compensation as they felt justice had not been done.

Several senior officials under former President Ben ‘Ali were sentenced to long prison terms in connection with the killings of protesters during the December 2010-January 2011 uprisings. Some low- and middle-ranking former officials were convicted only of individual responsibility for shooting protesters, and were imprisoned.

  • Former Interior Minister Rafiq Haj Kacem was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment in June for complicity in the murders of protesters in Kasserine, Thala, Kairouan and Tajerouine by a military tribunal at Kef. Four other former high-ranking officials in the Department of State Security were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of up to 10 years, and six former middle-ranking officials were sentenced to prison terms for murder.
  • Former President Ben ‘Ali received a sentence of life imprisonment in July after the Tunis Military Tribunal convicted him in his absence over the killing and injuring of protesters in Greater Tunis. Thirty-nine former members of his security forces who were present in court were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of up to 20 years.

Both cases were referred to a military appeal tribunal and had not been resolved by the end of the year.

The process of bringing former officials to justice for crimes committed during the uprisings was questionable on several grounds, notably because trials were held before military tribunals rather than the civil courts. Also, victims, their families and lawyers criticized what they saw as a failure by the prosecuting authorities to conduct thorough investigations, and complained that they were subject to intimidation by those under investigation or accused, some of whom remained in positions of authority.