Despite the efforts made by different representatives of civil society to preserve and promote human rights, torture persists in post-revolution Tunisia, two years since the popular uprisings of January 2011.
Minister of Human Rights and Transitional Justice Samir Dilou submitted a draft law establishing a National Council for Protection against Torture to the Head of National Constituent Assembly (NCA) Mustapha Ben Jaafar yesterday, January 3. “The council will consist of politically independent human rights activists, who will be elected by members of the NCA,” said the spokesperson of the Ministry of Human Rights and Transitional Justice, Chakib Derouiche.
According to Derouiche, the council will have as a mission to track human rights violations and prevent future ones. Members of the council will arrange surprise visits to prisons and police stations around the country, he explained, adding that “the results of investigations will be directly sent to the judiciary.”
The ouster of former Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali symbolized to private citizens, and especially active human rights associations, the end of an era in which torture was considered a casual practice by security forces. However, reforming the security apparatus and eliminating human rights violations, namely torture, is still a work in progress.
“Abderraouf Khamassi died under torture. We have two more documented cases of torture since the revolution,” stated Emna Guellali, director of the Human Rights Watch office in Tunisia.
According to Tunisian collective blog Nawaat, Khamassi was arrested in August 2012 over robbery charges and then tortured by security forces during an investigation while being detained in Sijoumi. The abuse allegedly resulted in Khamassi’s death in September 2012.
Derouiche confirmed Guellali’s statement, explaining that suspects in Khamassi’s case are currently under arrest. “We tracked a few cases of torture since the revolution… That is why we believe the National Council for Protection against Torture is an urgent step that should be a priority for the NCA,” he said.
Director of the Amnesty International Office in Tunisia Lotfi Azzouz told Tunisia Live that even though the draft law represents a positive step in the ongoing process of monitoring human rights, there are a few loopholes in it. “Members of the council are not supposed to give statements to the press about their work, which is unacceptable,” he pointed out. “We’re supposed to establish a cooperation between journalists, the civil society and this council.”
Abdessatar Ben Moussa, director of the Tunisian League of Human Rights, stated that there have been complaints and reports about torture cases in prisons and detention centers since the revolution. “We are working on collecting accurate statistics for now… We received complaints from citizens over police brutality in the street even,” he added.
Furthermore, Azzouz explained that the government, particularly the Ministry of Interior, has taken administrative actions to deal with human rights violations. However, there has not been enough transparency, he argued. According to Azzouz, no clear documentation, especially from the judiciary, to provide further details on torture cases exists.