The public hearings on torture under the previous autocracies and the first few years of the the ruling coalition after the the revolution were broadcast on national television last night, providing the country with a widely reported and celebrated sense of catharsis.
Months of investigation by the Truth and Dignity Commission, (Instance de Vérité et Dignité) preceded the broadcast, which examined a total of 62,000 cases of alleged torture from the years 1955 to 2013, when the Commission was established. A quarter of these cases are said to involve women who have complained about experiencing sexual violence at the hands of the state, formerly a taboo subject in Tunisia.
Opening proceedings, Commission President, Sihem Ben Sedrine was quoted as saying, “Tunisia will not accept human rights abuses after today. This is the message from Tunisia.”
However, despite the watershed public moment, torture remains a current reality throughout much of Tunisia and especially among some of the country’s sexual minority groups.
According to international human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, between 2015 and 2016 there were new reports of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees throughout Tunisia, mostly during interrogation in the first days after arrest. The group also noted that the National Body for the Prevention of Torture, created under a 2013 law, remains inoperative and its members still unappointed.
Likewise, in January of this year the group issued a report noting the number of suspicious deaths and instances of torture that had taken place in Tunisia during the period after that covered by the Truth and Dignity Commission.
Human rights concerns have also been raised by the state mandated practice of conducting enforced anal examinations upon men arrested on suspicion of homosexuality. In May of this year, the United Nations Committee Against Torture condemned Tunisia’s use of the practice, noting that it breached the Convention on Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment (CAT). Commenting upon the ruling at the time, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender(LGBT) rights, Neela Ghoshal, said, ““There should be no doubt: Tunisia’s use of forced anal exams is a human rights abuse…. Tunisia should show that it respects its international human rights commitments by immediately banning forced anal examinations.”
Speaking to Tunisia Live, Anwer Ouled Ali, a lawyer responsible for defending many opponents of the former regime as well as those arrested on suspicion of having engaged in militant activity abroad was cautiously welcoming of the public forum, while stressing that the country still had a long way to go before it could claim to have eliminated human abuses.
“The torturers of yesterday are still in their positions” Ouled Ali said. Commenting upon more recent cases of torture, Ouled Ali cited the treatment afforded one those of suspected of involvement in the 2015 Bardo terror attack who he said had been stripped naked, suspended from a bar and had his head beaten by police with an iron bar.
Rahma is preparing a master thesis in Anglo-American studies. She is interested in politics and foreign affairs. Since the outbreak of the Tunisian revolution, she volunteered for several Tunisian associations such as ATIDE, Sawty and others. She writes articles about post-revolution Tunisia.