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UN expert urges Tunisia to further ground in human rights its fight against extremism and terrorism

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GENEVA (9 February 2017) – “Tunisia has become a beacon of hope in the region” said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson. Whilst welcoming the country’s efforts in preventing violent extremism and countering terrorism, the expert stressed that “the fight should be grounded in human rights to serve as a model for the region and beyond.”

At the end of his first official visit to the country, Mr. Emmerson commended the commitment expressed by Tunisian authorities and institutions “to counter terrorism and prevent violent extremism not only with security measures but also with concerted action in the social, political, economic, judicial and human rights areas.”

“I had an opportunity to learn first-hand about the challenges linked to the return of Tunisian terrorist fighters from conflict zones in the region, and the continuous threat resulting from regional instability despite progress achieved in securing the external borders” the expert said, recalling the tragic terrorist acts committed in Tunisia in recent years.

Despite positive developments, the Special Rapporteur noted a number of concerns such as prolonged periods and conditions of detention, the use of executive orders to restrict freedom of movement and impose house arrest without proper judicial review, and allegations of ill-treatment and torture. He also drew special attention to the use of the counter-terrorism law and other legislative acts against journalists.

“I was informed that investigations and prosecutions are ongoing against more than 1,500 individuals accused of terrorist acts” Mr. Emmerson said. “Less than 10% of those have been sentenced thus far and the rest continue to be deprived of their liberty for prolonged periods of time without having been found guilty of any offence.”

In this regard, the human rights expert recommended to the authorities to increase efforts and speed up judicial proceedings by providing the Pôle Judiciaire de lutte contre le terrorisme (Counter-Terrorism Judiciary Entity) with additional human resources, and simplifying the criminal justice system, among other things.

“I am particularly concerned about the conditions I witnessed in the Mornaguia Prison, which fall well below international minimum standards. The prison is approximately 150 % over capacity, with groups of more than 90 prisoners crammed into cells with inadequate space, ventilation, natural light, sleeping and sanitary facilities,” he underlined.

“These conditions place an intolerable burden on staff and systematically violate the rights of prisoners” The expert said. “Whilst prisoners of all categories are affected, these unacceptable conditions disproportionately affect those charged with terrorism, who are less likely to be granted provisional release, because their cases sometimes take years to come to trial, and because they receive the longest sentences.”

During his five-day mission, from 30 January to 3 February, Mr. Emmerson had high-level meetings with representatives of the Government, including the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Justice, Defence and the Ministry in charge of relations with constitutional institutions, civil society and human rights.

He also met with law enforcement officials, the National Commission on Counter-Terrorism, the High Committee for Human Rights and the fundamental Liberties, the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture and the Truth and Dignity Commission. In addition, he will meet with representatives of the international community, lawyers, academics, and non-governmental organizations.

The UN expert visited the Mornaguia prison and the Gorjani judicial police compound where he was able to interview confidentially persons suspected of or convicted for terrorist crimes.

The preliminary observations of the Special rapporteur following this visit are summarised here. The Special Rapporteur will present the report of his visit to the Council of Human Rights session of March 2018. The report will detail his observations, conclusions and recommendations to the Government of Tunisa, and other stakeholders.

Mr. Ben Emmerson (United Kingdom) is the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. On 1 August 2011, he took up his functions on the mandate that was created in 2005 by the former United Nations Commission on Human, renewed by the UN Human Rights Council for a three year period in December 2007, in September 2010 and again in March 2013.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Check the UN 2006 Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy

UN Human Rights, country page: Tunisia

For more information and media requests please contact Mr. Sharof Azizov (+41 22 917 9748 / sazizov@ohchr.org) or write to srct@ohchr.org

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