Terrorism : A stroke of luck for the Tunisian torturer ?

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The independence of the justice system is not guaranteed in Tunisia. Right to defence are minimized as all proceedings rules are continually defied. Anouar [Anwar] Koursi, attorney member of Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH) and Mr. Dilou have mastered the system.

By Fatoumata Coulibaly

After spending ten years in Tunisian jails for their leadership roles in a student union, Mr. Dilou is now an attorney who testifies of difficult living conditions in which his colleagues as well as all human rights activists, find themselves. “We are spied on, followed, our mails are intercepted, our phones are tapped, our families are harassed… Life is so difficult that exile has become an indisputable choice.”

“Attacks on attorneys like us are frequent. Authorities threaten families of victims who come to us while preventing us from visiting our clients when we wish”, Mr. Koursi added. After very successful studies in France, Mr. Koursi asserted that he came back to Tunisia 21 years ago because he thought that Ben Ali’s arrival in power would be synonymous of a “better life”. “I quickly understood that I was mistaken”, he said. But, Mr. Koursi as well as Mr. Dilou do not give in to pressure. “If everybody goes into exile, who will protect our country and remain there to defend people who haven’t got the means to leave?” Mr. Dilou justified.

Friendly governments, including France, aimed by the report

Amnesty estimates that nobody should be handed over or extradited to a country where he could be jailed as an opinion prisoner, be convicted of death penalty or be a victim of ill-treatments. A fair trial should also be guaranteed to individuals handed over to other countries, according to Amnesty. However, escorts of Tunisian nationals to borders have multiplied these last years. Expulsed against their will from Italy, France, or even the United States back to Tunisia, they become victims of torture, illegal detentions and unfair trials upon their arrival. These governments are aware of sending those Tunisians back, Mr. Robillard explained.

Amnesty seeks to speak to States through this report, particularly the French administration, which implicitly supports the Tunisian regime. This report was released following Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Tunisia last April and also on the eve of his tenure of office as president of the European Union as well as the launch of the Mediterranean Union project (MUP) next week. The high expectations of Tunisian and international human rights defenders, from the very person who launched the idea of “diplomacy in accordance with human rights”, were dashed when Nicolas Sarkozy said: “Tunisia has achieved progress in the realm of freedom for the people.” This sentence that has not gone down well… “Trade is important between people but it shouldn’t justify everything”, said Mr. Koursi. Mr. Dilou also indicated that if the Mediterranean Union forms, it “would comprise of, at least, five dictatorship regimes that practice torture”. “We cannot build a Mediterranean Union at the expense of human rights”, Mr. Robillard said.

Tunisia rejects Amnesty’s accusations

Accusations levelled at the Tunisian government by human rights organizations have been totally rejected. In a press release published a couple of weeks ago in response to the report, authorities declared that “Amnesty International published a report without taking care to verify the truth, deceitful allegations conveyed by entities and people known for their partiality and their prejudice towards Tunisia…” Nevertheless, Mr Robiliard asserted that the organization had an open approach towards authorities. “Once the report sent, we asked for comments from Tunisian leaders” … but “got no reaction from them” , Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Programme of Amnesty in London underlined. Authorities recognized, at the most, “little individual excesses” that should be punished. But “the Tunisian regime is based on four pillars: minimization, hypocrisy, prevention, terror”, Mr Dilou noted. As for torture and other human rights violations, the authorities do not seem to know anything about it.

Avoiding “stonewalling”, is the human wish of rights activists today.

“This report won’t dissuade authorities but we hope that it will contribute to change the situation. Dictatorships want to do their nasty jobs far away from the light. Once their activities are brought to light, they will have no other choice than change for the sheer sake of image”, Mr Dilou noted. Amnesty reminds, through the report, that fighting against terrorism should not be done at the expense of human rights as stipulated in many international conventions to which Tunisia should commit.

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