Tunisia: fighting against terrorism, but at what cost?

TunisiaNewsTransitional justice

Tunis, 13 February 2017 – ASF, the Tunisian National Bar Association (ONAT) and the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) are calling on the Tunisian authorities to review the 2015 counter-terrorism act. Enforcement of this act raises issues regarding the right to a fair trial. The three partner organisations say that respecting human rights is a democratic state’s main weapon for fighting against terrorism effectively. The counter-terrorism act had been adopted by the Parliament in July 2015, shortly after the bloody attacks on the Bardo National Museum in the Tunisian capital and in Port el-Kantaoui, one of the most important beach resorts in the country. 60 people died in those attacks. Enforcement of this act was analysed in depth by the Observation Network of Transitional Tunisian Justice (ROJ). Created jointly by ASF, ONAT and the LTDH, the ROJ has observed 164 trials relating to terrorism over 232 hearings, which is more than half of the cases relating to terrorism brought before the courts by examining judges since the act came into force. “In practice, we have noticed a great number of failures to uphold the fundamental principles of a fair trial“, says Antonio Manganella, Head of ASF in Tunisia. “As well as recurring judicial malfunction, the anti-terrorism act has brought about major excesses, which have had a perverse effect on the entire penal system“. For example, people can be kept in custody for up to two weeks and can be refused the presence of a lawyer during the first 48 hours of their detention. Reserved only for terrorism cases, these measures “put people at greater risk of ill-treatment“, states Mr Manganella. Data produced from observing the trials have been presented in a report, which also makes recommendations aimed at reconciling the security strategy and respect for human rights. “The most important recommendation to the legislative authority is a review of this act which has been drawn up under political pressure”, stated the Vice-President of the LTDH, Bassem Trifi, to Agence France Presse during the presentation of the report in Tunis at the start of February. ASF and its partners believe that strengthening and protecting human rights, as well as giving primacy to the act, are essential for winning the fight against terrorism. Similarly, the implementation of effective security measures and protection of human rights must be seen as complementary and synergetic objectives, rather than conflicting ones. The report “Lutte contre le terrorisme et pratiques judicaires en Tunisie: le procès équitable à l’épreuve (The fight against terrorism and judicial practices in Tunisia: fair trials put to the test)” is available on the ASF website in French and in Arabic. Created in 2012, the ROJ aims at observing legal practice in criminal trials in order to assess progress in terms of how they respect international standards, and to put forward recommendations for reforming the judicial system.
Picture © ASF/H. Gebs