Tunisia: Uphold Rights While Fighting Terrorism


TUNIS, April 28, 2016 – Fighting terrorism and respecting human rights are two sides of the same coin, 48 national and international human rights organizations said today in an open letter addressed to all Tunisians and titled “No to Terrorism, Yes to Human Rights.” Three of the organizations are the Tunisian recipients of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize. Two others represent the families of Tunisian politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, assassinated in 2013 by extremist Islamists. Five Tunisian celebrities, including actors, a filmmaker, a rapper, and a star athlete, affirmed this view in a video also released today.

The organizations stressed the need to combat all terrorist acts and to prosecute perpetrators, instigators, and planners of those acts. They recognized the government’s duty to protect the rights of all persons, including the right to life.

At the same time, they urged the government to keep in mind that abusing rights undermines counterterrorism efforts in numerous ways:

  • Violating human rights facilitates efforts by terrorists to destroy social peace;
  • Abusing human rights fans grievances, offering excuses to those who carry out violent acts and those who seek to recruit them;
  • Abusive counterterrorist laws inevitably claim innocent, law-abiding citizens among their victims;
  • Guaranteeing fair trials, far from being “soft” on terrorism, means protecting the innocent as well as punishing the guilty;
  • Extracting confessions from terrorist suspects through torture is forbidden under any circumstances by international and Tunisian law and often produces false leads, wasting the security services’ time and resources;
  • Abusive practices alienate potential informants who could help the security forces prevent terrorist acts.

Tunisia experienced several deadly attacks by Islamist extremists in 2015 and 2016 that left dozens of people dead and injured. On March 7, 2016, gunmen conducted a coordinated attack at the military and National Guard barracks in Ben Guerdane, a town bordering Libya, which led to the death of 18 people, including seven civilians. On March 18, 2015, two gunmen attacked the Bardo Museum, adjacent to Tunisia’s parliament, killing 21 foreign tourists and one Tunisian security agent. On June 26, a gunman rampaged through a beach resort in Sousse, killing 38 foreign tourists. On November 24, a suicide attack on a bus killed 12 presidential guards and wounded 20 others, including four civilians.

The 2015 counterterrorism law, which replaced the 2003 counterterrorism law enacted by the government of ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, provides security forces with broad monitoring and surveillance powers, extends incommunicado detention from six days to up to 15 for terrorism suspects, and permits courts to close hearings to the public and allow the identities of witnesses to be withheld from defendants, measures that hinder fair trial guarantees for suspects.

Tunisian and international human rights organizations also received accounts from several people who said they had suffered abuses during counterterrorism operations. They interviewed Alaeddine Slim, a Tunisian filmmaker who told them he spent 33 days in jail in November and December 2015, after counterterrorist forces raided his home over what he described as a baseless accusation. Slim said that the counterterrorist forces found no evidence of terrorist activities in his house, and in the end the prosecutors only charged him with cannabis possession.

The organizations also interviewed and reviewed court documents about Nader Aloui, a young unemployed Tunisian who told them that he was detained over terrorism-related accusations for 14 months. He said he was repeatedly beaten and abused in detention, before an investigative judge finally dropped charges against him for lack of evidence.

Houssam Hamdi, a Tunisian who frequently travels internationally, told the organizations that counterterrorist police told him he was banned from travelling because they had “a file on (him).” Hamdi was unable to learn the basis for the ban, and the lack of written notification left him with no formal recourse to challenge it.

The organizations created a Facebook page and a Twitter account on which they will post special drawings offered by a group of Tunisian cartoonists to support the “No to Terrorism, Yes to Human Rights” campaign, and also articles, interviews, pictures, soundtracks, videos, and other material relevant to the campaign.

View the full list of organizations signatory organizations


Salwa El Gantri, Head of Office in Tunisia, ICTJ Email: SElGantri@ictj.org

PHOTO: A memorial at the Bardo Museum in Tunisia, site of a March 2015 attack. (Martin Schulz/Flickr)