UN Expresses Dismay Over Human Rights Situation in Tunisia

The U.N. human rights office says it is seriously concerned about what it sees as a deteriorating human rights situation in Tunisia and is calling on the government to protect and respect the rights and freedoms of its people.

One of the latest gross violations occurred on December 31. On that day, two men, one a member of parliament and former justice minister, and the second man, a former interior ministry official, were snatched from their homes by men in plain clothes. They subsequently were bundled into cars and driven away without any explanation to unknown destinations.

U.N. human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell says the lawmaker, Noureddine Bhiri, subsequently was put under house arrest. Since he has a heart condition, he has been transferred to a hospital, where he remains under guard.

The second man taken away, identified in media reports as Fathi Baldi, is now under house arrest.

Throssel says the men reportedly are suspected of terrorism-related offenses, though neither has been formally charged.

“Although the men’s families and the U.N. Human Rights Office in Tunisia have since been able to visit them, these two incidents echo practices not seen since the Ben Ali era and raise serious questions regarding abduction, enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention,” Throssel said.

Ben Ali was Tunisia’s authoritarian leader from 1987 until he was ousted by Arab Spring street protests in 2011. He died in self-exile in Saudi Arabia in 2019.

The U.N. rights office is urging Tunisian authorities to promptly let the men do free or charge them according to due process standards for criminal proceedings.

Following violent demonstrations on September 1, spokeswoman Throssell says President Kais Saied called on the country’s Internal Security Forces to change their practices and respect the rights and freedoms of the Tunisian people.  

However, she noted authorities have yet to translate their words into action.

“As well as the actions of the Internal Security Forces, we are concerned at the stifling of dissent in Tunisia, including through the improper use of counter-terrorism legislation, and the increasing use of military courts to try civilians, which raise serious concerns regarding the equitable, impartial and independent administration of justice,” Throssell said.

U.N. officials say Tunisia has made tremendous progress toward promoting and realizing human rights over the past decade. They urge authorities to continue in that pathway.  

They call on them to reform the security and justice sectors so they are fully compliant with Tunisia’s international human rights obligations.

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