Ensure torture prevention body well-resourced and independent, UN experts urge Tunisia

By Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

The recent election of members of Tunisia's torture prevention body is a major positive step, but the next challenge is to ensure the body is well-resourced and able to function in the shortest time possible, UN experts have said at the end of a visit to the country.

“We are looking forward to this independent body, known as a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), beginning its work in the near future,” said Hans-Jörg Bannwart, head of a three-member delegation from the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture that visited Tunisia from 12 to 14 April.

“The NPM does, however, face vast practical challenges, ranging from the real independence of its members to having the necessary financial resources from the State to carry out its functions,” Mr. Bannwart said. “Relations between the different human rights bodies also need to be clarified to avoid conflicts of competence that might affect the efficiency of the overall system of human rights protection and monitoring in the country,” he added.

Tunisia ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) in June 2011, which requires States parties to set up a NPM to monitor places where people are deprived of their liberty. In 2013, Tunisia adopted the relevant legislation to set up the NPM (Instance Nationale de Prevention de la Torture); the body's 16 members were elected in March 2016 and are due to be sworn in soon.

During their visit, the SPT delegation met Government officials and most of the elected NPM members to discuss how to set up the body and to identify the issues that need to be addressed to ensure the NPM is functional as soon as possible.

“These were very fruitful encounters during which we found a very strong will, from the Government to support the NPM, and from the elected members to start working as soon as possible,” said Mr. Bannwart. “This engagement and commitment from all parties involved in this process is hugely encouraging.”

Tunisia is the first country in the North Africa and Middle East region to create an NPM. The SPT voiced satisfaction at this progress and expressed the hope that other countries in the region will follow Tunisia's example by ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and creating national mechanisms to prevent torture and ill-treatment.

The SPT delegation also indicated that the establishment of an effective NPM will help to strengthen the fight against impunity for acts of torture by the Tunisian Government. “Combatting impunity is one of the most efficient ways to prevent torture,” Mr. Bannwart noted.

During their visit, the SPT delegation met: elected members of the NPM; relevant Government ministries; the Electoral Commission for the NPM of the Parliament; the Judiciary; the National Human Right Institution (Comité Supérieur des Droits de l'Homme et des Libertés Fondamentales); the Administration Mediator (Médiateur Administratif); the Truth and Dignity Commission (l'Instance Vérité et Dignité); lawyers associations; civil society organizations and international organisations in Tunisia, including the UN, Council of Europe and European Union. Following the visit, the SPT will submit a confidential report to the Government of Tunisia, containing its observations and recommendations on the establishment of the NPM to ensure that it can perform its role to prevent of torture and ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty. As with all other States, the SPT is encouraging Tunisia to make this report public. The SPT delegation comprised: Hans-Jörg Bannwart (Switzerland); Suzanne Jabbour (Lebanon) and Joachim Kojo (Togo).