We are writing to you regarding the European Union's upcoming Association Council meeting with Tunisia on November 16-17. The Association Agreement was signed on July 17, 1995 by the European Community and E.U. member states on the one hand and by the Republic of Tunisia on the other hand, and came into force on March 1, 1998. The Agreement includes a legally binding human rights clause.(1)Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guide their domestic and international policies and constitute an essential element of the Agreement. Our organizations believe the E.U. Council of Ministers and the European Commission have an obligation to use Association Council meetings to raise concrete human rights concerns and press for verifiable progress

The lack of improvement in the human rights situation since the E.U.-Tunisian Agreement took effect poses an acute challenge to the Agreement and to E.U. policy toward the Mediterranean region. How the E.U. proceeds in this regard toward Tunisia, the first and still the only country where an Association Agreement has come into effect, will have precedential impact on the E.U.'s credibility and effectiveness in treating human rights issues with its future Euro-Mediterranean partners. France's National Consultative Human Rights Commission has urged that the Association Council, at its upcoming meeting, take up as a "priority" the "degradation of public liberties and human rights in Tunisia."(2)

It is in this context that we would like to share with you our current concerns with respect to the human rights situation in Tunisia.

Repression of all dissenting voices

The human rights situation began to deteriorate in 1990, following a brief period of reform initiated by President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. The repression that targeted Islamists first and foremost was broadened to cover leftists and all other opposition political tendencies, student leaders, professional associations, the media, and others.

Today, known or suspected government opponents and critics across the political spectrum risk detention simply for the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of opinion, expression, and association. Thousands of known or suspected political opponents have been tortured and imprisoned after unfair trials over the past decade. More than 1,000 remain in prison and are detained under conditions that amount to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Their relatives are targeted for harassment, intimidation, deprivation of passports, and detention.

Former prisoners of conscience are required to report to the police on a regular basis. Those who must report one or more times daily are often thereby prevented from working and resuming a normal life. Wives of exiled political opponents are often prevented from leaving the country with their children to reunite their families; those who in desperation attempted to leave the country without a passport have been imprisoned.

Many ordinary Tunisians who worked or studied abroad were arrested when they returned home to visit their families, and were imprisoned on charges of contacts with political opponents abroad. Those who have provided financial support, however modest, to relatives of political prisoners and of exiled opponents have themselves been prosecuted on charges of supporting "unauthorized associations."

Unfair trials: A judiciary lacking independence

When it comes to trials involving political charges, Tunisian courts fail to guarantee the most basic rights of defendants to a fair trial. This was starkly illustrated by the trial of twenty-one defendants, thirteen of them students, in a single twenty-hour session before the Tunis Court of First Instance on July 10, 1999. This trial was observed by numerous representatives of European and other embassies, bar associations, and human rights organizations. (AI, FIDH, and HRW sent observers to the trial and will be publishing a report on it shortly.) Sixteen of the accused had been in detention since their arrest in early 1998, following demonstrations that broke out on campuses over the conditions of study. They were initially charged with belonging to a criminal and terrorist gang, holding unauthorized meetings, defamation of the judiciary, and other charges.

The sixteen defendants who had been in pretrial detention all disavowed their "confessions" and said, almost without exception, that they had been tortured into signing. They described to the court methods of torture that included beatings on sensitive parts of the body, tying hands behind the back while hanging the person from the ceiling by the wrists; and the "poulet rôti" method of tying the wrists together under the knees and passing a pole horizontally between arms and thighs. (For more on the practice of torture, see FIDH, Tunisie: des violations caractérisées, graves et systématiques, Rapport alternatif au deuxième rapport périodique de la Tunisie au Comité contre la torture de l'ONU, rapport FIDH no. 267, novembre 1998.)

The defendants were systematically refused medical examinations despite having exercised their right under Tunisian law to request them. The defendants were also prevented from calling witnesses whom they said would refute the date of arrest as recorded by the police. Thus, the judge prevented the defendants from challenging their "confessions" and instead used these as the main evidence to convict them all.

Despite the purely political and nonviolent nature of the offenses being prosecuted, twenty of the defendants--including the three in hiding--received prison sentences ranging from fifteen months to nine years and three months (criminal judgment in case no. 21018/009 21080/099/6, dated July 14, 1999, court of first instance in Tunis). Today, seven of these defendants remain in prison; they have undertaken numerous hunger strikes (the last in October 1999) to protest the reasons and conditions of their detention, and the lack of investigation into their allegations of torture.

Increased targeting of human rights defenders

The government of Tunisia expends considerable effort to promote its image as a beacon of human rights. These efforts include vast public relations campaigns overseas, often assisted by obscure non-governmental associations of dubious independence. At home, human rights departments exist within at least four ministries, a state-appointed Higher Committee for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms supposedly monitors the practices of the government, human rights counselors are supposed to relate human rights concerns directly to President Ben Ali, and an ombudsman's office exists to handle citizens' complaints.

While the official human rights bureaucracy flourishes, members of the independent rights community and their relatives have been increasingly targeted for repression. This targeting aims to impede and punish those who stand up for human rights, and thereby to deprive victims of human rights violations of any defense. Tunisia's conduct violates the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by consensus--and hence with Tunisia's approval--by the U.N. General Assembly on December 9, 1998.

Khemaïs Ksila, a vice-president of the independent Tunisian Human Rights League (Ligue Tunisienne de défense de droits de l'Homme, LTDH), was arrested in September 1997 and sentenced to three years imprisonment solely for issuing a communiqué protesting the harassment and intimidation to which he and his family were subjected, and condemning the worsening human rights situation in Tunisia. After much national and international pressure, he was freed conditionally on September 22, 1999. He was briefly rearrested the following day, after giving interviews to foreign media, and cautioned against making further public statements. Ksila's release, however welcome, comes after he spent two years in prison for exercising his right to nonviolent speech and should hardly be considered an "improvement" in the human rights situation.

While one high-profile political prisoner has been released, more than 1,000 others remain in prison. Human rights activists who, like Ksila, publicly question the Tunisian authorities' intolerance of dissent, continue to face harassment, deprivation of passports, and other measures. And Ksila, although out of prison, remains without a passport and dismissed from his public-sector job. His telephone line has been disconnected since his release. His wife, Fatima Ksila, is also unable to obtain a passport and in March 1999 their eleven-year-old son was prevented from leaving the country to go to Cairo to receive a prize on behalf of his father conferred by the Arab Program for Human Rights Activists. Khemaïs Ksila's plight recalls that of human rights lawyer Nejib Hosni, who three years ago was freed early from a prison sentence he never should have served, remains without a passport, and is barred from resuming the practice of law. (On the trumped-up case against Nejib Hosni, see the detailed analysis in Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Nejib Hosni: A Tunisian Lawyer Singled Out for Exemplary Punishment for Defending Human Rights and Upholding the Rule of Law, New York: Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, April 1996.)

Radhia Nasraoui, a member of the executive committee of the Tunisian Bar Council, has endured years of harassment and intimidation because of her human rights activities. In March 1998, after joining the defense team representing the young political activists whose case was described above, Nasraoui was indicted as their co-conspirator and thereby disqualified from representing them. For a year and-a-half she was banned from leaving the capital, a measure that prevented her from visiting clients and being present in courts elsewhere in the country. In July 1999 she was sentenced to six months imprisonment, suspended, in the above-mentioned trial. In addition, she and her children and several other relatives have continued to be harassed and intimidated, and her children have been refused passports.

Dr. Moncef Marzouki, former President of the LTDH and current spokesperson for the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (Conseil National des Libertés en Tunisie, CNLT) and Omar Mestiri, member of the CNLT, were arrested on June 5 and May 12 respectively. Marzouki was seized, abduction-style, on a street in Tunis by plainclothes police who lacked a warrant. He was then held in secret detention for two days and questioned about CNLT communiqués on human rights developments. Since May, Omar Mestiri has been forbidden to travel to his place of work outside the capital. His wife, Sihem Ben Sedrine, herself a former board member of the LTDH, has also been denied a passport since 1995. In an apparent instance of relatives being punished for the activism of their kin, Mohamed Ali Bedoui, a brother of Dr. Marzouki, was imprisoned for six months in 1998 and again in 1999 for refusing to comply with arbitrary surveillance measures. Other members of the CNLT who have been deprived of passports include human rights lawyer Nejib Hosni, previously imprisoned in 1994 for over two years on spurious charges motivated by his human rights activities, journalist Taoufik Ben Brik, and cardiologist Mustapha Ben Jaafar. In May 1999 Taoufik Ben Brik was arrested and interrogated for several hours; in the preceding weeks he had been attacked outside his home in Tunis in broad daylight by individuals armed with chains. His wife, Azza, had her car windows smashed as she was shopping with their two young children.

Other human rights lawyers, including 85-year-old Mohamed Chakroun, a former minister of justice and head of the Bar Council, and Jamaleddine Bida, a former secretary general of the Bar Council, have also been unable to obtain their passports despite repeated attempts.

The above are but a few examples of the tactics used by the authorities to prevent and discourage Tunisians from working to defend the rights of others. In addition to those mentioned above, numerous human rights lawyers and activists have been and continue to be subjected to measures of harassment and intimidation that inflict harm on their social, professional and family lives. Their clients, friends, and relatives are intimidated by security agents who follow them or approach them to check their identity papers or question them. The cutoff of telephone lines and the confiscation of mail further disrupts family and professional life and heightens their vulnerability, especially in emergency situations.

Restrictions on the press and on civil society

The situation that prompted the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers to expel its Tunisian affiliate in 1997 remains unchanged. Tunisia's television, radio, and daily press contain no criticism of the authorities and ignore all information emanating from Tunisian and international non-governmental organizations that might imply criticism of government policies. Tunisia's private newspapers are indistinguishable in tone from the official ones. Only a few smaller periodicals such as al-Mawqif deviate from the official line, and they do so with caution.

Human rights, civil liberties, and professional associations are under close surveillance and face harassment for expressing even mild criticisms of the government's human rights record or policies. Their critical statements are ignored by the local media, and fear of retaliation by the authorities often inhibits them from distributing such statements abroad.

The Tunisian League for Human Rights remains hobbled in its work by the surveillance conducted by plainclothes police of its members and offices, which dissuades Tunisians from joining the LTDH or from bringing human rights complaints to it. The LTDH's activities are systematically ignored by the daily press. And about one year ago, the government raised objections to and blocked a grant that the European Commission had approved for the LTDH.

Other well-established NGOs like the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates, ATFD) or the Association of Young Lawyers (Association des Jeunes Avocats, AJA) and their members face impediments related to their efforts to take independent positions on current issues. Their activities are hindered at the regional and international level by intimidating police surveillance and by the fact that many of their active members have been deprived of passports at one time or another.

Attempts to create new civil rights associations have been stifled by the government's refusal to grant such groups the necessary authorization. For example, the CNLT, which was created on December 10, 1998, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was refused authorization by the ministry of the interior in March 1999 and its members have been continuously harassed (see above).

Trade unionists who have voiced concern at the increasing control by the authorities of the Tunisian General Trade Union (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail, UGTT) have also been targeted. In May 1999 at least ten trade unionists who had signed petitions and made declarations condemning government interference in the UGTT's affairs were arrested and detained for up to a few days.

Surveillance and blocking of communications via mail, telephone, fax and the Internet make it difficult for Tunisian NGOs and activists to communicate regularly and freely with each others at home and abroad. A postal law decreed June 2, 1998 provides that "postal materials that...could harm public order or security are not acceptable. If [such] mail is found...it will be confiscated in conformity with the laws in effect." The World Wide Web sites of some international human rights organizations, media, and U.N. human rights bodies are inaccessible much or most of the time and others are blocked on particular occasions. For example, the website of certain French newspapers, television and radio stations were rendered inaccessible on days they carried items critical of the Tunisian authorities.

Further restrictions around the October 1999 elections

The government of Tunisia heralded the presidential and legislative elections of October 24 as a milestone in the country's democratization, noting that opposition parties would be guaranteed 20 percent of the parliamentary seats regardless of the electoral returns and that, for the first time, the presidential ballot would include more than one candidate. In the event, the official tally of the presidential elections recorded 99.44 percent for incumbent president Ben Ali and 92 percent of the parliamentary vote for his ruling Democratic Constitutional Rally party. Other parties gained seats not through the ballot box but through set-asides whose distribution was decided upon by the administration. On the essential question of whether Tunisians feel free to speak, associate, and assemble with respect to the issues that concern them at election time, the answer remains: only so long as they refrain from directly challenging the policy course of the authorities. Participation is permitted only to those parties that are legally recognized, which at this time excludes all those that propose clear alternatives to the policies of the present government. The one legal party that challenged mildly the government's program in 1995, the Social Democratic Movement (Mouvement des Démocrates Socialistes, MDS), saw its leader, Mohamed Mouada, arrested and sentenced to eleven years' imprisonment on spurious charges and replaced by a more compliant leadership. Mouada was released in 1996 after much international pressure but remains under close surveillance, his passport confiscated and his telephone disconnected.

On October 28, 1999 Dr. Mustapha Ben Jaafar, a co-founder both of the CNLT and the Democratic Forum (Forum Démocratique), a political association that applied in 1994 for legal registration but never received a reply, was arrested at his home and detained for several hours at the Carthage police station. He was questioned about a statement he had issued on behalf of the Democratic Forum criticizing the election outcome and the atmosphere in which it took place. Ben Jaafar was warned that he would face prosecution for maintaining an unauthorized association.

In the days preceding the elections the telephone lines of several human rights lawyers, activists, and government critics were disrupted in an apparent attempt to curtail their communications with foreign journalists visiting Tunisia to cover the elections.

Tunisia's record on women's rights

Since independence, women in Tunisia have made impressive strides in the securing of their rights. The Personal Status Code adopted under former President Habib Bourguiba gave women many legal rights they did not previously enjoy. The illiteracy rate for women has dropped and their presence in higher education and in the workforce has grown.

At the same time, women are no less restricted than men with respect to the exercise of their political and civil rights. When the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD) tries to highlight areas where the treatment of women could improve--through communiqués, public awareness campaigns, meetings, and rallies--its efforts are stymied. Public gatherings are often barred by the authorities, members such as lawyer Najet Yacoubi are under constant surveillance, and the pro-government media ignore its activities, except to suggest the association is "libertine" or "lesbian" or to misrepresent it in other ways.

In addition, authorities systematically harass the wives of suspected Islamists who are in jail or exile, through detention, surveillance, searches without warrants, incessant police questioning, and confiscation of passports. Several women have been put under pressure by police to divorce their jailed or exiled husbands. These abuses were raised this year in the report of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women (E/CN.4/1999/68/Add.1).

Another area where much progress must still be made with respect to women's rights is domestic violence. According to the ATFD, which runs the country's only shelter for women victims of violence, domestic violence is commonplace. Yet government officials have not acknowledged this and, according to women's rights activists, a climate of impunity prevails because police officers fail to investigate incidents adequately and judges tend to dismiss domestic violence as a family matter. Again, restrictions on political rights are part of the problem: the ATFD has long been calling on the government to secure the right of independent organizations to work freely to combat violence against women.

Human rights violations in Tunisia--and their impact in Europe

European countries have been touched in a variety of ways by the repression in Tunisia. Article 305 of the Code of Criminal Procedure permits the prosecution of Tunisians for certain acts committed abroad that violate Tunisian law, even if those activities are perfectly legal in the countries in which they took place. A recent and not atypical case involves Nizar Chaâri, who was jailed on May 29, 1998 while visiting home after earning his doctorate in agronomy at the University of Toulouse in France. After spending nearly a year in pretrial detention, he was convicted of attending an "illegal" meeting that was alleged to have taken place outside of Tunisia more than a decade earlier. Conditionally freed in June 1999, Chaâri remains in Tunisia, where he is required to report daily to the police and is unable to obtain a passport. These restrictions prevent him from taking a post-doctoral post that the University of Toulouse has offered him.

Systematic violation of the right to freedom of movement

The arbitrary deprivation of passports has been one of the abuses most commonly used not only against human rights activists and known or suspected political opponents, but also against their relatives. This policy has caused great suffering among the families of political refugees living in European countries. Although some of these cases have been resolved in recent years thanks to international pressure, including démarches made by E.U. member governments, many families remain divided because of this vindictive policy. To cite just three examples:

Rachida Ben Salem is the wife of M'barek Sghaier M'barek, a Tunisian refugee living in the Netherlands. Radhia Aouididi is the fiancée of Ahmed Amri, a refugee living in France, and the sister of Noureddine Aouididi, a refugee in the United Kingdom. Souad Charbti is the wife of Abdelaziz Bousnina, a refugee in Switzerland. In separate incidents each of the women tried to flee the country to join their partners, after their passport applications had been refused and they had been denied the possibility of departing through legal means. They were arrested--Charbti in the company of the couple's four children and Ben Salem with her two children--and imprisoned on charges relating primarily to their attempted flight.

In June 1999 all three women were released conditionally from prison. While their release is welcome, they should never have been imprisoned in the first place. Moreover, the lives of all three women are currently circumscribed by the obligation to report daily at police stations and by the continued refusal of authorities to issue them passports. Rachida Ben Salem and her children, now eight and ten years old, have not seen their husband and father since the children were very young. Charbti and her children, who range from eight to fourteen years of age, have not seen Abdelaziz Bousnina for eight years. Aouididi, meanwhile, is to go on trial on new and spurious charges of "links with an unauthorized association" on November 25. These charges, which had been brought against her last year on account of her relation and contact with her fiancé and brother abroad, had initially been dropped but were later reinstated on appeal by the prosecutor.

Others deprived of passports include sociologist Salah Hamzaoui of the University of Tunis, who has been denied a passport since 1997, and is thus unable to reach Paris to complete his doctoral work. On October 11, 1999 his son, student leader Yassine Hamzaoui, was also refused a passport, preventing him from enrolling this semester at the University of Montreal.

Restrictions on foreign media

Tunisia's intolerance of dissent has other European repercussions as well. Foreign publications are banned from circulation whenever they contain critical coverage of Tunisia, at considerable cost to those publications. The Parisian dailies Le Monde and Libération were barred from circulation fourteen and seven times respectively during the first half of 1999, according to Reporters sans Frontières. The London-based Arabic daily al-Quds al-Arabi and the French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique and daily La Croix are among the publications that have been kept out of the country at one time or another. European television stations are sometimes blocked or jammed after broadcasting criticism of Tunisia. Most recently, transmission of France 2 was blocked beginning on October 25, shortly after broadcasting an interview with the French authors of Notre ami Ben Ali, a new book critical of the Tunisian president. Taoufik Ben Brik, a Tunisian correspondent for several European news media, including La Croix, the Switzerland-based Info-Sud news agency, and the France-based Syfia agency, has been the target of steady harassment as one of the few Tunisian journalists who writes critically of the human rights situation (see above).

Preventing Tunisians from attending European Parliament human rights hearing

In June 1997, several political groups in the European Parliament sponsored a forum on human rights in Tunisia in the context of the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement. The government of Tunisia exerted strong pressure on the invited Tunisians not to attend and directly prevented some from leaving the country. One human rights activist who managed to come and testify, Khemaïs Chammari, has since remained in exile, fearing reprisals for his human rights activities if he were to return. With Chammari beyond the reach of the authorities, his wife, lawyer Alya Chérif-Chammari, is harassed and kept under surveillance. In addition, his brother Abderraouf was arrested in July and given a one-year sentence because of a comment he was accused of uttering in a private conversation that was deemed defamatory of the president's family. After spending two months behind bars, Abderraouf Chammari, a senior public servant and former deputy mayor of Tunis, was released on what officials called humanitarian grounds.

International awareness of the human rights situation in Tunisia

· European Union

E.U. member states are well aware of human rights violations and restrictions of civil liberties and freedoms of expression and association in Tunisia. The Evaluation of the Meda Democracy Programme 1996-1998, prepared for the European Commission and issued in March, cites Tunisia in Section 2.9 as one of the Euro-Mediterranean countries where serious problems exist in carrying out human rights and civil liberties promotion activities:

Syria and Tunisia received the lowest share [of funds] both in terms of grants per country and per capita. This reflects the severe political obstacles to directly assist NGOs in these countries without agreement by the government and the totalitarian nature of the political systems in Syria and Tunisia.

As mentioned above, the Tunisian government successfully blocked a grant that the European Commission had approved for the Tunisian League for Human Rights. It was not the only instance over the past year where authorities stood in the way of an E.C. grant to an applicant from Tunisia's civil society. The government, as noted, also did its best to ensure that Tunisian human rights activists did not attend the human rights hearing on Tunisia organized by parties in the European Parliament in 1997.

· The United Nations

The U.N. human rights mechanisms present a stark picture of the situation in Tunisia. In November 1998 the U.N. Committee Against Torture examined the government of Tunisia's report (which was submitted four years late) and declared itself "disturbed by the reported widespread practice of torture" and "concerned over the pressure and intimidation used by officials to prevent the victims from lodging complaints." The committee charged that by denying these allegations, "the authorities are in fact granting those responsible for torture immunity from punishment, thus encouraging the continuation of these abhorrent practices." The committee urged the government to ensure strict enforcement of the provisions of the law and procedures of arrest and police custody. (See the Concluding Observations of the Committee against Torture, CAT/C/TUN, November 19, 1998.) At the same time, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, who in October 1998 requested to conduct a working visit to Tunisia, has received no invitation. (On a more positive note, the Tunisian government recently invited the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, who has been requesting permission for a mission since December 1997.)

In its 1998 and 1999 sessions, the U.N. Sub-Commission on Human Rights expressed concern at the cases of human rights defenders Khemaïs Ksila and Radhia Nasraoui (mentioned above). In May 1999 the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued its finding that the detention of Khemaïs Ksila was arbitrary.

In October 1994, the U.N. Human Rights Committee expressed concern about the human rights situation and urged the government of Tunisia to implement a series of recommendations so as to bring Tunisia into compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. (See the Comments of the U.N. Human Rights Committee, adopted November 2, 1994, CCPR/C/79/Add.43.) To date, none of the key recommendations has been implemented in practice. The next Tunisian government's report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee was due in February 1998 but has not been submitted.

Recommendations to the E.U. Council of Ministers and the European Commission

At the E.U.-Tunisia Association Committee meeting in Tunis on June 25, the European Presidency, in a declaration, affirmed the E.U.'s intention to raise human rights concerns at all appropriate levels. The declaration also affirmed the E.U.'s view that economic and social progress can only be realized in open societies, regulated by the rule of law.

AI, HRW, FIDH, and RSF call on the E.U. Council of Ministers and the European Commission to urge Tunisia to fulfill its obligations under the Association Agreement and international human rights law by, among other things:

· freeing all persons detained or imprisoned solely for the nonviolent exercise of the right to speech, association, or assembly;

· restoring the right to freedom of movement to all persons who are arbitrarily deprived of passports;

· ending all forms of harassment against human rights activists and their relatives by, among other measures, restoring their passports, telephone, and fax service where these have been deprived; by ending police surveillance that is manifestly conducted as a form of intimidation; and by allowing all independent human rights organizations including the National Council on Liberties in Tunisia to function legally and freely, in conformity with the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights Defenders;

· instituting effective safeguards to prevent the use of torture against persons in police custody; and

· instituting a credible and transparent system for investigating allegations of abuse and ensuring that human rights abusers are identified and brought to justice.

Moreover, Tunisia should be urged to cease obstructing European Commission efforts to provide grants to Tunisian non-governmental associations that seek such funding.

We also urge the E.U. Council of Ministers and the European Commission to apply consistently Article 2 of the Euro-Mediterranean Agreement in accordance with international human rights standards. A credible human rights approach should not only provide the basis for programs to enhance human rights protection and promotion, but also involve concrete actions in the event of sustained and serious abuses.

We therefore call on the E.U. Council of Ministers and the European Commission to put in place mechanisms to regularly assess compliance with Article 2 by all contracting parties to the Euro-Mediterranean Agreement. These should include:

· regular and impartial monitoring of developments in the field of human rights and civil liberties in the territory of any of the contracting parties;

· monitoring of the extent to which human rights defenders are free to act and speak out in defense of the rights of others;

· issuing specific recommendations, compliance with which can be regularly measured, that are aimed at addressing improving the human rights situation and that take into account the recommendations made by the U.N. human rights bodies about the country concerned.

· making appropriate démarches towards partner countries in individual cases where violations of basic human rights standards have taken place; and

· making the assessment of compliance with Article 2 a separate agenda item in all meetings held under the Agreement, and especially the Association Council meetings.

In conclusion, we believe that full implementation of the Association Agreement with Tunisia requires the E.U. to raise concrete human rights concerns and press for verifiable progress on the basis of the recommendations specified above. In light of Tunisia's grave human rights situation, the Council of Ministers and the Commission should not miss the opportunity to do so at the upcoming Association Council meeting.

We thank you for your consideration of these matters.

Sincerely,

Willy Laes
Chair, Board of the Amnesty International European Union Association

Lotte Leicht
Brussels Director
Human Rights Watch

Robert Menard
Secretary General
Reporters sans Frontieres

Sara Guillet
Responsible for the Mediterannean countries
International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH)

Cc:

E.U. Permanent Representatives
Mr. Alberto Navarro, Cabinet of the E.U. High Representative

Mr. Christian Lefler, Deputy Chef du Cabinet of the Commissioner
Ms. Vicky Bowman, Cabinet of the Commissioner

Mr. Lothar Jaschke, Secretariat-General of the EU Council of Minister in charge of the Magreb
Ms. Hanna Lehtinen, Finnish Permanent Representation to the EU, President of the Council Mashrek-Maghreb Working Group
Mr. Raimon Obiols i Germa, President of the Delegation for Relations with the Maghreb Countries and the Arab Maghreb Union of the European Parliament
Mr. Elmar Brok, Chairman on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security, and Defence Policy of the European Parliament

Amnesty International - Rue du Commerce 70-72 - B-1040 Brussels - Tel +3225021499, Fax: +322 5025686

International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) - 17, Passage de la Main d'Or - F-75011 Paris - Tel: +33143552518 - Fax: +33143551880

Human Rights Watch - 15, Rue van Campenhout - 1000 Brussels - Tel: +3227322009 - Fax: +3227320471

Reporters sans frontières - 5, rue Geoffroy-Marie - F-75009 Paris - Tel : +33144838471 - Fax : +33145231151

1. The Euro-Mediterranean Agreement highlights in its preamble "the importance which the Parties attach to the principles of the United Nations Charter, particularly the observance of human rights and political and economic freedom, which form the very basis of the Association." Article 2 of the Agreement stipulates:>

Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles which guide their domestic and international policies and constitute an essential element of the Agreement.

2. Letter to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, made public October 21, 1999.