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II. Recommendations

Human Rights Watch reaffirms its call for the release of all prisoners in Tunisia who were convicted for the nonviolent exercise of their freedom of expression, association, and assembly. All other prisoners who were convicted of politically motivated acts in proceedings that did not conform to international standards for a fair trial should either be freed or granted promptly new and fair trials.

Human Rights Watch urges Tunisian authorities to end immediately the prolonged isolation of selected political prisoners, as it is currently practiced. Until the policy is abolished, Tunisian authorities should publicly acknowledge the existence of the policy and make public the criteria governing when and to whom it is applied, and all regulations pertaining to its practice. Even short-term isolation should be considered an extreme measure, and its use should be kept to a minimum. Authorities should provide inmates placed in isolation, whether for punitive or preventive reasons, a detailed and individualized explanation in writing of the reasons and give them a meaningful opportunity to challenge the order at regular intervals. Senior corrections officials should periodically review the justification for isolating each inmate, and their decisions should in turn be reviewed by an impartial, independent authority.

In accordance with international norms, solitary confinement should be used only as a last resort and for relatively short periods of time. It should be imposed and, where necessary, renewed, on a case-by-case basis, under strict supervision, including by a physician, and only for legitimate penological reasons of discipline or preventive security. When used “preventively,” isolation should not be imposed to stop prisoners from exchanging political views and information, but only when an individual’s behavior has shown him to be so chronically violent or dangerous as to pose a demonstrable and serious threat to prison safety and security. When it is deemed warranted to isolate a prisoner from the general prison population, there should be a presumption in favor of placing affected prisoners in cells or wings with one another, rather than in solitary confinement.

When confining prisoners in isolation for any reason, Tunisian authorities should ensure that their treatment and conditions comply with all relevant international norms, including those spelled out in the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (hereafter the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules).4 Current practices should be reformed so that, among other things, all prisoners:

  • reside in cells that have windows providing natural light and fresh air;
  • have access to meaningful activities and a broad variety of reading materials; and
  • may send and receive mail without arbitrary interference and delays.

Tunisian authorities should ensure that conditions faced by prisoners placed in isolation preventively areno more restrictive than necessary for legitimate security considerations. Policies should permit and encourage prisoners to maintain constructive lives, and should acknowledge their inherent dignity and value as human beings. When prison authorities isolate a prisoner for preventive reasons, they should find ways to enhance conditions for that prisoner in order to compensate for the hardship that the added restrictions on movement and on human contacts inflict on him.

Human Rights Watch also recommends that Tunisian authorities open prisons, including isolation units, to independent and qualified domestic and international monitoring organizations, a step that was hinted at by Minister of Justice and Human Rights Tekkari in April 2004, as noted above. Authorities should allow such visits to be unimpeded, unannounced, and repeated at reasonable intervals.

Tunisia, a signatory to the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, should become a party to the Optional Protocol to that Convention. The Protocol allows independent international experts to conduct regular visits to places of detention within the territory of states parties, to assess the conditions of detention, and make recommendations for improvements.

We urge the European Union, the Arab League, United States, Canada, and all countries having bilateral relations with Tunisia to monitor prison conditions; to encourage access for independent monitoring procedures as noted above; and to press Tunisian authorities, through private and public channels, to bring their prisons into compliance with international norms, including by ending the arbitrary and unjustified use of solitary confinement for political prisoners.

We urge the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to turn its attention to the plight of political prisoners in prolonged isolation in Tunisia, and to request from Tunisian authorities access to prisoners in isolation.

On the alleged rape of prisoner Nabil Ouaer, now released:

Tunisian authorities should allow a thorough, independent investigation of the alleged rape of Ouaer, and ensure that the investigators have access to prison staff and prisoners who allegedly participated in or who witnessed the incident. Ouaer himself should have the opportunity to testify fully, and, if he requests, in the company of a lawyer of his choosing. The investigation should seek to determine the facts of the case and whether, in the weeks following the incident, Ouaer’s complaint was properly handled by the various authorities who were in a position to address it. Anyone suspected of participation or complicity in a criminal assault on Ouaer should be brought to justice. If it is found that officials failed to respond appropriately to his complaints of rape, or actively sought to cover up what happened, they should be disciplined or brought to justice.

[4] Adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955, and approved by the Economic and Social Council by its resolution 663 C (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977. Though not a treaty itself, the Standard Minimum Rules are the most widely accepted set of standards governing the treatment of prisoners consistent with human rights principles.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>April 2005