February 23, 2021
Clement Nyaletsossi Voule
Particular Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceable meeting and of affiliation
Particular Rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression
Particular Rapporteur on the proper to privateness
Particular Rapporteur on the scenario of human rights defenders
Unbiased professional on safety in opposition to violence and discrimination based mostly on sexual orientation and gender id
Representatives of EU Member States
Re: Violations Focusing on Human Rights Defenders, Together with SOGI Activists, in Tunisia
We write to you on behalf of Human Rights Watch and Damj Affiliation for Justice and Equality, a Tunis-based LGBT rights group, to boost concern relating to the violations dedicated by Tunisian safety forces in opposition to activists at protests, together with concentrating on activists engaged on points associated to sexual orientation and gender id (SOGI), in violation of Tunisia’s structure and worldwide human rights protections.
Human Rights Watch documented instances the place police arbitrarily arrested activists at protests, together with situations the place they rounded them up on the road, bodily assaulted them, threatened to rape and kill them, and refused individuals in custody entry to immediate authorized counsel. Activists additionally mentioned people harassed them on social media and threatened them with violence based mostly on their gender non-conformity and presumed sexual orientation. These latest accounts had been supplied in opposition to the backdrop of elevated persecution of LGBT folks through the Covid-19 pandemic and an intensified crackdown on LGBT organizing in recent times.
Because the protests started in mid-January, which have been largely peaceable by day, Tunisian organizations have recognized over 1,600 folks arrested, round 30 p.c of whom are minors, by authorities at protests thus far. Civil society additionally reported unsanitary circumstances and overcrowding in detention facilities the place protesters had been being held, in violation of the federal government’s personal hygiene and social distancing rules to fight the unfold of Covid-19, in addition to world tips. Kids had been additionally detained alongside adults, and plenty of stay detained and have been subjected to bodily violence by jail authorities.
In response to activists who spoke to Human Rights Watch, the crackdown in opposition to them intensified resulting from their participation in protests, when people posted their footage on social media started threatening to arrest protesters. People publicly harassed activists and printed their personal info with out their consent, in some instances “outing” LGBT activists. In addition they smeared them based mostly on their sexual orientation or gender id in an try and discredit the broader protest motion, and posted their footage on-line with messages inciting violence in opposition to them.
On account of being “outed,” people reported having to go away their houses and neighborhoods and deleting their social media accounts. One activist mentioned he fled the nation after police arbitrarily detained and beat him, and his identify and handle had been posted on-line.
In response to a press release launched on February 5, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi met with safety forces and counseled their “professionalism in coping with protests,” and warned in opposition to protesters’ makes an attempt to “lure safety forces into utilizing violence in opposition to them.”
These reported abuses at protests comply with an intensified crackdown on LGBT organizing in recent times. Members of Damj Affiliation, together with its director, Badr Baabou, and social employee, Saif Ayadi, reported that on a number of events, in 2018, 2019, and 2020, their locations of residence, in addition to Damj’s places of work, had been forcibly entered throughout their absence, and intruders had tampered with work recordsdata and gadgets. Each Baabou and Ayadi had obtained direct threats from police, whom they believe of conducting the break-ins.
Different workers members of Damj informed Human Rights Watch that they’re incessantly subjected to police harassment and intimidation, together with bodily and verbal abuse by police, and questioning concerning the group’s actions close to Damj’s places of work and on the road.
Human Rights Watch and Damj have additionally documented elevated abuses in opposition to LGBT folks through the Covid-19 pandemic. In December 2020, Tunisian police arrested LGBT activists throughout a peaceable demonstration in entrance of the Tunisian parliament. In October, Tunisian police attacked and arrested demonstrators, together with LGBT activists, who had been peacefully protesting a draft legislation that might restrict prison accountability for the usage of extreme drive by the safety forces. Activists had been accused of “protesting and not using a allow,” and “violating the state of emergency legislation,” and “assaulting cops,” which they denied. In August, cops guarding the French Embassy in Tunis bodily and verbally assaulted transgender activists and incited bystanders to assault them.
Authorities have continued to prosecute and imprison presumed homosexual males beneath article 230 of the penal code, which gives as much as three years in jail for “sodomy.” In June 2020, the Kef First Occasion Tribunal sentenced two males charged with sodomy beneath article 230 of the penal code, which gives as much as three years imprisonment, to 2 years, lowered to 1 yr on attraction. The boys had refused police’s calls for to topic them to an anal examination, an invasive and discredited apply that may quantity to torture and that Tunisian authorities routinely use to “show” gay conduct, regardless of formally accepting a suggestion on the UN Human Rights Council in 2017 to finish the usage of compelled anal exams.
In 2020, Damj Affiliation supplied authorized help to LGBT folks at police stations in 116 instances and responded to 185 requests for authorized consultations. Damj mentioned these figures are 5 instances increased than these they recorded in 2019, suggesting a rise within the persecution of LGBT folks through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tunisia’s continued crackdown in opposition to activists and LGBT folks violates their primary rights, together with their proper to privateness, bodily integrity, free motion, free expression, meeting, and affiliation, together with on the web, in addition to their proper to nondiscrimination and safety beneath the legislation. The abuses violate Tunisia’s structure and worldwide treaties to which Tunisia is a celebration. The structure permits for a lawyer to be current throughout police interrogations, and prohibits “psychological and bodily torture.” The African Fee on Human and Individuals’s Rights explicitly calls on member states, together with Tunisia, to guard sexual and gender minorities in accordance with the African Constitution.
We’re significantly involved to see such back-tracking in a rustic that has witnessed progress towards recognizing the rights of LGBT folks. In 2018, the Fee on Particular person Freedoms and Equality, appointed by President Beji Caid Essebsi, proposed, amongst different actions, to decriminalize homosexuality and to finish anal testing in prison investigations into homosexuality. Members of the Tunisian Parliament additionally launched draft laws for a code on particular person freedoms, which integrated a number of proposals from the presidential fee together with abolition of article 230. In 2019, Tunisia was the one nation within the Center East and North Africa (MENA) area that voted on the UN Human Rights Council in favor of renewing the mandate of the impartial professional on safety in opposition to violence and discrimination based mostly on sexual orientation and gender id.
Human Rights Watch and Damj Affiliation urge the Particular Procedures mandate holders and authorities representatives of EU member states to interact with the Tunisian authorities to carry their safety forces accountable for violations of worldwide legislation, and be certain that authorities chorus from utilizing “sodomy” legal guidelines and obscure “morality” claims, to curtail primary freedoms of sexual and gender minorities, and undermine the rights to free meeting, affiliation, and expression for all. We additionally urge you to make sure that teams can arrange in assist of SOGI rights with out interference and intimidation by authorities.
Tunisia is likely one of the few remaining nations within the MENA area that gives an area for organizing round SOGI points, and human rights extra typically, and we remorse to look at this house shrink. We consider it’s crucial for the worldwide neighborhood to induce Tunisia to stick to its worldwide human rights obligations.
Thanks in your continued assist. Please be at liberty to contact us must you require any extra info relating to any of the problems we’ve raised.
Director, LGBT Rights Program
Human Rights Watch
Appearing Director, Center East and North Africa Division
Human Rights Watch