Tunisia passes crucial bill in the fight against torture

PUBLISHED 10.02.2016

DIGNITYs experts have managed to help Tunisia reach a crucial reform of the country’s Criminal Procedure Code. The reform was passed by the National Constituent Assembly last week, 96 votes for and 0 against.

By Kirsten Dall Hjøllund

Tunisian politicians have voted for a significant amendment of the Criminal Procedure code. The reform strengthens the rights of detainees, and will be an effective safeguard against torture.

The reform, which has been under way for several years, incorporates many of the international legal standards to safeguard against torture. Among other things, this will mean shorter periods of pre-charge detention, informing arrested persons of their rights and the reason for their arrest, ensuring arrested persons have the right to access a lawyer and a medical examination, as well as the right to inform a family member of their arrest.

– The changes secure many of the fundamental legal safeguards necessary for preventing torture, as they provide for greater oversight of persons in police custody, says legal advisor at DIGNITY Jo-Anne Prud’homme.

Gaps in existing law
A Ministry of Justice working group received technical support from DIGNITY, and developed a set of recommendations for reforms aimed at preventing torture. The recommendations, which were presented to the Minister of Justice, are reflected in the recent amendments.

– Through the work carried out under the DIGNITY-Tunisian Ministry of Justice partnership, we identified a number of gaps where Tunisian legislation is not in line with international standards. The amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code address many of those, says Jo-Anne Prud’homme.

For instance, prior to the amendments, the period of pre-charge detention in police custody was three days, renewable once. Because of the amendments, this has been reduced to 48 hours, renewable once only for the most serious crimes.

Next step: Implementation
The law enters into force on the 1st of June. Until then, the Ministry of Justice will work to ensure that the necessary systems for implementation are put in place. For instance, the reforms require that there is a prosecutor available in each jurisdiction at all times to issue written arrest warrants and the system to ensure this needs to be established.

In the context of DIGNITY’s partnership with the Tunisian Ministry of Justice, many trainings for judges and prosecutors have taken place regarding their role in the investigation and prosecution of torture cases. The training programme is now entering its second phase, in partnership with the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute. This will consist of a series of workshops for judges and prosecutors, which will now also include training on the amended Criminal Procedure Code.

– While the recent legislative reform is a positive development in the fight against torture in Tunisia, it is imperative that the necessary steps are taken to ensure they are effectively implemented, says Jo-Anne Prud’homme.