UN torture sleuth heads to Tunisia next week


The United Nations investigator on torture plans to visit Tunisia next week to help transitional authorities ensure that torturers under the previous regime are prosecuted and their victims compensated.

Juan Mendez, UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, will be making his first mission since taking up the independent post on November 1.

His task was to “help the interim government ensure justice in terms of a successful transition and assist efforts to establish the rule of law, fulfil the rights to reparations for victims torture and ill-treatment … and ensure that alleged perpetrators are held responsible”, a UN statement said.

Tunisia’s security apparatus under President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali often tortured or mistreated dissidents or activists detained for their activities, human rights groups say, Reuters reports.

Ben Ali was ousted from power on January 14 after weeks of unprecedented protests against poverty, corruption and political repression.

Mendez is a lawyer who survived torture while jailed by the military dictatorship in his native Argentina in the mid-1970s for defending opponents of the regime. He was later expelled and now teaches law at American University in Washington, D.C.

He will hold talks with senior officials of Tunisia’s provisional government, a fact-finding commission dealing with human rights abuses as well as members of the judiciary, legislature and civil society, according to the UN statement.

Mendez will also meet torture victims and their families during his May 15-22 visit, which will include stops in Tunis, Bizerte and Kasserine.

He will issue a final report to the UN Human Rights Council next year but make preliminary recommendations in Tunis.