Tunisia: 300 people died in uprising, says UN

A Tunisian rights activist said security forces raped and tortured prisoners.

Updated: May 22, 2011, 11:55 AM IST

Tunis: Some 300 people died in the Tunisian uprising, a UN official said on Saturday, as a Tunisian rights activist said security forces raped and tortured prisoners even after the fall of the old regime.

"About 300 people were killed and 700 injured during the troubles between December 17 and January 14," Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, told reporters in Tunis.

Mendez cited figures provided by Tunisia`s interim administration, relating to the weeks of popular protest that led to the overthrow of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, after 23 years in power.

The new figure is substantially higher than the previous toll issued by Tunisian officials in mid-February, which had put the death toll at 234, without specifying the number of injured.

Leading Tunisian rights activist Radhia Nasraoui said about 100 people had been tortured to death by the Ben Ali regime in its final weeks. The abuses continued under the interim administration, she added.

"We have had accounts from prisoners who have been tortured after the revolution and some of them have even been raped," she said.

Youths as young as 14 and 15 who had taken part in peaceful demonstrations were among those subjected to torture, Nasraoui said.

"I think there is no political will to stop these savage practices -- at least in a firm way," she added.

"We have the impression that the police have been given the green light to torture."

Mendez called for a complete and thorough investigation of the allegations, action against the perpetrators and compensation and help for the victims.

Administrative, legal and constitutional reform was needed for torture to be stopped, he added.

Mendez arrived in Tunisia late Sunday for a week-long visit, during which he met officials of the transitional administration, rights activists and senior figures of several political parties.

His is the first official visit by an independent UN human rights expert since the January 14 overthrow of Ben Ali.

After his removal, political prisoners claimed torture and bad treatment during long periods in jail under the former regime.

Mendez also met victims of torture and their families, and visited local branches of UN agencies and international organisations.

"The new authorities have taken a number of steps towards ensuring accountability and long-term reforms," Mendez said in Geneva last week.

He said he wanted to help Tunisia`s interim rulers "establish the rule of law, fulfil the rights to reparations for victims of torture and ill-treatment".

He urged "accountability for past abuses," and stressed that all accused people should be treated in a manner consistent with international justice standards.

Tunisia`s interim government, he said Saturday, was under "immense pressure" to show that it has both the will and capacity to deliver on the population`s desire for an "end to the cycle of impunity”.

In February, a UN human rights mission urged Tunisia to investigate and prosecute alleged violations perpetrated by Ben Ali`s security forces during the uprising, when scores of people were killed.

Bureau Report