A Strasbourg Judge Issues an International Arrest Warrant Against a Tunisian vice-consul For Torture

Press release

A Tunisian diplomat posted in France and implicated in a criminal affair involving General Ben Ali, takes flight and is the subject of an international arrest warrant issued by a Judge in Strasbourg.

On 11th October 1996, Mrs Z., a national of Tunisia was questioned by agents of the Tunisian Intelligence Agency and detained for two days in the Jendouba police station: she was the object of torture and humiliation (suspended on an iron bar between two tables, subjected to beatings with batons, subjected to physical abuse to the genitals and insulted) designed by the Tunisian regime to obtain information from several individuals suspected of belonging to a religious circle, including Mrs Z.’s husband who had obtained the status of political refugee in France in May 1996.

During April 2001, Mrs Z. learnt that her torturer, Khaled Ben Said, was appointed to a post in France as vice-consul in the Tunisian Consulate in Strasbourg. On 9th May a complaint was filed with the public prosecutor’s office in Paris, which in June referred the matter to a Judge in Strasbourg. On 4th February 2002, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the French Human Rights League (LDH), declared themselves "civil party" to the proceedings in support of Mrs Z.’s case.

Article 222-1 of the French Penal Code stipulates that submitting a person to torture and other crual and degrading punishments is a crime punishable by 15 years imprisonment. Pursuant to article 689-1 of the Code of French Criminal Procedure and in application of the New York Convention Against Torture, the perpetrator of such acts can be prosecuted and judged under French jurisdiction if he/she located in France, even if the acts were committed outside the territory of the French Republic. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations does not confer any immunity in relation to the criminal acts in question.

Following the preliminary investigation lead in Strasbourg, the Prosecutor decided on 16th January 2002 that there existed serious and consistent indications against the vice-consul in the acts charged. As a consequence, the Prosecutor commenced proceedings for acts of torture under the circumstances that the author, as an officer of the police, represented public authority and that the facts were committed in the exercise of his functions.

The complaint filed by Mrs Z., relates to all those responsible in the chain of command including the General Zine Abidine Ben Ali, current president of the Republic of Tunisia.

For many years, the FIDH has denounced that acts of torture continue to be practised systematically by various services of the Tunisian security forces at locations within the Ministry of the Interior, the National Guard, police stations and prisons.

The consul attempted to take refuge behind his diplomatic status in order to escape criminal responsibility after being identified and located by the criminal police of Strasbourg. The accused, who was summonsed on several occasions by the Public Prosecutor in Strasbourg then by the Examining Magistrate, ultimately fled Strasbourg and has been the subject of an international arrest warrant since 15th February 2002.

On 1st March, the complainant’s lawyer requested to the Examining Magistrate in Strasbourg, to gathered in Tunisia the testimony of direct or indirect witnesses, accomplices or co-authors of the crimes in question.

The defence requests opening a supplementary investigation on the basis of article 434-6 of the French Penal Code, which prohibits providing the author or accomplice of a crime with accommodation, a hiding place, subsidies, means of existence or all other means to protect his or her discovery and arrest.

The information revealed by Mrs Z. was confirmed by a report of the FIDH in November 1998 entitled "UN: Committee Against Torture, Tunisia: Violations Characterised Serious and Systematic" as well as by the Committee for the Respect of Liberties and Human Rights entitled "Torture in Tunisia 1987 - 2000, Pleadings for its Abolition and Against Impunity."

It is notably on the basis of these reports that the United Nations Committee Against Torture, responsible for verifying the implementation of the 1984 Convention underlined, in November 1998, the systematic practice of torture by agents of the Tunisian state during the period mentioned.

The FIDH and the LDH regrets that judicial proceedings were not initiated earlier, which would have allowed Mr Ben Said to explain the alleged facts and have maintained his presence in France. Mrs Z’s lawyer had formally indicated the clear risk of the accused’s flight to the Prosecutor General of the Colmar Court of Appeal as early 25th June 2001.

Nevertheless, the FIDH and the LDH are pleased that these events mark an historic step in the struggle against impunity for crimes committed in Tunisia. After various unsuccessful judicial attempts, this is indeed the first time that an international arrest warrant, based on universal jurisdiction, has been issued against a Tunisian torturer.

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