Hamida Daridi, recently elected as the Head of the National Authority for the Prevention of Torture (NAPT), speaks about its role in tackling torture and its program to prevent impunity.

Hamida Daridi, how do you evaluate the elections, which brought about the current NAPT?

Hamida Daridi, recently elected as the Head of the National Authority for the Prevention of Torture (NAPT), speaks about its role in tackling torture and its program to prevent impunity.

Hamida Daridi, how do you evaluate the elections, which brought about the current NAPT?

At first, the elections were disrupted because no one declared an intention to be nominated, due to the uncertainty about such issues, like full-time dedication and pay. This situation persisted for more than four years until it was decided that the members’ work would be full-time with adequate salaries. As a result, many nominated themselves.

However, it is worth mentioning that there were concerns that a number of nominees were accepted not based on their integrity, transparency, history and culture of human rights protection but based on their partisan, political and even financial allegiances.

Can we say that NAPT is free of political rivalry?

The NAPT was the result of elections held in the parliament, which contains political parties with political sensitivities. The NAPT members were elected based on the political parties present in the parliament and thus NAPT is the product of politics.

However, after its creation, NAPT distanced itself from political orientations. This is stipulated in its bylaws and code of conduct, which stress that political allegiances have no place in the NAPT’s work. We will do our best to distance ourselves from politics to focus on our main aim of preventing torture and improving the conditions in detention centers.

Do you think torture is still practiced in Tunisia?

Definitely! Tunisia could not get rid of torture even after the revolution and the conditions in prisons are still catastrophic. Torture, as defined in the Convention Against Torture, is still practiced in the Tunisian prisons according to the people’s complaints. This includes the terrible conditions of prisoners in the detention and investigation centers including the absence of proper healthcare, abuse, beating and other torture techniques. All these have been evidenced in the many submitted complaints.

What is the NAPT’s role in preventing torture?

The commission was formed to implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) ratified by Tunisia in 2011 and linked to the Convention against Torture ratified in 1988. Therefore, NAPT conducts regular as well as unscheduled visits to the detention centers. It also makes sure that special protection is provided to detainees with disabilities and if the places of detention are practicing torture or other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatments. NAPT monitors the detention centers to make sure their conditions and the delivery of punishment meet the international standards of human rights and the Tunisian laws.

NAPT will issue reports and notifications about possible cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment in the places of detention and investigate and refer them to the administrative and judicial authorities. NAPT also raises social awareness about the risks of torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment in the places of detention through sensitization campaigns, seminars, publications and training courses and programs in its area of specialty. It also publishes research, studies and reports on torture and degrading practices, supports other commissions in their activities and submits an annual report to the president, the prime minister and the parliament speaker, publishes it on its website and in official newspapers. NAPT performs its tasks in coordination with the civil society and rights activists and has all complaints investigated by NAPT judges and lawyers.

Do you think that the current government has the political will to prevent torture?

Those who came to power after the revolution had the will to combat torture. Therefore, they signed the OPCAT which is an additional tool aimed at reducing torture. Tunisia was among the first Arab countries to sign this protocol and form a commission to prevent torture with financial and administrative autonomy.

At the end of the day, we are an independent and constitutional authority and we will resist any attempt by the current government to disrupt our work. Some entities have indirectly expressed their concerns over the NAPT financial and administrative independence.

The team NAPT elected by the parliament proves that voting was based on qualifications and abilities and because its members had a history in defending human rights before the revolution. Therefore, I believe that if the parliament majority had not had the will to combat torture, it would have pushed toward electing an unqualified team with no will to prevent torture.

Many human rights activists complain about increasing impunity. How will MAPT address this issue?

According to the NAPT bylaws, perpetrators must be held accountable and brought to justice. NAPT has full investigation powers just like the ordinary judges and being independent, it has all capacities needed to perform its work.

People who performed or covered up torture, including doctors involved in torture, will be prosecuted. Impunity is prevalent indeed. Thus, the victims should refile their complaints. We will dedicate a hotline to reporting impunity cases, whether before the revolution or after it. In this, we will coordinate with the Truth and Dignity Commission.

There is big controversy about how suspects in terrorism cases should be treated during investigation. What is NAPT’s attitude towards using torture to extract confessions from suspects?

Some rights activists back torturing terrorists during investigations. They wrongly believe torture might accelerate the process of collecting information. Human rights are for all people and we must not discriminate. Those who practice torture aim to deprive people of their humanity, especially through psychological torture which cannot be healed without rehabilitation.

Extracting confessions from terrorists through torture is often not guaranteed and it has failed in many cases. Modern, technological and psychoanalytic methods of investigation have been replacing torture. The Tunisian authorities are requested to introduce the necessary technologies to interrogate terrorists to obtain data fast, and totally abandon torture, which has proven to be useless.

Any country using torture is underdeveloped and reactionary. Governments may not use the same techniques and practices used by extremist and terrorist groups. Figures show that the countries that avoid using torture have lower crime and extremism rates.

The poor conditions in the Tunisian prisons and detention centers constitute fertile soil for extremism. These include abuse, beating, maltreatment, verbal abuse, swearing, scorning, over crowding, provocations, lack of rehabilitation and psychological support and lack of respect. All this would produce terrorists and extremists. I believe that reforming prisons will contribute to reforming the country and defeating extremism and terrorism.