“Hands off the Tunisian Revolution” — International Delegation of Lawyers and Academics

A group of lawyers and academics from the US, UK and Turkey have been investigating US and European complicity in human rights abuses committed by the Ben Ali regime and will be making strong recommendations to their respective governments to allow the Tunisian revolution to develop into a genuine democracy.

The delegation was invited by the National Bar Association of Tunisia and comprised of members of the National Lawyers Guild (US), the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers (UK) and Mazlumder – The Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed People (Turkey), and included a Tunisian lawyer now practicing in London and a Lecturer from the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London. They met NGOs, labour leaders, members of political parties, journalists and bloggers, and also interviewed many former political prisoners and torture victims of the deposed Ben Ali regime.

According to Azadeh Shahshahani, Executive Vice President of the National Lawyers Guild, co-chair of its International Committee and member of the delegation, “There is enormous hope and dedication among the Tunisians we met, and they uniformly expressed a desire to live in a free, independent, and democratic Tunisia – a right that decades of Western intervention has denied them.”

The delegation also met with senior members of the interim Tunisian government including the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice and the Ministry of Interior, as well as the head of the High Commission charged with the critical task of ensuring the realization of the objectives of the revolution and trying to ensure both democratic transition and political reform.

Audrey Bomse, of the National Lawyers Guild and co-chair of its Free Palestine Subcommittee, said that “Our delegation had three purposes: Showing support for the revolution in Tunisia, exploring the involvement of western governments with the prior Ben-Ali regime which was extraordinarily corrupt and repressive, and trying to understand the changes which are happening in the Middle East.”

The US delegates met with their embassy and demanded information regarding the role that Western interventionist policies had played in keeping the Ben Ali regime in power for over 20 years. Steve Goldberg, of the National Lawyers Guild, said that “We raised with the US embassy our concerns about how US policy, specifically the ‘war on terror,’ had encouraged and justified the repression of the Tunisian people and the persecution and torture of political dissidents.”

The issue of Tunisian detainees in Guantanamo Bay was raised with the US embassy, including calling upon the US government to provide compensation to former detainees who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments as a result of their inhumane treatment and wrongful detention at Guantanamo.

Tom Nelson, of the National Lawyers Guild, said that the group is preparing a report documenting its findings and recommendations. “Our recommendations include a demand that Western nations respect Tunisian sovereignty and end interference in Tunisia, including military aid to the Tunisian army. Furthermore, the US must acknowledge that its ‘war on terror’ played a major role in strengthening Ben Ali’s regime of torture and persecution.”

The group has begun to prepare a report documenting the findings and recommendations of the delegation and hopes to release that report in mid-April. Key recommendations within the report include;

● Demanding respect for Tunisian sovereignty and an end to Western interference in Tunisian affairs.

● Ending western military aid to the Tunisian government.

● Recognition from the US that its “war on terror”, in which President Bush stated “you’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror,” was a major factor in the unwarranted arrest, torture, prosecution, and imprisonment of thousands of Tunisians for practicing their religion

● Supporting and complying with any Tunisian requests regarding legal and financial accountability of Ben Ali and his associates.

● Supporting any request from Tunisia for extradition of Ben Ali and his associates.

● Supporting any request from Tunisia for the return of misappropriated funds.

Further accounts of the delegation’s experience are available at the delegation’s blog, http://tunisiahrdelegation.wordpress.com.

The National Lawyers Guild, founded in 1937, is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state. Read other articles by The National Lawyers Guild.