- Human rights groups are in rage after the appointment of General Habib Ammar as the head of the World Summit on the Information Society's (WSIS) Organising Committee. The hold the Tunisian general is responsible for widespread torture in the 1980s.
The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and TRIAL (Track Impunity Always), today stated their serious concerns about the appointment of General Ammar as the head of the WSIS Organising Committee. The summit, which is set to take place in Tunis in 2005, has already been criticised for its choice of host nation, given Tunisia's repression of the media and other information channels.
Having been notified of General Ammar's presence in Geneva to participate in the WSIS' preparatory work for the session that is to be held in Geneva in December 2003, OMCT and TRIAL have already lodged a criminal complaint against the General with the Canton of Geneva's General Prosecutor.
General Ammar, who was previously the Commander of the Tunisian National Guard and the Minister of the Interior, was said to have "actively participated in the brutal repression of the Tunisian people for a number of years."
According to the two human rights groups, "the use of torture was widespread in police establishments that were under his control, as the Commander of the Tunisian National Guard, from 1984 to 1987. Examples of the notorious torture centres of the time include: the National Guard headquarters at the Aouina barracks, the centres in Ariana, Tadhamoun City and Douar Hicher."
Further, in 1986, General Ammar was said to have created the special services' national directorate, known as the 'Research and Investigations' services (abhath wa taftich). "These were based in the Aouina barracks and were used to subject hundreds of persons to torture, most of whom were political opponents to the Bourguiba regime and demonstrators," OMCT claims.
According to the group, witness accounts had brought to light "the particularly violent nature of the methods used by the members of the security services at this location." General Ammar was alleged to have "closely followed developments in a number of investigations carried out by these services and to have been present during several of the interrogations carried out at this location."
Following the November 1987 coup d'état by General Ben Ali, General Ammar was appointed as Minister for the Interior and, during this period, the Ministry's facilities were said to have been "transformed into a detention and torture centre."
- The methods of torture that were used by the security services and police forces during the period in which General Habib Ammar held the afore-mentioned positions were particularly brutal and continue being used to this day, stresses OMCT.
The two groups' hopes of organising a trial against the General have however thus far been shattered. On 23 September, several days after General Ammar had left Switzerland, OMCT and TRIAL were informed that the criminal complaint that they had lodged against the General had been shelved by the Canton of Geneva's General Prosecutor.
- This decision was based on Article 12 of the headquarters agreement, which was signed in July 1971 by the Swiss Confederation and the International Telecommunications Union (which is holding the summit), which provides immunity from arrest and detention for state representatives to the ITU, the groups inform.
OMCT and TRIAL announced they were to contest the interpretation of the law that this decision represents. The groups wished to remind the Swiss authorities that it was "their obligation to arrest and prosecute any person alleged to have committed acts of torture who is within their territory, under the UN Convention Against Torture." New action was to be taken when the General returns to Geneva in December.
The fact that the Summit is being held in Tunisia - a country that is notorious for its poor human rights record - has engendered widespread condemnation from a large number of the civil society organisations that are to participate. Several information workers remain in jail in Tunisia for voicing critiques against the government.
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