Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tunisia: First Death Sentence Since Revolution

The Primary Court of Tunis has recently issued the 1st capital punishment sentence since the ousting of Tunisia's former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

The judge presiding over the case sentenced the defendant to death by hanging for the murder of a high school student in Manouba on March 20, 2011. The victim, a 13 year-old high school student, was stabbed by his 30 year-old assailant during a mugging.

As Tunisia strives toward the application of transitional justice, concerns related to human rights have gained heightened precedence. Accordingly, human rights activists have prioritized advocacy efforts toward the abolition of the death penalty.

The Tunisian Human Rights League, established a coalition against death penalty in Tunisia in 2007. While the organization presented their initiative to the government of the former Tunisian president, the project was never implemented.

Hatem Chaabouni, an official at the International League for Human Rights, stated his NGOs opposition to the current standing of Tunisian law as it applies to capital punishment. "The right to live is a right that can never be confiscated by anyone - especially the government - no matter what crimes were committed," Chaabouni stated.

Although the death penalty remains within the prerogatives of the Tunisian judiciary, no criminal has been executed in Tunisia since 1991. In cases involving a death sentencing, the court typically issues its verdict, but allows for the defense to opt for an appeal. Following the appeal, the court's ruling is then lessened to life imprisonment or a prolonged sentence.

"Formally, the judge is supposed to issue the execution sentence whenever he is faced with the crime of murder. However, enforcing the sentence is another issue, " stated Mohamed Saidana, a Tunisian lawyer.

Lotfi Azouz, Director at Amnesty International, acknowledged that though this procedural process is preferable to the full application of capital punishment, it is nonetheless imperative that the death penalty be abolished from Tunisian law. "This form of amnesty is a positive sign, but it is not enough. Court orders should reflect the status of the law."

Execution orders must also receive the signature of the President of the Republic before any action can be taken toward the implementation of the punishment. President Moncef Marzouki, a recognized human rights activist, has formerly pledged that he would never sign any execution order as Tunisia's president.

Hatem Chaabouni stated that the law should be nullified, as it has been rendered obsolete by the reality of court proceedings and that it currently serves only to dilute the credibility of Tunisia's judicial system.

"The court's authority is on the line. How can a court order be announced then not executed," Chaabouni stated.

Both organizations representatives stated that efforts must be undertaken through the Constituent Assembly to formally remove capital punishment from Tunisian legal code when drafting Tunisia's new constitution.

In Tunisian law the death penalty is issued for 23 separate offenses, including murder, rape, attacks against the internal security of the state, or attacks against the external security of the state. The Tunisian government has not ratified any international agreements officially binding it to the prohibition of the death penalty.

Source: AllAfrica.com, Feb. 25, 2012