In Wake of Museum Attack, United States Should Increase Support for Tunisia’s Transition to Democracy

New York City – Human Rights First today urged the U.S. government to take action to ensure that terrorism does not undermine Tunisia’s progress toward democracy. The call came one day after the brutal murders of visitors to the National Bardo Museum in Tunis, an attack in which armed gunmen attacked and killed more than 20 people. Supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have claimed responsibility for the attack.

“We are deeply saddened by the brutal attack in Tunisia yesterday, and extend our support and solidarity to the Tunisian people and government. Tunisia has made great progress in transitioning from decades of authoritarian rule towards a state with a democratically elected government governed by the rule of law,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks. “A peaceful democratic transition in Tunisia is in the national interest of the United States. We urge the Obama Administration to partner with its allies to offer immediate assistance to the Tunisian security forces, and to bolster the Tunisian economy. President Obama should publicly offer increased support for the Tunisian government to shore up its transition to democracy.”

Since the corrupt Ben Ali dictatorship was overthrown in January 2011, the Tunisian government has been on a path toward democratic reform and economic recovery. Human Rights First notes that yesterday’s attack will harm Tunisia’s economy and threaten this ongoing progress.

The attack took place as the Tunisian parliament debated a new counterterrorism law. Human Rights First notes that Tunisia would benefit from adopting a reformed counterterrorism law that would give the security forces the powers they need to fight terrorism while upholding the human rights protections enshrined in the Tunisian constitution and in Tunisia’s human rights obligations.

“As the Arab Spring protests have led to turmoil or authoritarian resurgence in other countries, Tunisia has provided a positive, hopeful alternative,” added Hicks. “Tunisia has shown that there is a way for Arab societies to move beyond endless conflict between violent extremism and repression. It is vital for the region and for countries beyond that this act of violence by a small group of terrorists is not allowed to derail this hopeful experiment.”

Human Rights First urges the U.S. government to support Tunisia’s transition to democracy by taking the following steps:

  • Convene an emergency high-level meeting of the U.S.—Tunisia Strategic Dialogue, which first met in April 2014 during then Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa’s visit to Washington. The dialogue should focus on: economic development, security and counterterrorism, and educational and cultural exchanges. The U.S. government should discuss with Tunisian counterparts immediate steps that can be taken in partnership with its allies and multilateral financial institutions to insulate the Tunisian economy from the harmful consequences of the terrorist attack, and to ensure that Tunisia’s economic recovery continues;
  • Offer, in partnership with its allies, immediate support and assistance to the Tunisian security forces to build the capacity of Tunisian security forces to counter the threat of terrorist violence in Tunisia;
  • President Obama should follow through on his stated intention to invite President Caid Essebsi to Washington as soon as possible;
  • President Obama should make a public statement that the United States and its allies will not let terrorism win a victory in Tunisia, and that it will stand behind the Tunisian economy and the Tunisian security forces to help secure further progress towards a peaceful democratic future for Tunisia;
  • Congress should support the administration’s request for a doubling of foreign assistance to Tunisia in FY 2016 to $134 million and ensure that Tunisia’s immediate economic and security needs are being met through current appropriations. If not, they should act promptly to remedy any shortfalls; and
  • The Department of Defense and other relevant U.S. agencies should ensure that their cooperative relationships with Tunisian security forces, including Tunisia’s involvement in the Security Governance Initiative announced at the African Leaders Summit in August 2014 and counterterrorism training and equipment programs administered by the Pentagon, are contributing effectively to building the capacity of the Tunisian security forces to uphold public security in Tunisia.

For more information or to speak with Hicks, contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at [email protected] or 212-845-5269.


Published on March 19, 2015


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