International Delegation to Tunisia Issues New Report Warning that U.S. Must Respect Tunisian Sovereignty

As the struggle for freedom in the Middle East continues to demand the world’s attention, a report issued today by a group of international lawyers and academics who recently visited Tunisia warns that the U.S. and other Western governments must respect Tunisian sovereignty and not interfere in that country’s path to democracy.

According to Azadeh Shahshahani, Executive Vice President of the National Lawyers Guild and member of the delegation: “At a time of extraordinary change in the Middle East and North Africa, there is a significant divide between the perceptions of U.S. government officials, who believe they were strong critics of the corruption and human rights abuses of the Ben Ali regime, and the Tunisian people, who perceived the U.S. as supporters of that regime, complicit in its human rights abuses. If the U.S. is ever to regain its respect and credibility in that region, it is important to understand and explore the role played by Western governments as an impediment to change, and how that role must be altered in the future.” 

Shahshahani and three fellow lawyers and Guild members–Steven Goldberg, Audrey Bomse, and Tom Nelson–participated in the delegation.

From March 12 to 19, 2011, the delegation–which included members of the U.S.-based National Lawyers Guild as well as attorneys from the UK and Turkey–visited Tunisia at the invitation of the Tunisian National Bar Association. The report, “Promises and Challenges: The Tunisian Revolution of 2010-2011,”discusses Tunisia’s history under the disgraced Ben Ali regime and the conditions and events which led to its downfall in January 2011.

While in Tunisia, delegation members met with representatives of the interim Tunisian government, including the Prime Minister and Justice Minister, and a broad spectrum of others who were instrumental in bringing about the dramatic changes in the country: human rights organizations, trade unionists and members of the national labor federation, leaders of major opposition parties, lawyers, journalists, women’s organizations, and young people who had facilitated the revolution through the use of social media.

The report discusses the impact of the Bush and Obama administrations’ war on terror on Tunisia. Delegation members met with numerous former political prisoners–most of whom were Islamists–who had been imprisoned and tortured by the Ben Ali regime, which was being funded by Western governments including the United States. Based on those interviews and an off-the-record meeting with a representative of the U.S. Embassy, the report discusses in detail the complicity of the U.S. in these abuses resulting from military, financial, and diplomatic support, and concludes with a series of recommendations which will help to ensure that Tunisia’s path to democracy will be unencumbered by the expectations and demands of Western governments.

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.

Download the report


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