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1 December 2010

Red Cross Reports on Tunisian Prisoners S/NF

Released by Wikileaks 1 December 2010 among package of 553 cables

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P 181758Z JUN 09

S E C R E T TUNIS 000399 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/30/2028 

Classified By: Ambassador Robert F. Godec for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 


¶1. (S/NF) The International Red Cross Committee Regional 
(ICRC) Delegate Yves Arnoldy told the Ambassador ICRC 
priorities in Tunisia are overcrowding in general and 
treatment of prisoners in MOI facilities. The ICRC has a good 
working relationship with the Ministry of Justice, but the 
Ministry of Interior will take more time. He confirmed that 
the ICRC has access to some notified MOI facilities and was 
trying to get information about non-notified facilities. He 
also said, if offered the chance to make a recommendation 
about the transfer of Tunisian detainees held in Guantanamo 
back to Tunisia that he, "would not like to be in the 
Ambassador's place." End Summary. 

Guantanamo Detainees 

¶2. (S) The Ambassador met recently with ICRC Delegate Yves 
Arnoldy to obtain an update on the organization's activities 
in Tunisia and the region. 

¶3. (S/NF) Discussing the Guantanamo detention facility, the 
Ambassador stressed President Obama's intention to close the 
facility by the end of the year. He said the question of 
transferring the Tunisian detainees back to Tunisia was under 
review in Washington and asked what Arnoldy would recommend 
if he had the opportunity. Arnoldy responded, obliquely 
saying, it was a difficult decision and he "would not like to 
be in the Ambassador's place." He asked to be kept informed 
about the status of any potential transferees because ICRC is 
in touch with their families in Tunisia and will keep them 
informed. ICRC will also be testing a video conferencing 
capability soon to improve communications between detainees 
still in Guantanamo and their families. 

ICRC Activities 

¶4. (S/NF) Arnoldy said the ICRC is focused on the long-term 
in Tunisia. It was only allowed access to prisoners in 2005. 
It is a question of building trust, which takes time, but 
relations have reached an, "interesting level with solid 
ground for development particularly with the Ministry of 
Justice." The ICRC has two tracks it is working on, 
overcrowding in general, and treatment of prisoners in 
facilities under MOI control. 

Relations with MOJ 

¶5. (S/NF) Arnoldy said the ICRC relations with the Ministry 
of Justice are cooperative. He had direct contact whenever 
he needed it with his interlocutors up to the Minister, and 
there were clear signs of political will to cooperate on 
prison inspections. The MOJ is ready to take advantage of 
the resources ICRC has to offer and is becoming interested in 
a dialogue on wider issues of justice. He could see 
possibilities to develop activities with the MOJ beyond just 
treatment of prisoners to a more strategic, structural level, 
including training of staff and exchange of ideas with other 
national systems. When asked by the Ambassador if he could 
confirm if the MOI had access to prisoners held in MOJ 
facilities he said he could not add any information to this, 
but then added, that certain ministries have the ability to 
affect the MOJ system. 

Relations with MOI 

¶6. (S/NF) Arnoldy characterized ICRC relations with the MOI 
as "needing improvement." The ICRC is taking a step-by-step 
approach and the level of dialogue has made some progress 
since the beginning. However, changing treatment is a 
long-term issue that will entail changes in the MOJ's 
attitude and "mentality." The ICRC is seeking to improve the 
dialogue and develop the basis for adding more substance. 
Arnoldy confirmed that the ICRC has access to "notified" MOI 
facilities and was trying to get information about 
"non-notified" facilities. 

Relations with the MFA 

¶7. (C) Arnoldy said he has to double track his meeting 
requests with the Ministry of Justice via diplomatic note to 
the MFA however the MFA does not block or delay his requests. 
He noted that his relationship with the MFA had declined 
somewhat after the departure of Hatem Ben Salim who was the 
Secretary of State for European Affairs until 2008. 

NGO Reports of Treatment 

¶8. (S/NF) The Ambassador asked Arnoldy for his impression of 
the reliability of information on treatment of prisoners 
provided by NGOs and others without direct access to the 
prisoners. He asked if the ICRC questioned their public 
statements about treatment. Arnoldy said, it is difficult 
for NGOs and others to know exactly what is happening and 
third hand sourcing has its problems. Not everything they 
say is accurate, but it is a source of information. They 
often give him tips that he can follow-up on or verify and 
sometimes they do have good sources, especially through 
contact with prisoners' families. 

Regional Activities 

¶9. (S/NF) The Ambassador asked for an overview of the ICRC 
office's regional activities, which Arnoldy is responsible 
for, in brief: 

-- Libya - Relations are difficult. Arnoldy has a hard time 
visiting Libya because of his Swiss passport and the strained 
relations between Libya and Switzerland. ICRC depends on 
Tunisian staff going to Libya or Libyans coming to Tunisia. 

-- Mauritania - The ICRC has signed a headquarters agreement 
with Mauritania upgrading their status to a mission but the 
office will still answer to the Tunis office. There are 
approximately 1,200 prisoners in Mauritania. 

-- Morocco - ICRC has a presence in Morocco but does not 
have any diplomatic status. Therefore the Morocco office 
focuses on issues of international humanitarian law. The 
rest of ICRC activities are handled through the Tunis office. 
Morocco is the biggest file in the region, concerned mainly 
individuals who "disappeared" as a result of the Western 
Sahara conflict. ICRC is discussing up-grading its status 
with the government of Morocco, it is just a question of 
time. When they reach an agreement, ICRC will likely open 
several offices in Morocco which will not be dependent on the 
Tunis office. 

¶10. (U) Arnoldy expressed the ICRC's appreciation for USG 
support for the organization. The ICRC depends on donors to 
support it so it can react quickly in a crisis and not wait 
until it has confirmed funding before taking action. 


¶11. (S/NF) Arnoldy was as frank as he could be given the 
confidentiality policy of the ICRC. It was clear that he was 
not positive about the prison conditions in the MOI 
facilities nor about the MOI's attitude toward cooperating 
with the ICRC. He did say however, that some progress had 
been made in the ICRC-MOI dialogue but that it would take 
time. Given that ICRC is the only international organization 
with reliable access to the prisons, we have to give weight 
to their comments, even if cryptic.