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Weapons in Libya: Between Tunisia and the UN, Arm wrestling around an expert

The tension has risen a notch between Tunisia and the UN. Thursday night, two warrants of deposit and a judicial inquiry for "Spying for foreign parties" were launched by the Tunis prosecutor against an expert in charge of security issues at the United Nations, Moncef Kartas. Surprised and furious at this maximalist decision, the UN immediately counter-attacked, expressing its "Deep worry". Kartas, a member of the UN panel of experts on Libya, was arrested on March 26 at the Tunis-Carthage airport with another person whose identity was not officially revealed.

Arrest and detention "Violate the immunities enjoyed by Mr. Kartas" complained the international organization. "False", retorts the spokesperson of the Tunisian counterterrorism terrorist unit, Soufiene Selliti, which specifies that Moncef Kartas, Tunisian-German, and the second person charged, of Tunisian nationality, are pursued within the framework of an instruction opened in 2018 bearing on the "personal interests", which would have led them to acquire "Security information related to the fight against terrorism and the dissemination of this information in violation of the law".

Arms deliveries in Libya

The graduate of the Graduate Institute of International Studies and Development in Switzerland was to submit a report on possible arms deliveries to Libya by Qatar and Turkey, via Tunisian territory, during the 2012-2013 period. In violation, therefore, of the embargo decreed by the UN. At that time, it was the Ennahdha party, resulting from the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, which headed the Tunisian government coalition. Still present in the executive, training, which defines itself since 2016 as "Muslim Democratic" is suspected by his opponents of exploiting justice to prevent possible revelations. The panel of experts had already raised this circumvention of the embargo in its report of 2017, Moncef Kartas had to deepen the investigation.

In Tunisia, the atmosphere of mistrust is reinforced by the approach of the presidential and legislative elections, planned this autumn. Ennahdha is already being prosecuted for allegedly hiding documents relating to the murders of left-wing politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi in 2013. Accusations that the leadership of the party strongly denies.

Immunity of personal arrest

According to the anti-terrorist law in force in Tunisia, Moncef Kartas risk – in theory – the death penalty. But Tunisia has observed a moratorium on the death penalty since 1991. The case however shocks the specialists, who see it as a violation of international law. "The justification of the judicial pole does not hold. The Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations is clear: experts enjoy "immunity from personal arrest or detention" [article VI, section 22]" says a lawyer, who believes that a judge will break this detention. The UN also claims that it has sent the Tunisian authorities four notes verbales since 29 March in order to obtain compliance with the procedures, namely a formal request for waiver of immunity. The answer is still waiting …

Tunisians rely on the security side of the case. The Anti-Terrorism Service states that documents containing "Sensitive information and data" were found at the homes of the two accused, in addition to"Communications interception and jamming equipment and radio scanning equipment". "Moncef is a good researcher. It is not surprising that he has sensitive documents. He is ambitious and does not hesitate to get in touch with very knowledgeable people, who can play a troubled role. But nothing in his profile suggests that he has links with espionage networks ", believes a specialist in the region. However, a shadow appears on the blackboard: the creation, by Moncef Kartas, of an agency specializing in strategic governance in 2017, when he was already an expert for the UN. A breach of ethics, or even legality, admits the community of researchers.

The controversy comes at the worst time for Tunisia, in the middle of the campaign to obtain a seat of non-permanent representative to the United Nations Security Council. Just four days after the arrest of Moncef Kartas, Portuguese António Guterres, secretary-general of the world organization, was in Tunis in a meeting on Libya. At the time, he did not wish to respond to what was still a mere diplomatic incident. Today, the United Nations evokes a dossier "very serious".

Mathieu Galtier Correspondent in Tunis

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