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UN Must Ensure Safe Release of Arms Trafficking Expert Held in Tunisian Jail

Earlier this month, the United Nations expressed “grave concern” over the Tunisian government’s detention of UN expert Moncef Kartas, who had been “performing his official duties” investigating violations of Libya’s arms embargo, said International United Nations Watch .

Earlier this month, the United Nations expressed “grave concern” over the Tunisian government’s detention of UN expert Moncef Kartas, who had been “performing his official duties” investigating violations of Libya’s arms embargo. International United Nations Watch believes Kartas’ case likely amounts to a case of arbitrary detention, and we strongly encourage the UN to take the necessary diplomatic measures to secure Kartas’ safe release and ensure protection against governments’ arbitrary detention of other UN investigators, NGO workers, journalists, and Human Rights Defenders, especially regarding nationals of the states in question.

Kartas was arrested on March 26 and has been held in detention since under accusations of espionage. The Tunisian Interior Ministry stated that they had seized “confidential documents containing sensitive detailed data capable of harming national security.” However, any specific charges remain unclear as of yet, which prompts inquiries as to whether Kartas had discovered something related to the arms embargo that the Tunisian government did not wish to make public. A letter signed by more than 90 weapons experts, academics, and Libyan researchers claim that Kartas is being held in prison in violation of international law. The UN has demanded to know more about the conditions in which he is being kept. UN spokesman Stephane Guterres stated that “the continued detention is in violation of the privileges and immunities that Mr. Kartas enjoys” and added that the UN has engaged with Tunisia’s government “at the highest levels” and making clear its legal position through four separate legal notes, yet the Tunisian government had “failed to provide an adequate response,” he said.

Since February 2011, the UN has imposed an arms embargo on Libya through UN Resolution 1970 and 1973. The sanctions were imposed due to severe violations of human rights, including violent suppression of peaceful protestors by the Libyan government. In late 2011, the UN allowed supplies of arms to the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC), providing transfers were notified to the Sanctions Committee. Some of the restrictions were lifted in 2013, then imposed again in 2014 after a flare up in violence, now requiring all supplies of arms and related material to Libya to be approved of in advance by the Sanctions Committee. In June 2016, the Security Council authorized inspections of sea vessels in the international waters off Libya’s coast if they were believed to be in violation of the arms embargo. 

Moncef Kartas is a dual Tunisian-German national with a PhD degree in International Relations from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, and since 2016 he has been nominated by the UN Secretary-General as member of the UN Panel of Experts on Libya, created by UN Resolution 1975 in 2011. Moncef was placed in charge of monitoring violations to the arms embargo. The Panel reports its findings in an annual report with an interim report due in June. Previously, reports have found the involvement of member states in violations of the arms embargo, in which arms and ammunition have repeatedly been delivered to warring parties in Libya. Breaches were notably by the United Arab Emirates. A previous report disclosed that Tunisia had disregarded UN requests for details of a cargo manifest, following Khalifa Haftar’s visit to Tunis in late 2017. However, in past UN Panel reports Tunisia has not been suspect of being in breach of the embargo, and Tunisia has expressed broad support of the UN-recognized government in Tripoli.

As International United Nations Watch, we call on the UN to use diplomatic tools to ensure the safe release of Moncef Kartas and must take effective measures in other cases of arbitrary detention of UN employees, journalists, NGO workers, and Human Rights Defenders. Kartas is a dual Tunisian national who ought to have international immunity in his role on the UN Panel of Experts on Libya. It must be underlined that Member States should show no leniency on respecting international law when it comes to nationals of its own state. As an international UN expert, Kartas must be released immediately, and the UN must formally recognize that the jailing of Kartas amounts to arbitrary detention. In order for the UN to carry out its diplomatic functions effectively, it is essential that it ensures the protection of its staff and that member states abide by this notion.

International United Nations Watch