Tunisia: What future for human rights and democracy?

Accountability, Justice and Space for Civil Society, Press Release, Tunisia

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Copenhagen – Brussels – Tunis, 27 August 2021

Since 25 July 2021, EuroMed Rights, its Tunisian members and partners have been closely following the political situation in Tunisia after the Assembly of People’s Representatives (ARP) was banned from meeting and the Head of Government dismissed. The recent announcement by Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed, on the night of 23-24 August, of the extension of these exceptional measures “until further notice” and of a declaration to the people “in the next few days” raises questions about the future for human rights and democratic gains since 2011. EuroMed Rights notes increasing travel bans that affect several segments of the population, house arrests and the use of military courts to try civilians, and is concerned about the hate speech that is spreading in the country.

Democracy cannot function without legislative and executive institutions that represent the will of the people and put that will into action. A return to the normal functioning of state institutions, based on the separation of powers, is all the more necessary as Tunisian citizens continue to face significant economic, social and health difficulties.

The announcement of a clear deadline – and its respect – to put an end to the state of exception and mark the return to the rule of law and democracy is a necessity that no democratic state can avoid. EuroMed Rights considers that the establishment of the Constitutional Court – a body provided for in the 2014 Constitution that the network has repeatedly called for – would have made it possible to settle the debate on the constitutionality of recent decisions. Its creation as soon as possible is essential.

Any future project must also ensure that Tunisia’s international commitments are respected, particularly in terms of respect for human rights, including women’s rights and the rights of migrants. The freedoms of expression, association and participation in the political life of the country are fundamental rights guaranteed by the 2014 Constitution; these must be respected in order to prevent any return to a police state.

The autonomy of the Independent Public Bodies, which are listed in Chapter VI of the Tunisian Constitution, must also be at the heart of these priorities. Supported since their creation by civil society organisations, including EuroMed Rights, these bodies are the guarantors of the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Their independence is essential for the democratic transition. EuroMed Rights denounces the closure of the premises of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, by decision of the Minister of the Interior, and the suspension of its activities for an indefinite period.

EuroMed Rights stands by its Tunisian members and partners, all civil society and Tunisians, to ensure a peaceful transition to a participatory democracy that meets their needs and aspirations. EuroMed Rights will remain vigilant regarding the respect for human rights and any restrictions on freedoms that the network may observe in the coming weeks, and calls for a similar vigilance at the international level. This is the only way that Tunisia can remain a beacon of democracy in the region since the Arab uprisings of 2011. Otherwise, human rights, constitutional guarantees and democracy will be at risk in Tunisia.