Tunisia: Implementation of Final Recommendations to Be Examined by Human Rights Committee Soon

UN Committee

On 18 December 2023, the Association of Victims of Torture in Tunisia (AVTT) and Alkarama submitted a joint contribution to the United Nations Human Rights Committee as part of the follow-up procedure to the recommendations made by the Committee following the 6th periodic review of Tunisia on the general human rights situation in the country. 

The Human Rights Committee, which is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by States Parties, proceeded to consider the State's report, submitted with considerable delay, during its 128th session on 3 and 4 March 2020. 

While the experts' concluding observations were published on 27 March 2020, Tunisia was called upon, in accordance with rule 75, paragraph 1, of the Committee's rules of procedure, to "send, by 27 March 2022 at the latest, information on the follow-up it  has given to the recommendations made in paragraphs 8 (Constitutional Court),  30 (State of emergency and fight against terrorism) and 48 (Freedom of peaceful assembly and excessive use of force by State agents). » 

The Human Rights Committee will monitor the effective implementation of these recommendations during its next session, which will take place from 4 to 28 March 2024. 

It is in this context that Alkarama and AVTT submitted their follow-up report in which they provided information on the implementation of these main recommendations on the ground. 

Delay in the formation of the Constitutional Court 

Although more than a year has passed since President Mr. Kaïs Saïed's new constitution was approved following the referendum on 25 July 2022, Tunisia's Constitutional Court has still not been established. 

To justify this delay, Tunisia, in its follow-up report, invoked various "obstacles" including, mainly, difficulties related to the election of the members of the Constitutional Court which necessitated amendments to Organic Law No. 50 of 2015, the fact that the President of the Republic was unable to sign the revised organic law under the pretext of the expiry of the one-year constitutional period provided for the creation of the Court and, finally, the exceptional circumstances prevailing since 25 July 2021. 

In their contribution, Alkarama and the AVTT indicated that the delay in the creation of the Constitutional Court, a simple process that does not require any prior provision, is in fact due to the problems encountered by the judiciary and more specifically the body of magistrates in Tunisia. 

It was recalled that after dissolving the High Judicial Council, the body responsible for guaranteeing the proper functioning of justice and the independence of the judicial authorities created in 2016, President Kais Saied, on February 13, 2022, signed a decree-law creating a "provisional" Judicial Council and directly appointed its members, de facto assuming absolute control of this institution. 

In addition, more than fifty judges accused of corruption and various criminal offences have been dismissed by the president, in total violation of the guarantees provided for in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Tunisia in 1969. 

Among them, Mr. Bechir AKREMI, a Tunisian magistrate suspended and victim of intimidation and serious reprisals in the exercise of his duties, whose case was submitted by the AVTT and Alkarama in February 2023, to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. Despite the annulment of the dismissal decisions by the Tunisian courts, the magistrates, who have been subjected to multiple acts of intimidation, have never been reinstated by the authorities, who refuse to execute these decisions. 

These multiple reprisals suffered by members of the judiciary are part of a total violation of the principle of the separation of powers by the president, who is now the sole source of all powers and legislates by means of decrees. These serious dysfunctions are thus the main obstacles to the creation of a Constitutional Court in Tunisia. 

Indefinite extension of the state of emergency 

The state of emergency in Tunisia, which came into force for the first time on 24 November 2015, has since been systematically extended. Concerned about this situation,  the Committee's experts recommended that Tunisia "consider ending the continued extension of the state of emergency." 

Despite this recommendation, the state of emergency has since been extended several times and, at the beginning of the year, by a presidential decree dated 30 January 2023 that extended it until 31 December 2023. 

It was pointed out in the report that article 5 of Decree No. 50 of 1978, which authorizes the Minister of the Interior to place under house arrest any person whose activities or movements are considered to be a threat to public security, considerably broadens the scope of the decree by the use of vague and imprecise terms, thus opening the way for the criminalization by the authorities of acts that may fall within the scope of fundamental freedoms. 

Indeed, giving  the Minister of the Interior the power to place under house arrest any person suspected in the eyes of the authorities is all the more worrying as the executive power is now totally placed under the sole authority of the head of state. It should be noted that the current Minister of the Interior, Mr. Kamel Feki, former prefect of Tunis, is known for his proximity to President Kaïs Saïed. 

The cases documented by Alkarama since Tunisia's last review to date, have shown that this measure, regularly invoked to try to justify arbitrary deprivations of liberty concerning former ministers or politicians, is used in total violation of the principles of proportionality and necessity. 

Fight against terrorism and violations of fundamental rights 

With regard to the implementation of the final recommendations concerning Law No. 26/2015 on the fight against terrorism, it is significant that Tunisia does not provide in its report any details on the measures adopted to ensure that any restriction of the rights of persons suspected or accused of terrorism is not arbitrary and that it is lawful, necessary and appropriate. 

Domestic counter-terrorism legislation is of great concern because it contains a vague and imprecise definition of terrorism and its misuse by the State party to criminalize conduct related to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression or peaceful assembly. 

The recent deprivation of liberty of Mr. Rached GHANNOUCHI, Speaker of the Tunisian Parliament and leader of the opposition political movement, Ennahda, sentenced on 15 May to one year in prison on the pretext of "glorifying terrorism" illustrates the abusive use of this problematic legislation by the Tunisian authorities. 

The two NGOs did not fail to point out that article 30 of the Anti-Terrorism Law criminalises "apology for terrorism" without clearly defining this crime, which allows the authorities to arrest and prosecute peaceful acts relating to the exercise of fundamental freedoms and in particular freedom of opinion and expression. 

In conclusion, it was noted that Tunisia has not taken any steps to implement the important recommendations made by the Committee's experts, thus demonstrating the lack of the State party's political will to respect its international commitments.