International Rights Group Issues Open Letter to New Parliament

Members of Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly, the temporary legislative body tasked with drafting a new constitution after 2011, meet on January 27, 2014 to vote on the new constitution. Photo by Fadil Aliriza.

With a new parliament elected, international human rights group Amnesty International has issued an open letter to the incoming members.

The four-page letter, issued on October 10—only days after the October 6 parliamentary elections—urges the new MPs to “prioritize human rights protections set out in the Tunisian Constitution and in international human rights treaties that Tunisia has ratified.”

While the constitution is widely considered to have robust protections in-line with international human rights standards, many other laws on the books have not been updated to align with the constitution. This means that Ben Ali-era and even Bourguiba-era and French-colonial era laws are still being used to imprison people who are exercising their basic constitutional rights such as freedom of association and expression.

The 2014 constitution stipulated the setting up of a constitutional court with the power to repeal existing laws that do not comply with the new constitution. However the court is still not yet operational because its 12 members—four to be named by parliament, four named by the president, and four named by the Higher Judicial Council—have yet to be agreed upon.

Hence Amnesty’s first recommendations to the new legislators is to elect the members of the new constitutional court.

“The previous parliament failed to elect the required members of the Constitutional Court, which is now five years overdue. We urge you to put an end to this delay,” Amnesty’s letter read.

Electing the members of the constitutional court is the first priority in a list of 10 recommendations Amnesty makes.

“Amnesty International’s 10-point human rights agenda provides the legislature with a concrete action plan for its first few months,” Heba Morayef, Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said in a press release.

Those ten points also include recommendations to implement transitional justice measures put forward by the Truth and Dignity Commission, to repeal laws in the penal code “often used by Tunisian authorities to arbitrarily restrict freedom of expression,” and to protect the space of civil society. Civil society groups have, in recent years, seen proposed legislation that they say might curtail their work.

The letter also highlights “issues that…civil society groups have long advocated for obtaining in recent years,” according to Raouia Briki, regional campaigner at Amnesty International in Tunisia.

“It’s important to remind parliament of the most pressing human rights issues,” Briki told Meshkal.

Amnesty also called on parliament to take a more active role than before in keeping the government transparent and accountable. The letter urges MPs to more clearly separate themselves from the functions of the Prime Ministry and the executive branch and to carry out more oversight through committee hearings. During the last parliament, this function was only employed “occasionally,” according to the letter.

So far, Amnesty has not heard any response from the new MPs, but Amnesty is planning to hold meetings with parliamentarians to make their case for the letter’s recommendations, according to Briki. MPs are set to take up their posts sometime after Kais Saied is sworn in as president, currently scheduled for October 23.