Tunisia: Draft governing state of emergency bill is a step backwards for human rights

ARTICLE 19 and MENA Rights Group have warned that draft law No. 91-2018, governing state of emergency provisions in Tunisia will have a detrimental effect on fundamental rights and freedoms in the country.

Although the Bill was amended by the parliament’s Committee on Rights, Freedoms and External Relations in April 2019, it still contains a list of exceptional measures that give the executive wide discretionary powers:

  • The president can declare and extend a state of emergency without having to seek parliamentary approval.
  • The situations outlined in which a state of emergency can be activated do not meet the necessary thresholds outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
  • Regional governors have the authority to ban any strike or demonstration perceived to threaten public order without the authorisation of the public prosecutor; the governor will only have to inform the public prosecutor of this decision.
  • The Ministry of Interior has exceptional powers to place under house arrest or electronic or administrative surveillance anyone whose “activities are deemed to endanger security” without obtaining a court order. Again, the prosecutor merely has to be informed of the decision, and only at a later stage.
  • The Ministry of Interior may suspend associations on broadly defined grounds, such as being “suspected of undermining public order and security or obstructing the work of the authorities”.
  • There is no reference to Tunisia’s obligation under the ICCPR to inform the UN when and why a state of emergency has been declared.
  • While the draft law now contains a reference to Article 49 of the Tunisian constitution, which states that any restrictions “must not compromise the essence of such rights”, Article 19 and MENA Rights Group believe that emergency measures laid out in the draft law run counter to this obligation.

Continuous renewal of the state of emergency since 2015

The loopholes in the draft law are a real cause for concern because of the Tunisian Government’s abuse of its emergency powers.  Following  a suicide bombing in Tunis in November 2015, there has been a continuous state of emergency, with the last renewal taking place on May 3, 2019.

Following a visit to Tunisia in 2017, the Special Rapporteur noted that the “routine extension of the state of emergency […] amounts to a permanent state of emergency, which is prohibited under international law.”

UN Rapporteur intervention

On June 7, 2019, ARTICLE 19 and MENA Rights Group asked the UN Special Rapporteur on protecting human rights to intervene and ensure that the draft bill is brought into line with international standards.

Ahead of a plenary vote in the Tunisian parliament, the organisations expressed their concerns to the UN expert over the possible upcoming adoption of the law by the Assembly of the Representatives of the People.

The organisations provided the Special Rapporteur with an analysis of the draft law, which would replace Decree No. 78-50, the law which has been used to impose a continuous state of emergency since November 2015.

The organisations requested that the Special Rapporteur call on the Tunisian authorities to replace Decree No. 78-50 with legislation that fully complies with international human rights standards.

While the draft law now contains a reference to Article 49 of the Tunisian constitution, which states that any restrictions “must not compromise the essence of such rights”, Article 19 and MENA Rights Group believe that emergency measures laid out in the draft law run counter to this obligation.

 

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