As Tunisia’s parliament, the new People’s Assembly is being inaugurated, Human Rights Watch said it should carry out reform agenda to address ongoing human rights problem in the country.
The new parliament, elected October 6, 2019, should strengthen rights protections by electing its allotted quota of Constitutional Court members, revising laws to eliminate gender discrimination in inheritance, and eliminating penal code articles that criminally sanction peaceful speech and homosexuality.
Parliament should also develop a plan to carry out the recommendations of a national truth commission to make the security services more accountable and the judiciary more independent.
“Tunisian lawmakers should finally set up the Constitutional Court to provide a long-overdue safeguard against repressive legislation, old and new,” said Amna Guellali, Tunisia director at Human Rights Watch.
The Tunisian constitution provided for the creation of a Constitutional Court, with powers unmatched among similar bodies elsewhere in the Arab world, to strike down laws deemed unconstitutional.
The constitution provided that the parliament would designate 4 of the court’s 12 members, after which the president and the Supreme Judicial Council, an independent body overseeing the appointment and promotion of judges, would each choose 4 of the remaining 8 members.
Parliament should also eliminate the articles in the penal code and other laws that authorities have used repeatedly to investigate, charge, and in some cases detain journalists and social media activists merely for peacefully criticizing public officials.
Among other recommendations, the commission highlighted the need for Parliament to increase security force accountability and to ensure that all abuse allegations are investigated promptly, effectively, and independently.
It also recommended amending the law to restrict the mandate of military justice to military crimes committed by military personnel. Military courts still exercise jurisdiction over civilians, and several bloggers have been tried for “defaming the army” under article 91 of the Code of Military Justice.
Parliament should take the landmark step of granting women equal rights in inheritance. The late President Beji Caid Essebsi submitted a draft law to Parliament on November 28, 2018 that would amend the 1956 Code of Personal Status which provides that men would normally inherit twice the share that women inherit, based on an interpretation of Islamic sharia law.
The proposed amendment would insert a section on inheritance in the Personal Status Code that would make gender equality in inheritance the default, except when the person whose inheritance is involved formally opts out during their lifetime and chooses instead to have their wealth distributed according to the previous legal framework.
Parliament should also work to protect the rights of sexual and gender minorities in Tunisia. It should eliminate article 230 of the penal code criminalizing sodomy, which is used extensively by police and prosecutors to arrest and charge men and trans women under the suspicion of same-sex relations.
The arrests are usually accompanied by many violations of their rights, including forced anal examinations to attempt to determine the sexual orientation of the men, an antiquated practice that has no scientific value and can amount to torture.
Parliament should ban the use of anal examinations in all cases to “test” for homosexual conduct, said Human Rights Watch. (Source: HRW)