UN expert calls on Tunisia to safeguard democratic gains

A UN human rights expert welcomed with satisfaction the Tunisian Government’s efforts to shore up democracy since the 2011 revolution, but urged authorities to expedite efforts to protect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

“Tunisia is at a turning point in its post-revolution history,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, said at the end of a 10-day official visit last Friday. “I truly hope that the democratic transition will be irreversible and lead to a fair and democratic society, in line with the slogan of the revolution, i.e. ‘employment, freedom, dignity’.

“My visit was very timely, because Tunisia has been discussing new laws that will impact the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. My meetings with various interlocutors allowed me to understand the stakes of the democratic transition, especially regarding the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.”

The expert welcomed the progress the country has achieved in terms of human rights protection since the 2011 revolution, as well as the authorities’ will to adopt new laws and establish institutions in line with international human rights standards. But, he said, more needed to be done on implementation and enforcement.

The expert also called for legislation to ensure everyone is free to assemble peacefully and to associate. He expressed concerns about reports of arbitrary arrests and disproportionate use of force during the January 2018 protests against the finance law and austerity measures.

Additionally, the expert was deeply concerned about the current law establishing a National Registry for Enterprises which aims at combating money laundering and counter terrorism but that creates additional requirements that would limit the capacity of associations to operate and continue contributing in this period of transition. At the end of visit, he called on the Parliament to amend this bill by removing associations from it; however the expert deeply regrets to learn that on 2 October it was adopted without further debate on its impact on associations. The Special Rapporteur urges the authorities to reconsider the approval of a regressive law for Tunisian civil society.

Voule cited delays in putting in place some of the institutions established by the 2014 constitution, such as the constitutional court, the new court of auditors and the human rights institution. “Without these institutions, the democratic transition, of which the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are essential pillars, cannot be ensured and might be undermined,” he said.

The independent expert visited the country on the invitation of Tunisia and met with Government authorities, including the Prime Minister and representatives of independent institutions. He also held meetings with various actors of civil society and representatives of UN agencies.

The conclusions and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur will be presented during the 41st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2019. Preliminary conclusions are available here. UNHR