13 January 2012
Guarantee human rights in Tunisia’s new constitution

People look at electoral posters in the center of Tunis, 22 October 2011.

© REUTERS - Louafi Larbi


More than a year and a half after protesters ended the repressive rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisians are still waiting for their human rights to be guaranteed.

A National Constituent Assembly (NCA) was elected in October 2011 to write a new constitution for Tunisia. In September 2012 drafts prepared by the different committees within the NCA will be submitted for final discussions. Amnesty International is calling on the NCA to ensure that the constitution includes the basic guarantees that would protect Tunisians from the abuses they suffered in the past, human rights violations like torture, arbitrary arrests and unfair trials.

Under Ben Ali, the constitution lost its power to protect people against human rights violations, and instead the authorities passed new laws which repressed Tunisians even more. The security apparatus and the judicial system answered to the authorities instead of the law, and were tools to crush opposition and critical voices. Torture was widespread and counter-terrorism was used to justify abuses.  While the rights of women were trumpeted by Ben Ali , in reality discrimination remained entrenched in law and in practice. The authorities celebrated Tunisia’s “economic miracle” even as many Tunisians were denied their basic economic, social and cultural rights.

Recent proposals within the NCA that describe women as partners to men and their complementary role in the family are a threat to women’s rights and gender equality in Tunisia. The NCA has a chance to put things right. In Tunisia’s next constitution it can guarantee equality and non-discrimination as well as other basic human rights, and that those who violate them will be brought to justice. It can make sure that the human rights set out in international treaties signed by Tunisia are enforceable in a court of law. It can guarantee the independence of the judiciary, and put the security forces back where they belong: firmly under the rule of law. It can also ensure that economic and social rights are more than a mere promise.

It will take more than a new constitution to stop human rights violations, but a constitution that enshrines human rights is a powerful tool to prevent them.


Call on the Chairman of the National Constituent Assembly, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, to guarantee human rights in Tunisia’s new constitution.

Dear Chairman,

I write to urge the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) to guarantee human rights in Tunisia’s new constitution.
The members of the NCA have the tremendous opportunity to ensure that the shortcomings of the past constitution are addressed, that fundamental human rights guarantees which will effectively protect Tunisians against abuses are enshrined, and that the constitution sets out the grounds for a new future with human rights and the rule of law at its centre.

I urge the assembly to ensure that the new constitution:

  • Maintains the supremacy of international law over domestic and ensures that the human rights enshrined in international treaties to which Tunisia is a state party are enforceable in a court of law.
  • Prohibits discrimination and clearly identifies grounds for prohibition in line with international law. Women and men must have equal rights in law and in practice and equal opportunities in the political, economic, cultural and social sphere. Nothing less than full gender equality should be guaranteed. 
  • Upholds rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly and ensures that any restrictions to these rights are limited only to those allowed in international law and standards.
  • Guarantees the independence of the judiciary, particularly from the executive and security of tenure (inamovibilite). 
  • Ensures judicial guarantees, including the right to a fair trial.
  • States that no member of the security apparatus is above the law and provides guarantees that end impunity and which ensure the accountability of perpetrators of human rights violations.
  • Includes an absolute and clear prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and that “evidence” extracted under torture or other forms of ill-treatment can never be admissible.
  • Guarantees the right to life and prohibits the death penalty.
  • Guarantees economic, social and cultural rights, including by ensuring the minimum essential levels of these rights and ensuring non-discrimination in access to essential public services. The rights of workers and trade unions must be upheld, and victims of violations of economic, cultural and social rights must have the ability to access effective remedies.
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