Tunisia: Changes to passport law will ease arbitrary restrictions on travel

Key legislative amendments approved by the Tunisian Parliament this week are a positive step towards ending some of the discriminatory and disproportionate restrictions on freedom of movement in Tunisia, said Amnesty International.

The changes to the 1975 Law on Passports, passed on 23 May, include new provisions requiring that reasons are provided for decisions to impose travel bans or withdraw passports, that people affected by a travel ban are informed of the decision promptly, and guaranteeing that they have the right to challenge the decision. The law also limits travel bans to a maximum of 14 months in all circumstances, after which the ban has to be lifted.

“The draft law adopted this week is a positive development that will help lift some arbitrary restrictions on the right of individuals in Tunisia to travel outside of the country and grants them the right to challenge such restrictions,” said Heba Morayef, North Africa research director at Amnesty International.  

“Parliament should now go further and review the arbitrary application of orders by the Ministry of Interior which restrict freedom of movement inside the country.”

The draft law adopted this week is a positive development that will help lift some arbitrary restrictions on the right of individuals in Tunisia to travel outside of the country
Heba Morayef, North Africa research director at Amnesty International

The Tunisian authorities have restricted the movement of thousands of people without charge or trial as part of a pattern of arbitrary measures taken in the name of security in recent years.

In a meeting with Amnesty International in December 2016, Minister of Justice, Ghazi Jeribi, highlighted the need for reforms, explaining how historically travel bans of up to five years could be imposed by an investigative judge and that individuals had no way of challenging such decisions. He said some people face such restrictions for years without being able to appeal, adding that “there is no oversight over the investigative judge”.

In February 2017, Amnesty International’s report We want an end to the fear’: Abuses under Tunisia’s state of emergency, detailed how Tunisian security forces are still relying on repressive security measures, including restrictions on travel for suspects.

Following the release of this report Amnesty International presented its findings to the Parliamentary Committee on Rights and Liberties. The Minister of Justice was also invited to a hearing held by the committee to discuss the draft law to amend the 1975 Law on Passports where he highlighted that Amnesty International’s report included recommendations to repeal or amend the 1975 Law, given its infringement of the right to freedom of movement.

Individuals facing restrictions on their movements must be able to effectively access and challenge any evidence against them and have the right to be represented by a lawyer of their own choosing at all stages of the process.

Further measures are necessary to ensure that the new law is enforced and other arbitrary restrictions imposed by the authorities are eliminated. For example, the administrative practice of requiring a father’s authorization to travel abroad for adult men and women aged under 35 has no legal basis; and there is no possibility of appeal for those banned from travel under this measure.

Amnesty International calls the Tunisian authorities to enforce these legislative reforms and to repeal or reform other arbitrary restrictions, such as the border control known as "S17", which is used to restrict travel within the country. This is another measure that has no clear legal basis.

A comprehensive set of reforms regarding these border control orders should be considered by the Tunisian Parliament to ensure they comply with Tunisia’s obligation to respect the right to freedom of movement of all individuals.