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Tunisia: Adoption of new constitution marks a setback for human rights

Responding to the news that after yesterday’s referendum, Tunisia has adopted a new flawed constitution that dismantles or threatens key institutional safeguards for human rights, Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said:

“It is deeply worrying that Tunisia has adopted a new constitution that undermines human rights and jeopardizes the progress made since the 2011 revolution. The new constitution dismantles many of the guarantees to the independence of judiciary, removes protection for civilians from military trials and grants the authorities the power to restrict human rights or renege on international human rights commitments in the name of religion.

“This new constitution, that has now replaced the 2014 constitution, was drafted behind closed doors in a process entirely controlled by President Kais Saied. The Tunisian people were not provided with any transparency as to why the process was designed in this way, nor for that matter why the 2014 constitution needed to be replaced.

“This comes exactly one year after President Saied’s power-grab during which the authorities targeted high-profile critics and political opponents through criminal investigations and prosecutions, eroding Tunisia’s human rights protections at an alarming rate. This new constitution must not serve as justification to go back on Tunisia’s commitments under international human rights law. The provisions of any constitution should be fully consistent and compatible with Tunisia’s obligations under international human rights law.”

Background

On 25 July 2021, President Kais Saied invoked exceptional measures citing article 80 of the 2014 constitution, suspended the parliament and dismissed the government. He later granted himself the exclusive right to rule by decree, suspended most of Tunisia’s 2014 constitution, and dissolved parliament before giving himself the mandate to change the constitution. 

A referendum on the new constitution was held in Tunisia on 25 July 2022. Now accepted with low turnout of 30.5%, it is set to come into force on 27 August 2022 and replace the constitution adopted by Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly in January 2014 through a two-year-long inclusive and transparent process and contained strong human rights safeguards.