Tunisia-EU: Ashton and Barroso must make human rights the focus of their meeting with Laarayedh!

Press release
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On the eve of the meeting between High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso with head of the Tunisian government Ali Laarayedh, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network are voicing their concerns about the persistence and even increases in violations of human rights and freedoms. Both organizations are calling on the highest representatives of the European Commission and the head of the Tunisian government to make the issues of Human Rights and fundamental freedoms in Tunisia the focus of their exchanges.

Tunisian Human Rights defenders’ organizations, working alongside many other civil society organizations have continued unabated their mobilization and questioning of NCA members in order to encourage them to amend the text of the draft constitution so that once adopted, the Tunisian constitution may guarantee compliance with and protection of universal and indivisible human rights.

Guaranteeing freedom of expression and opinion is all the more essential in light of the fact that these freedoms have been repeatedly undermined since the start of the political transition in Tunisia, and increasingly so over the last few weeks . Prisons sentences, sometimes of several years, have been pronounced to penalize the exercise of these freedoms. The disproportionate nature of these sentences and, in many cases, the principle of the conviction itself have been denounced by human rights defence organizations (1). The conviction of rapper Weld El 15 to two years in prison for a song which was deemed to have been insulting to police, a decision which will be examined on appeal on 25 June 2013, the conviction of three activists from the women’s movement Femen to 4 months in prison for "undermining decency, morality and public order ", as well as that of 7 and a half years imprisonment for "undermining morality, defamation and disturbing public order" pronounced by the Mahdia court in March of 2012 against two young people who had published texts and illustrations which were deemed to be blasphemous are but a few of the most symbolic illustrations of the problem.

The independent judiciary is responsible for administering justice in accordance with the commitments undertaken by the Tunisian government at international level and therefore for applying the provisions of the international instruments for the protection of human rights. An independent judiciary is an essential pillar of a democratic state. The threats to which have been subjected the representatives of the judiciary, including the president of the Association of Tunisian Magistrates (ATM), Kelthoum Kennou, who received death threats in an anonymous letter cautioning her to "stop promoting the independence of the judiciary" are the cause of grave concerns (2). In addition to measures to protect magistrates, as was the case for judge Kennou, it is expected of the Tunisian authorities to begin, without further delay, a process of reform of the judiciary whose first step must be the urgent establishment of an independent regulatory authority of the judiciary to replace the Supreme Council of the Judiciary.

Threats and acts of violence, including against civil society players and political activists, have increased in recent months. The assassination of political leader Chokri Belaïd was a catalyst for a strong and coordinated mobilisation uniting over two hundred civil society organizations and tens of political parties to call for an end to the violence. Initiating independent and impartial enquiries so that light might be shed on the acts of violence which have been perpetrated and so that those responsible may be held accountable in court is now the first fundamental step required for putting an end to this situation which threatens the process of transition in Tunisia and interferes with the exercise of the freedom of association and the right to peaceful assembly.

Finally, the promotion of equality, the guarantee and respect of women’s rights must, now more than ever, be at the heart of the Tunisian government authorities’ priorities. In April 2013, the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women painted an alarming picture of the situation of women’s rights in Tunisia. "Against all odds, instead of promoting the freedom of each individual - men and women - and instead of enabling living together, the current context has renewed and spread violence against women, in all its forms, be it political, cultural, religious, social and economic"(3).

Faced with these major challenges, the FIDH and the EMHRN are calling for these core issues to be raised with the head of the Tunisian government. They are also asking Mr Barroso and Mrs Ashton to encourage Tunisian authorities to take, without further delay, the necessary measures to put an end to these problems and to put Tunisia back on the path to the establishment of a democratic system that fully respects human rights.

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