Tunisia: Assembly votes to abolish human rights commission

Opponents denounce the move saying there wasn’t the required number of legislators in the assembly for the vote.

The commission has received about 62,000 human rights complaints since 2013 [Hassene Dridi/AP]

Tunisian MPs voted not to renew the human rights commission’s mandate that is set to expire in May, a move being legally challenged because not enough legislators were present in the assembly.

Members of Tunisia’s parliament voted on Monday in favour of terminating the Truth and Dignity Commission’s duties with 68 voting for, two abstaining, and zero against.

Prior to the vote, there was heated debate between those opposing the human rights body and others who say it could still shed light on abuses committed since the country gained independence in 1955.

The vote was ultimately boycotted by the Muslim democrat Ennahdha Party along with Ettayar (Democratic Current) and the leftist Popular Front whose representatives walked out of the Assembly in protest.

President Beji Caid Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party – as well as mostly secular parties on the right of the spectrum – expressed their opposition to extending the commission’s mandate.

Those for the commission continuing its work said the vote should not have been held given the failure to secure the minimum quorum of 73 parliamentarians, or one-third, present in the 217-seat assembly.

The parties that boycotted are now locked in a legal battle, Nourredine Mbarki, a Tunisian journalist and political commentator, told Al Jazeera.

“Today, after the People’s Assembly voted to reject the extension, the dispute became legal about the legitimacy of the vote and its commitment to the basic regulations of the assembly,” Mbarki said.

Representative Imed Daimi called the process “illegal”.

The Nidaa Tounes party launched a social media campaign against the human rights body’s president, Sihem Ben Sedrine, under the slogan “Four years, enough, no to a prolongation.”

Walid Jalled, a Nidaa Tounes legislator, said Ben Sedrine did not respect parliament when she unilaterally extended the commission’s work.

Citing Article 18 of Tunisia’s Organic Law on Establishing and Organising Transitional Justice, Ben Sedrine announced last month the commission would extend its mandate until December 2018.

Her opponents said the commission failed to consult parliament prior to the decision.

Ben Sedrine – a fervent human rights advocate during Zine El Abidine Ben Ali‘s authoritarian regime – told reporters at the time that extending her commission’s mission does not require parliament’s approval because it is a mere formality.

According to Mbarki, parties that voted to end the commission’s work said they would consider extending its mandate if Ben Sedrine resigned.

Amnesty International urged legislators in a statement on Friday not to obstruct the commission’s extension.

“It will be virtually impossible for the Truth and Dignity Commission to finalise its work in the next two months, which is why the commissioners decided they needed more time. Parliamentarians are bound by law to respect the commission’s independent decision to extend its mandate,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s regional director.

The human rights commission has received more than 62,000 complaints and interviewed 50,000 plaintiffs since it was established in 2013.

Source: Al Jazeera