Law professor at Tunisian University and human rights activist d. Hafida Choucair: We have moved from the stage of “party quotas” to one-sided rule and the personification of power

Dialogue: Rawaa Qassem

Hafiza Choucair is a Professor of Public Law at the Faculty of Law and Political Science in Tunis, and she has a career spanning more than 40 years in the human rights and trade union struggle. She was involved in the human rights movement to defend human rights, and also contributed to the founding of various civic organizations involved in human and women’s rights, and was one of the founders of the “Al-Taher Haddad” cultural club. She also contributed to the establishment of the Women’s Committee in the Tunisian General Labor Union and held various important positions. In 2011, she was a member of the expert panel in the High Government for achieving the goals of the Revolution, Political Reform and Democratic Transition. . In 2014, I accepted the position of expert at the National Constitutional Assembly to review the constitution. In 2016, she held the position of Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights and a founding member of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women.
I told Dr. Hafida Choucair, in this conversation with Al-Quds Al-Arabi on the reality of freedoms and rights in Tunisia in the light of current transformations, and notes that human rights gains in Tunisia are threatened today and that there is no other way than to struggle to continue. to protect rights and freedoms.
It is indicated that dr. Choucair has a lot of published research and studies, in addition to a lot of articles, lectures, literature and research. Here is the text of the dialogue.
○ How do you see the reality of rights and freedoms in Tunisia in the light of the current situation, and what do you think are the threats facing the file of freedoms?
Honestly, I am not optimistic about the current situation. We have fought a lot for rights and freedoms and that civil society plays its real role in putting pressure on the country’s policies and in monitoring the extent to which human rights are applied and be respected. And we have struggled to determine many rights and have a constitutional value. We have made every effort to incorporate the principle of gender equality into the constitution, to guarantee public and individual rights and freedoms, and to recognize political, civil, economic and social rights and all rights in their various forms.The 1959 constitution, specifically the controls that can be used to restrict the field of rights and freedoms. During the era of Ben Ali, we lived under the umbrella of dictatorship and fought for rights, but unfortunately, after the revolution, whether before or after July 25, we found ourselves in the same struggle. Since 2011, with the rule of the Troika, we have been in the shadow of a regime that is almost regressing in the field of human rights due to ideological choices and the introduction of religion into politics. And every time we as lawyers had to be vigilant to protect rights, either by going out into the streets or by writing so that all our profits would not be undone. For example, we are currently seeing a return to the issue of customary marriage. I remember how one of the representatives years ago submitted a bill to establish the “Shari’s Ma’zoun” because it is an access point for customary marriages and polygamy.
In fact, there are several attempts to restrict freedom of religion, and these issues are more frightening than reassuring, especially since the institutions entrusted with the guarantee of rights and freedoms cannot play their role. Because there is a problem with the independence of the judiciary and there is corruption and bribery, and all this limits the independence of the judiciary. On the other hand, the institutions guaranteeing rights and freedoms did not appear even though they were entrenched and approved in the constitution, such as the Constitutional Court, the Human Rights Commission and all the bodies that were supposed to exist. Unfortunately, its members were not elected because parliament was subject to partisan quotas until July 25 that destroyed institutions. After July 25, 2021, we moved from the stage of partisan quotas, which were predominant and dominant over parliament and political life, to one-sided rule and the personification of power. The institutions have lost their entire existence and there is no longer a possibility for the institutions to communicate. Here I refer to Circular no. 20 issued by the Prime Minister, which prevents any minister from negotiating with trade unionists within the framework of their sector, and all this makes me think that there is a significant decrease and a restriction of all areas and public and individual freedoms, and little by little we find that we are threatened with losing all the profits we have made since Year 2011. We believe that rights are complete and indivisible and it is not acceptable to recognize a right without the rest.
○ So, to what extent is what is happening in Tunisia eroding the human rights gains created by the 2014 constitution or even before it?
• Indeed, profits were made before the 2014 constitution, for example in the year 2011 decision no. 35 of 2011 was issued and parity was introduced in the menus. This is a major gain and we have struggled for it because we were present in the highest body to achieve the goals of the revolution and we are pushing for the establishment of equality in the institutions. We imagined earlier and dreamed that there would be a revolution in mentalities, not just in legislation and policy. But when the menus came out, we found that only 7 percent of them were led by women, and we did not achieve equality in the second parliament. We previously demanded the establishment of horizontal and vertical parity in the regional and local elections, but in 2017 the electoral law related to the establishment of vertical and horizontal parity in lists was revised, and once again we found ourselves in favor of strategies to restrict. and bypass the parity. For example, independent lists are not required to respect vertical and horizontal parity. In the elections, we found that most lists are independent.
○ Today there is a constitutional problem in the light of the exceptional measures, so how can we get out of this situation when you are competent in constitutions and constitutions?
The problem is that the President of the Republic does not listen to anyone. He said he was going to hold a referendum on July 25, but no one knew on what basis and by what reference the referendum would take place. It is known that according to the electoral law, female citizens must be invited two months before the date of the referendum, ie before 25 May. The referendum in Europe, for example, is about approval or disapproval with yes or no, but no one knows the content and form of the forthcoming referendum in Tunisia. We do not understand here how it is possible to invite the general public to, for example, a referendum on the form of the constitution. We know that the majority of popular segments are not informed and are not competent to judge the form of constitutions or the form of government and do not know the difference between the presidential, parliamentary or council system and the negatives and advantages of each method of voting, whether individually or on the lists. The constitution is not amended or drafted by a popular referendum or electronic consultation. The percentage participation in it is religious.
Here I want to point out that the vote on individuals called by the President of the Republic is applied in countries that have democratic traditions and presuppose the existence of small constituencies. But in our well-established customs and traditions dominated by patriarchy and the view of the inferiority of women, men will be preferred over women and the rich over the poor and dignitaries, and the voter will not choose an unknown candidate and this is a real problem. I believe the crisis in Tunisia is not in the form of the system, whether presidential, parliamentary or council, but rather in how to strike a balance between power and establish democratic customs and traditions. I have given constitutional rights to the University of Tunisia for many years, and I have always told my students that the parliamentary system means “a party in government, a party in opposition, and the citizen elects.” Here’s the problem that we have 250. parties on these democratic practices. In the president’s last speech, he spoke of a “new republic”, which means a new constitution, which undermines all the provisions that came into the 2014 constitution and for which we fought. Honestly, there is ambiguity and there is no clarity on the horizon. I have repeatedly called for the implementation of the constitution, for the control of the democratic game and for the citizens to choose what suits them.
○ What about the national dialogue requested by the President of the Republic and which includes major national organizations such as the Dean of Attorneys, the Tunisian General Labor Union, the Al-Araf Organization and the Tunisian League for Human Rights, in the absence of parties , can it be effective in your opinion?
I do not think it will be effective in the absence of not only parties but also women as there is no female representation in the dialogue and there is no representation of any women’s organization. As far as political parties are concerned, they are an important component of the political community Those who exercise power are usually political parties. And if political parties are abolished, and later civil society organizations are abolished, then all the struggle we have waged for civil society to play an active role in a society will be blown up. These organizations, which the President of the Republic calls intermediaries, cannot imagine any form of society without them, and even the basic structure or the basic alternative of which the President of the Republic speaks is incomprehensible.
○ How do you see the state of the press and the media today, especially as its role is very important in a democratic society, so what are the threats it faces in Tunisia?
Threats are related to media freedom and the reversal of the two decrees we have struggled to pass, namely decrees 115 and 116, regarding media freedom. And the High Authority for Audio-Visual Media “HAICA”, which is supposed to be an amendment body, plays an important role, but at present it does not play a real role, and so far the HAICA Act has not did not come out. The biggest problem is also that there is persecution of bloggers and attacks on journalists due to their posts. All of this poses a real and real danger to the media.
○ Today, in the midst of this reality, what are the mechanisms to confront threats to human rights and freedoms in Tunisia in general?
There is no alternative today to continuing the struggle to protect the rights and freedoms we gained after 2011. Non-governmental organizations – and there are many – should play a role in forming alliances and networks for non-governmental organizations and be an impenetrable support. We must raise our voice and fight for rights and freedoms, and demand the creation of constitutional institutions and bodies charged with the protection of rights. We demand the creation of the Constitutional Court, which has not been formed since 2014 due to biased quotas.
○ Where is the situation in Tunisia going?
Honestly, the situation is incomprehensible and what hides me today, in addition to the general situation, is the phenomenon of brain drain and brain drain threatening the country and not just the Tunisian University, especially when we know that 90 percent of recent graduates doctors have emigrated, and there are 9,000 engineers who have immigrated due to the lack of horizon and the absence of Vision, all of which make Tunisia more threatened than ever.

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