Tunisia adopts new Counter-Terrorism Law
After a marathon three-day discussion, the Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a new Law to Combat Terrorism and Money Laundering, with 174 deputies voting for, 10 abstaining and 0 against.
The new law replaces the Terrorism Law 2003 passed under the Ben Ali regime. The new law was designed to reform and update security laws while introducing stronger safeguards for human rights. However, the law has come in for strong criticism by human rights groups. A statement by a coalition of 10 Tunisian civil society groups, including the bar association, journalists’ union and human rights groups said, “There are many holes in the law that could open the way to human rights violations”.
The most controversial elements of the law include:
- A broad definition of terrorism that includes “prejudicing private and public property, vital resources, infrastructures, means of transport and communication, IT systems or public services.”
- The application of the death penalty for acts of terrorism, including disseminating information that results in the loss of life in terrorist attacks
- An increase in the time police can hold a suspect without charges or access to a lawyer from 6 to 15 days
- Making “apology” or glorification of terrorism an offence – such statements need not be directly linked to the probability of a terrorist act occurring
- Making it an offence to “knowingly disclose information relative to interception, infiltration or audiovisual surveillance operations or collected data”
- The use of closed hearings where circumstances require
- Granting the power to “intercept suspects’ communications by virtue of a decision written and reasoned by the public prosecutor or the investigating judge.”
A joint letter by international human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called on the Assembly to amend the law.
In a triumph for human rights groups, a number of MPs successfully pushed for an amendment to ensure protection of “professional privilege”. In its original form, the proposed article would have made it an offence to withhold information relating to the commission of a terrorist offense. The amendment guarantees the right of lawyers, journalists and medical workers to keep information they receive in the course of their work confidential.
A recent case brought against an editor in Tunisia for publishing a photograph of a car that purportedly transported the Sousse gunman illustrates the very real threat posed by security laws to Tunisia’s new freedoms.
Crackdown on Associations: 80 NGOs Suspended for ‘Having Links with Terrorism’
Kamel Jandoubi, Minister for Relations with Civil Society, has confirmed that 157 civil society organisations are suspected of having links with terrorist groups and 80 associations have had their activities suspended. A further 83 have been warned to put their legal status in order, while others (he did not specify the number) have been shut down.
State of Emergency could be extended
Lazhar Akremi, Minister in Charge of Relations with the Assembly, has stated that an extension of the state of emergency announced at the start of July is “possible”. In an interview with Mosaique FM, Akremi stated that the state of emergency is one part of a comprehensive vision for the war against terrorism, which is likely to last for some time. He argued that the state of emergency has not impacted on freedom of expression or social “demands” or protests.
Draft law on “economic reconciliation” provokes a backlash
A new controversial law on national reconciliation in the economic and financial domains has been proposed by the President of the Republic and approved by the Council of Ministers on 14 July. Presenting the law to the Council, President Sebsi outlined that the law applies to three categories of persons:
- Public employees who facilitated transgressions but did not make personal gains themselves;
- Citizens who may have made personal gains and/or gave or received corruption – upon admission of their involvement, they will have to return the gains they made and will have their case examined by a commission to be established under the Prime Minister’s Office. Those who have pending judicial charges against them may have all charges dropped;
- Citizens accused of economic or financial crimes relating to assets abroad – the government has the power under existing laws to mediate these disputes
Addressing the Council, President Sebsi said, “I wanted to turn the page entirely and turn to the future. But given that there is a law on transitional justice, we did something jointly, in some way – the Commission we will establish will contain one or two members of the Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD). The IVD will continue to look at political issues and human rights issues but not necessarily economic issues.”
The law has been strongly criticised by the IVD, which issued a press release condemning the law for guaranteeing impunity for all those implicated in financial corruption. The IVD rejects the law for having no legal basis, given that the powers of the proposed new reconciliation commission would overlap with those of the IVD’s own Mediation and Reconciliation Commission.
The IVD has collected the statements of a range of political parties and associations against the law on its website, including the National League for Human Rights (LTDH), the National Union for Journalists, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network and I-Watch. The law has also met with criticism from the UGTT who claimed that neither they nor any human rights organisations were consulted.
The law is expected to provoke heated reactions when submitted to the Assembly. It has already been rejected by opposition parties including the Republican Party, CPR, Democratic Alliance and Democratic Current. The Popular Front also called for the law to be withdrawn, stating that it is a threat to the country’s security.
Ettakattol Party issued a statement opposing the proposed law, arguing that it empties the transitional justice process of all meaning, and usurps the powers of the IVD in violation of the Constitution and the principle of separation of powers.
PM Essid Announces New Counter-Terrorism Approach and Five-Year Development Plan
Prime Minister Habib Essid has announced a new counter-terrorism approach based on preventative operations. In a speech to the Annual Meeting of Ambassadors and Consul Generals, he emphasised the need for intensified cooperation with neighbouring countries, in order to better protect Tunisia’s borders and prevent the re-entry of fighters from Syria, Libya and Iraq.
The Prime Minister also announced the start of preparations for the next Five-Year Development Plan, which will focus on partnerships between the public and private sectors and developing high added-value sectors such as the digital sector, among other areas.
ARP Finance Commission sends Public-Private Partnership Law back to government
The Assembly Commission on Finance, Planning and Development has decided to send the draft Public-Private Partnership Law back to the government with a set of proposed amendments, after nine sessions in which the Commission heard the views of UTICA, UGTT and other civil society organisations.
The Commission’s rapporteur, Olfa Soukri Cherif, told reporters that the proposed amendments included expanding the law to cover more sectors and inserting guarantees and incentives to protect and support the domestic private sector.
Members of the Commission emphasised the need to establish a public body to monitor Public-Private Partnerships, given the public sector’s lack of experience in concluding and implementing such partnerships. According to MPs, Tunisia has carried out some public-private partnership projects that have met with significant challenges, such as Enfidha Airport, highlighting the importance of evaluation and monitoring.
New 2015 Budget Law Presented to Assembly
The Council of Ministers has approved the supplementary 2015 budget law and presented it to the Assembly for discussion. The Minister of Finance, Slim Chaker, outlined the key features of the 27.9 billion-dinar budget in a press conference on 30 July.
The supplementary budget reduces the overall 2015 budget by 3.8% from 29 billion dinars (14.8 billion dollars) to 27.9 billion dinars (14.25 billion dollars) due to reduced public receipts caused by the economic downturn and the security situation.
The government has also revised its growth forecast for 2015 from 3% to 1% due to current conditions, predicted to lead to the loss of 30,000-40,000 jobs.
Public debt is to be reduced by 1% from 47.3 billion dinars (24.16 billion dollars) to 45.4 billion dinars (23.19 billion dollars), a reduction from 52.9% of the original 2015 budget to 51.9% in the new budget.
Local Elections Date Finally Announced: End of 2016?
The Ruling Coalition’s Coordinating Committee has announced that agreement has been reached to hold the local elections at the end of 2016. The agreement was announced following a meeting with the Prime Minister on 29 July.
The Committee, made up of the four parties represented in the governing coalition, also agreed to establish a joint committee to prepare proposals for a new economic development model.
Diplomatic ties with Syria
Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche has denied the restoration of diplomatic ties between Tunisia and Syria, following the appointment of a Consul General to Syria, Ibrahim AlFouali. Baccouche stated that the appointment was simply “a more organised consular representation” and that there was a difference between appointing an ambassador and a consul general. In a speech to the Annual Meeting of Ambassdors and Consul Generals held in Tunis, the Foreign Minister criticised the severing of diplomatic ties with Syria and argued that a Tunisian representation was to the benefit of the Tunisian community in Syria.
In a comment piece in the daily newspaper, Assabah, Fatima Al Atrous criticised the statements for being vague, hesitant and lacking clear political vision on an issue of vital importance for Tunisian diplomacy.
European Union expands cooperation with Tunisia
The EU meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels on 20 July included a non-EU guest – Prime Minister Habid Essid. In a show of support for Tunisia’s transition, the EU dedicated two hours of the foreign policy agenda to a meeting with Prime Minister Essid to discuss the situation in Tunisia and measures to support the country’s transition.
The Council announced that it would strengthen its cooperation with Tunisia by providing a further €70 million in its 2015 budget and assessing options to set up a mission to support the Tunisian authorities in border management and protection as part of the common security and defence policy (CSDP).
The Council also submitted a request to the President of the Commission “to explore the possibility of mobilising supplementary funds, given the situation that Tunisia has to address”.
The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, said it was in Europe’s own interest to assist Tunisia and its democratically elected government as a model in the region stating, “we have to keep hope alive in a region that faces so many difficulties.”
The European Union has set aside 23 million euros in programme assistance for Tunisia in 2016, and Mogherini announced that the programme would be brought forward in light of recent events. She also announced measures to help Tunisia combat terrorism and boost its economy, including a proposed measure to increase the annual quota for the sale of Tunisia olive oil in EU markets, on an exceptional basis.
Germany Announces Strong Support for Tunisia
During her visit to Tunisia this week, German defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, declared Germany’s ongoing determination to support Tunisia in its war against terrorism.
In a joint press conference with Tunisian defence minister, Farhat Horchani, von der Leyen cited border security as an absolute priority and stated that coordination meetings will be held between Tunisia and Germany’s interior ministries to define means for bilateral cooperation in this field.
US Senate Approves Smaller Aid Package for Tunisia than recommended
The US Senate has approved an aid package to Tunisia for 2016 that is significantly less than the package recommended by the Obama administration. The administration had requested to almost double Tunisia’s aid package to 134.4 million USD for 2016, including an increase in support for economic and governance programmes – 55 million USD for 2016, up from 30 million USD in 2015, and 62.5 million USD for military assistance — more than double 2015’s budget.
The US House of Representatives approved the full amount requested by the administration. However, the Senate Committee voted to reduce the aid package by 50 million USD, saying in its report that it “recommends additional funds be made available from prior acts making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programmes through a reprogramming of funds, following consultation with the Committee” to make up for the reduction.
The two chambers of Congress will now need to work to find a mutually acceptable version of the appropriations bill and reach a final decision on the level of assistance.
An analysis by the Project on Middle East Democracy found that US foreign assistance to the Middle East and North Africa “is currently becoming even more dominated by military and security issues”. Only 6% of the State Department’s FY 2016 request is earmarked for democracy and governance programmes.
US to Appoint New Ambassador to Tunisia
The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee is due to hold a hearing on 30 July to discuss the nomination, among others, of the proposed U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia, Daniel H. Rubinstein. Rubinstein is currently the US Special Envoy for Syria and former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research.
Ennahdha has announced that it will postpone its national conference to allow more time for regional and local conferences, while Nidaa Tounes has announced that it will hold local and regional conferences in September.
The UPL is to hold its national conference by the end of this year, promising to reveal “a new face” to the party.
Afek Tounes has announced that it too has plans to organise its national conference – it has just established a new internal commission to prepare the conference.
International Crisis Group: Reform and Security Strategy in Tunisia
International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organisation that works to prevent conflict worldwide, has issued a detailed report on Tunisia’s internal security forces. The report argues that rather than focusing on introducing harsher penalties in combating terrorism, Tunisian authorities should take urgent steps to reform security forces, which suffer from corruption, brutality and poor organisation.
The report argues that if Tunisia is to succeed in protecting national security, it must address a number of priorities within the security forces: improving management capabilities, curbing bad practices (police brutality, petty corruption) and pushing back the rise of clientelism that is pulling security institutions apart.
In light of the struggle for dominance between security forces and the political class in recent years, the report recommends a cooperative approach between the government, Assembly and security forces to agree on a new code of conduct, built on “a collective reflection, particularly inside the interior ministry, as well as a national political debate on the notion of security, the role and mission of the police (as distinct from the military), the causes of the north/south fracture and jihadi violence, and the public’s lack of confidence in the security apparatus.”
Without changes to the training and conduct of the police, the report concludes, “Tunisia will continue to stumble from crisis to crisis as its regional environment deteriorates and political and social tensions increase, at the risk of sinking into chaos or a return to dictatorship”.
Tunisia needs US support for democracy to succeed
Ahead of the congressional subcommittee hearing on Tunisia on 14 July, Mark Green President of the International Republican Institute and William Sweeney, President of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and Leslie Campbell, regional director for Middle East and North Africa programmes at the National Democratic Institute called for increased US support for Tunisia in an op-ed in The Hill. The op-ed commends the Obama administration and Congress for supporting Tunisia’s democratisation but, in light of the country’s pressing challenges, calls for stepped-up US support for good governance – in particular, training for political parties, electoral institutions and political stakeholders in preparation for the local elections, support for the process of decentralisation and for inclusion of youth and marginalised regions. The authors argue that standing with Tunisia in its difficult moment is in the US’ interests, “as we have much to benefit from a relationship based on shared interests and shared values in a region where such allies are scarce.”
Atlantic Council: Sheltering Tunisia’s Democratic Experiment from the Region’s Storms
This analysis by Jason Pack and Andrea Brody-Barre highlights the dangers to Tunisia’s democratic progress and that more needs to be done to protect the country from regional instability. The article calls for Western countries to “lavish [Tunisia] with economic assistance, training programmes, and educational packages—support that combats the disillusionment and frustration that fanned the revolution, rather than temporarily mitigate violence” and focusing on “a narrow counterterror approach”.
Aljazeera Centre for Studies: Tunisia’s security crisis and government’s inability to cope
This briefing by the Aljazeera Centre for Studies highlights the security crisis facing Tunisia after the attack in Sousse. Changes after the revolution, according to the authors, “shook the core of the security doctrine as a result of the instability resulting from the rapid change of governments, and the multiple centres of power established by the January 2014 constitution. The previous core security doctrine, which had been adopted during the reigns of former presidents Habib Bourguiba and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was characterised by extremely centralised decision-making and the brutal suppression of dissent. Training, procedures and techniques were all geared towards the fulfilment of this doctrine.”
The briefing argues that the government’s post-Sousse measures have done little to allay fears. “These measures, especially the closure of mosques and institutions, and the targeting of Qur’an schools – which the government considers ‘breeding grounds for terrorism’ – have raised fears of a return to Ben Ali’s brutal policy of suppression”.
The briefing concludes that the Tunisian government’s strategy against terrorist groups “fails to understand the social, political and economic context in which these groups gain new supporters”.