No Sharia in draft Tunisian constitution, but rights ltd.

August 2, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

Tunisia, July 29, 2013: Tunisia’s final draft constitution includes no mention of “sharia law”, but limitations on religious freedoms and other key rights have prompted calls from human rights groups for amendments.

Tunisia launched the "Arab Spring" in January 2011

Tunisia launched the "Arab Spring" in January 2011

After 18 months of contentious negotiations, the document was presented to the Tunisian public on 1 June. A Consensus Commission at the country’s National Constituent Assembly (NCA) is currently working to build consensus around the main contested issues before the Assembly votes on the draft.

One of the main points of dispute has been the role of Islam, with the country becoming increasingly polarised over this issue. Islamist militancy is on the rise, and tensions have been spilling over into frequent violent clashes. Two vocal opposition politicians have been killed: Mohamed Brahmi, leader of the Movement of the People party, was assassinated on 25 July, and secular figure Chokri Belaid was murdered in February.

Mehrezia Labidi-Maiza, deputy speaker of the NCA and member of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, said that the role of religion was bound to be divisive during the transition:

From the beginning of the debate on the constitution we said that we don’t want to mention sharia… We preserved the first article of the former constitution (which states) that Tunisia is a republic, its origin is Islam and its language is Arabic. We have tried … to reconcile references to Islam and to universal human rights.

The draft does not satisfy the secular opposition, and the Ennahda-led coalition government is under mounting pressure, intensified by the fall of the Islamist regime in neighbouring Egypt. In echoes of the movement that ousted Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, leftist and liberal parties in Tunisia have called for the NCA to be dissolved and replaced with a national salvation government. They also want a committee of legal experts to be established to amend the draft constitution.

A coalition of human rights organisations has also raised concerns about the document. In a joint statement released on 24 July, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Al Bawsala and The Carter Center called for the strengthening of certain rights.

They said that the constitution should include a general clause directly incorporating into Tunisian law human rights as defined by international law and treaties ratified by the North African country, and they also proposed specific amendments.

These include ensuring that all facets of the right to freedom of religion and conscience are upheld, such as the freedom to adopt, change or renounce a religion or belief, and the freedom to practise in public and private; deleting the restrictions in the articles relating to freedom of expression, assembly, association and movement; and specifying that discrimination is prohibited on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, and political or other opinion.

– barnabas team

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