Tunisia slams door on civil society

The ICJ today expressed its outrage that the Government of Tunisia has, for the second time this year, turned back an expert ICJ delegation at Tunis airport.

It is now clear that in all discussions with the ICJ, the Tunisian Government has consistently acted in bad faith.

“By closing its doors to international scrutiny, we can only conclude that the Tunisian Government has something to hide. The Government is foolish in thinking that by shunning the international legal community, it will not be held accountable to international human standards” said Louise Doswald-Beck, Secretary-General of the ICJ.

In June this year, ICJ expert Judge Alice Desjardins of the Federal Court of Canada was refouled without an official explanation. On that occasion the Tunisian Government also objected to the presence of another ICJ expert on the grounds that he was Jewish. The ICJ had consistently approached the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Justice, requesting appointments but was obstructed at every turn. No written advice was received that the missions would be refouled.

Tunisia is one of only a handful of countries that has obstructed ICJ access in its fifty year history. Others include Chile in the throes of the 1973 bloody military coup and China. Tunisia’s refusal is at odds with its claim to being a leading and open democracy in the Arab world.

The ICJ mission sought to investigate allegations of government persecution and harassment of lawyers and judges. This included the former Judge Mokhtar Yahyaoui who was allegedly discharged given his resistance to Government interference in the exercise of his duties. The ICJ also wished to take up an invitation extended by its affiliated organization, the Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l’homme (LTDH) and consult with members of the judiciary, the legal profession and representatives of civil society.

The ICJ mission team turned back at the airport on Saturday immediately after its arrival was composed of three eminent experts: Mr. Christian Grobet, Swiss lawyer specialist in human rights law, Mr. Joakim Nergelius, President of the Swedish section of the ICJ and a Professor of Constitutional Law at Lund University; and Ms. Margaret Owen, a former British Magistrate. Two staff members of the ICJ Secretariat, Ms. Linda Besharaty-Movaed and Ms. Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, were to have also participated in the mission.

The ICJ will continue to closely monitor the situation.

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