Tunisian President Kais Saied has caused serious harm to judicial independence in the country by granting himself the absolute authority to dismiss judges summarily by decree and quickly firing 57 of them, said 10 human rights organizations in a joint press release on Friday.
The organizations called Decree 2022-35 an assault on the rule of law, and asked for its immediate revocation and reinstatement of judges dismissed under its provisions. They emphasized the “judiciary’s independence being a crucial element of the right to a fair trial” and the obligation of states to undertake specific measures to “guarantee the independence of the judiciary and protect judges from any form of political influence.”
The decree passed on June 1 rests authority with the president to dismiss judges and prosecutors at his will, primarily based on reports from undisclosed “relevant bodies” that they threaten “public security” or “the country’s paramount interests,” and for actions that “impeach the judiciary’s reputation, independence, or proper functioning.” The president’s dismissal decisions are made exempt from any instant appeal by the decree. A dismissal is followed by criminal prosecution against the judge concerned, and dismissals may only be challenged after courts have issued a final judgment in the criminal cases.
The organizations stated that the decree violates the principle of equality before the law and equal protection of the law, as also the principle of legality and international human rights law. Saïd Benarbia, Director of the International Commission of Jurists’ Middle East and North Africa Programme, said that “through these arbitrary dismissals, the President is sending a chilling message to the very judges who should safeguard the rule of law and human rights and serve as a check on his abuses of power.”
The organizations also made reference to the United Nations Basic Principles on the independence of the judiciary and the UN Human Rights Committee’s General Comment 32, which states that “[j]udges may be dismissed only on serious grounds of misconduct or incompetence, in accordance with fair procedures ensuring objectivity and impartiality set out in the constitution or the law.”
Salsabil Chellali, Tunisia director at Human Rights Watch, said, “With this decree, President Saied has removed whatever autonomy the judiciary in Tunisia still was able to exercise. Judges should be subject to fair, impartial, and appealable disciplinary procedures, not removal at the executive’s whim.”
Saied, the organizations mentioned, intends to replace Tunisia’s constitution and has decreed to hold a referendum on a new constitution on July 25.