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The Carter Center Recognizes Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly Progress; Calls for Increased Public Participation, Outreach, and Transparency

CONTACT: Atlanta, Deborah Hakes +1 404 420 5124; Tunis, Marion Volkmann +216 50666649

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In a report released today, The Carter Center commends Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly (NCA) on its progress in introducing a constitutional draft. Moving forward, the Center urges the NCA drafting commissions to ensure that the future constitution upholds Tunisia's international treaty obligations on human rights and fundamental freedoms. A renewed commitment to transparency and participation also is important to address significant questions remaining in the final text.

The compilation and release of the commissions' work in mid-August has generated many reactions from Tunisian civil society organizations, opposition members, constitutional experts, and international actors. The most controversial issues raised are the status of women, criminalization of the defamation of the sacred, and the structure of the future political system. Vague wording of some articles, incoherencies, and some blatant omissions — such as the enshrinement of the right to vote — are regrettable, and should be addressed by the NCA.

The absence of a clear work plan and constantly shifting deadlines, considered by many as unrealistic, have resulted in increased public distrust in the constitution making process. A definitive and realistic work plan, reflecting a consensus among NCA members, should be officially adopted as soon as possible in order to define clearly next steps. NCA members should explain to citizens why investing additional time will be beneficial to the process and the final product: a constitution representing all Tunisians in their diversity, forming the bedrock for a new Tunisian democratic state and written for longevity.

In its report, The Carter Center notes that the NCA has failed to conduct sufficient outreach campaigns on its work, even though such campaigns may raise public understanding of the NCA's work and increase its legitimacy. Media coverage of the NCA's work has sometimes lacked depth, and more balanced professional coverage of the process could help bridge the gap between elected officials and their constituents.

The Center welcomes recent initiatives by the NCA to consult citizens through online consultations on the NCA website, the organization of civil society organization debates, and the inclusion of a national debate on the constitution in NCA draft calendars. The time foreseen in different versions of the calendar is insufficient though to allow for a thorough national consultation on the draft constitution.  Adequate time should be given to allow for hearing citizen input, accurately recording their views, and thorough analysis and deliberation.

The Carter Center commends that by mid-June 2012, all provisional reports of the six constitutional commissions were published on the NCA website along with, up until the time of this report, 22 reports from other commissions. The Center notes, however, that other documents such as results of votes, NCA member attendance lists, and verbatim records of commission meetings are not being published despite the fact that the right of access to information is essential to guarantee transparency and permit active participation among all stakeholders in the constitution making process.

While the NCA Rules of Procedure suggest that members acknowledge transparency as an important principle, access for civil society organizations to both working sessions of the commissions and plenary assembly sessions has been inconsistent and generally restrictive, hindering their effective access to the debates.

The Carter Center can attest that the majority of NCA members are aware of the historical task they have been entrusted with and are committed and hard-working. However, repeated unjustified absences of some members in working and plenary sessions have led to a negative perception of the NCA by Tunisian citizens. In accordance with the "little constitution" adopted on Dec. 16, 2011, if the final draft of the constitution does not achieve a two-thirds majority during one of two readings, a referendum will take place. According to proposed calendars by the Coordination Committee outlining the way forward, this is scheduled for May 1, 2013. The Carter Center notes that to be able to hold such a constitutional referendum, a functioning electoral management body needs to be created to ensure a credible democratic process with effective citizen participation. Regrettably, while there is political will to anchor the principle of an independent election management body in the constitution, there has not been tangible progress toward its effective establishment.

The Carter Center recommends the following:

  • Ensure that provisions of the future constitution uphold Tunisia's international treaty obligations on human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • Establish a detailed work plan and time table for the adoption of the constitution to ensure better planning and progress as well as to provide the public with greater visibility on the way forward.
  • Plan for sufficient time to prepare and conduct a much needed national debate on the constitution, since an inclusive and participatory process is more likely to engender consensus around the new constitutional framework.
  • Establish a formal procedure to receive, analyze, and process submissions, as well as to record comments and suggestions expressed during consultations between NCA members and citizens.
  • Create a functioning electoral management body as soon as possible to ensure that in the case of a constitutional referendum, a credible, inclusive process can be conducted within the proposed time frames.
  • Improve communication with the media and Tunisian citizens by taking advantage of expert advice and financial support offered by the international community to strengthen outreach activities.
  • Encourage media representatives to provide substantive and balanced professional coverage of this important process, and to help bridge the gap between elected officials and their constituents.
  • Implement the provisions of the Rules of Procedure that foresee sanctions in case of repeated unjustified absences to encourage greater accountability and input on critical issues.
  • Ensure that plenary sessions of the NCA and commission debates are open to observers, and establish a formal, transparent, and objective accreditation system to grant access and observer status to civil society organizations and interested citizens.
  • Publish and disseminate in a timely manner all NCA official documents — minutes, reports, decisions, and submissions — including by posting them on its website.

Following its observation of the Constituent Assembly elections, The Carter Center remained in Tunisia to follow the constitution drafting process and developments related to the establishment of institutional and legal frameworks for subsequent elections. The Center is assessing these processes against Tunisia's national laws and international treaty obligations to which the country has obligated itself, including, among others, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

This report presents the Carter Center's findings and recommendations based on meetings with a wide range of stakeholders including NCA members and administrative staff, political parties' representatives, civil society organizations, and Tunisian academics. Furthermore, the Center's staff attended some commission meetings and plenary sessions of the NCA. The Center appreciates the commitment demonstrated by all interlocutors in sharing information and discussing potential areas for improvement, and acknowledges that Tunisia's October 2011 election of the NCA tasked with drafting a new constitution is a milestone for the country's transition to democracy.

Read the Carter Center's full report: En français |  عربي |  In English

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"Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope."
The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide. A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, the Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 70 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers to increase crop production. Visit 
www.cartercenter.orgto learn more about The Carter Center.

Translations

Le Centre Carter salue les efforts de l'Assemblée nationale constituante dans l'avancement de ses travaux et invite à une participation et sensibilisation accrues du public et à davantage de transparence

ﻣﺮﻛﺰ ﻛﺎرﺗﺮ ﯾﺸﯿﺪ ﺑﺎﻟﺠﮭﻮد اﻟﺘﻲ ﯾﺒﺬﻟﮭﺎ اﻟﻤﺠﻠﺲ اﻟﻮطﻨﻲ اﻟﺘﺄﺳﯿﺴﻲ ﻋﻠﻰ ﻣﺴﺘﻮى ﺗﻘﺪم اﻷﻋﻤﺎل و ﯾﺪﻋﻮ إﻟﻰ ﺗﻔﻌﯿﻞ أﻛﺒﺮ ﻟﻤﺸﺎرﻛﺔ و ﺗﻮﻋﯿﺔ اﻟﻤﻮاطﻨﯿﻦ و إﻟﻰ ﻣﺰﯾﺪ ﻣﻦ اﻟﺸﻔﺎﻓﯿﺔ

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