A general view shows Tunisia's Constituent Assembly, in Tunis on June 25, 2014. Tunisia's parliament agreed to hold parliamentary elections on October 26

© 2014 Reuters

(Tunis) – Political parties and candidates competing in Tunisia’s October 26, 2014, parliamentary elections should describe how they will promote human rights and legal and other reforms if elected, Human Rights Watch said today as it released a Human Rights Agenda for Tunisia. Human rights have received little attention from political parties and candidates as they prepare for Tunisia’s second parliamentary elections since the 2011 revolution.

“Tunisia’s 2014 Parliamentary Elections: A Human Rights Agenda” identifies six priority areas for the new government to resolve the rights abuses that have plagued Tunisia for decades. They are torture and other ill-treatment of detainees; discrimination and violence against women; lack of economic and social rights; judicial independence and freeing the courts from political manipulation; free speech rights; and the reform of drug laws under which thousands of young people have been jailed and prison capacities stretched almost to the breaking point. Political parties and candidates should make a commitment to address these issues in their election platforms.

“Parties and candidates running in Tunisia’s elections  have largely been using  slogans like  ‘social justice’ or ‘dignity for all’ to appeal to voters", said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The parties and candidates need to say very specifically what they plan to do to turn their lofty goals into reality.”

Tunisian parties and candidates owe it to their people to spell out precisely how they intend to build a better society in which women are equal to men, jobs are created and open to all, there is social justice, and the twin scourges of torture and impunity are eradicated, Human Rights Watch said.

In 2011, Tunisia held free elections for the first time, for a National Constituent Assembly. That body wrote the new constitution that the country adopted on January 27, 2014, which contains comprehensive rights guarantees. Tunisia has taken other positive steps, such as the creation of a High Authority for the Prevention of Torture, reforms to laws that formerly imposed improper constraints on the press, political parties and nongovernmental groups, and the appointment of a Truth and Dignity Commission to investigate and address past human rights violations.

The challenge for the new government will be to maintain momentum in pushing through the further reforms needed to achieve a genuine transition, Human Rights Watch said. The Human Rights Agenda, addressed to all political parties and candidates, sets out concrete steps for candidates to include in their platforms.

The agenda includes concrete recommendations and urges candidates to pledge to:

  • Prevent torture and other ill treatment and punishment through institutional and legal reforms;
  • Implement economic, social and cultural rights enshrined in the constitution especially through accountability and remedy mechanisms at the national and international levels;
  • Amend the personal status code to ensure equality in all aspects of family and private life;
  • Devise a comprehensive strategy to eradicate violence against women;
  • Support legislation to decriminalize speech offenses in Tunisian law;
  • Reform  the judicial system to ensure its independence; and
  • Amend law 52 on use of drugs to allow judges greater discretion in sentencing.

“Tunisian voters deserve to know where the various parties and candidates stand on human rights, what priority they will give them and what practical measures they will take, if elected, to implement reforms,” Goldstein said.