Co-Written by Noah Rayman
The Tunisian Ministry of Justice fired back at Human Rights Watch earlier this month following a scathing report on the state of Tunisia’s judiciary branch.
The U.S. based NGO criticized the government for the “unfair and arbitrary” firing last May of 75 judges under suspicions of corruption, accusing the judiciary of being beholden to the executive branch and the ruling Ennadhda party.
The ministry responded on November 1 with a four-page, point-by-point rebuttal that claimed the Human Rights Watch report was incomprehensive and inaccurate.
“Human Rights Watch issued its statement without unfortunately hearing the views of Ministry of Justice representatives or knowing theirs [sic] viewpoints,” the document asserted. “The HRW statement includes a number of inaccurate legal points and details.”
Others contend that the government’s response is filled with legal jargon and does not directly address Human Rights Watch’s concern regarding the transparency of the Justice Ministry’s dismissal process.
“Even if the aim is legitimate—to get rid of corruption—this is not the way to go about it,” said Amna Guellali, a Human Rights Watch researcher who authored the report. “The response of the ministry is misleading, and it’s more about form than substance.”
The Ministry of Justice fired 82 judges in May in an effort to systematically combat corruption and root out justices with allegiances to the former Ben Ali regime. Judges called for a general strike the following day, which led the ministry to form a review committee that ultimately reinstated nine of the justices.
In its subsequent investigation, Human Rights Watch interviewed ten of the dismissed judges, who claimed that the process of dismissal did not meet the basic international standards for a “fair and transparent process that is open to appeal.” The report called on the government to create an independent body capable of monitoring the dismissal of judges.
Nevertheless, Sayed Ferjani, an adviser to Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri, said that the Ministry followed the proper legal procedure in its investigation. He added that details of the individual cases were not circulated to protect the privacy of the justices involved.
“We are on track. We are currently implementing reforms to make sure that nobody who is corrupt gets away with it. The fight on corruption must be systematic.”
But some of the judges, interviewed by Human Rights Watch, said they would have preferred a public disclosure of the accusations.
“If the Ministry of Justice is sincere in basing decisions on serious accusations, it needs to put all of the evidence out there,” Guellali said.
“We still have exactly the same judiciary institution that was the strong arm of the Ben Ali regime. It is still under the purview of the executive branch.”