Tunisia must restore judicial watchdog: UN, Western envoys

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Western envoys to Tunisia and the UN rights chief urged President Kais Saied on Tuesday to restore a key judicial watchdog, warning that scrapping it threatens the rule of law.

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Saied dissolved the Supreme Judicial Council (CSM) on Sunday, months after sacking the government and seizing wide-reaching powers in the North African country, often lauded as the only democracy to emerge from the 2011 Arab revolts.

“This has been a big step in the wrong direction,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement, adding that the move “is in clear violation of Tunisia’s obligations under international human rights law.”

In Tunis, the envoys of the G7 nations and the European Union said they were “deeply concerned about the announcement of the intention to unilaterally dissolve (the CSM), whose mission is to ensure the sound functioning of the justice system and respect for its independence.”

“A transparent, independent and efficient judiciary and the separation of powers are essential for a functioning democracy that serves its people,” they said in a joint statement.

The council had been mandated to ensure the functioning of justice and the independence of the judiciary, as well as appointing judges.

The UN rights office pointed out that its establishment in 2016 had been seen as a major advance for the rule of law, separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary in Tunisia.

On Monday, Tunisian police blocked access to the council, preventing members and staff from entering the premises, a move its chief Youssef Bouzakher said was “illegal.”

Saied, whose supporters say his July 25 power grab was necessary after a decade of misgovernance, vowed Monday he would “never interfere with the judiciary,” and said scrapping the body had been necessary.

He had repeatedly accused judges on the body of corruption.

Critics say the former law professor has pushed the country down a dangerous slope towards autocracy.

Bachelet also lamented that online hate campaigns and threats had been directed at the council’s members, and called for all necessary measures to be taken to ensure their safety.

She said that since July, “there have been increasing attempts to stifle dissent, including through harassment of civil society actors.”

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