Salim Al-Lughmani: Individual Rights and Freedoms Priority

2018-06-19    |   

Salim Al-Lughmani: Individual Rights and Freedoms Priority

Editor’s note: On August 13, 2017, which marks Tunisian Women's Day, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi called for taking serious steps to ensure equal inheritance rights between men and women. Essebsi underlined the need to form a committee to take charge of this issue. Indeed, a presidential decree was issued to form an advisory committee under the name: the Individual Freedoms and Equality Committee (COLIBE). This body was expected to write a report within five months of its formation. The report should include all Tunisian laws that violate the concept of equality and constitute an obstacle to guaranteeing individual rights and freedoms. It should also propose ways to achieve equality and guarantee more rights and freedoms, in legal terms.

Due to the importance of such a committee and the controversy its report can create in Tunisia and the Arab world, The Legal Agenda’s Yasmine Hajar spoke to legal researcher and Public Law Professor Salim Al-Lughmani on the committee. The interview took place in the wake of the committee’s decision to postpone submitting the report to the presidency until after municipal elections for fear of any politicization of its proposals. The Legal Agenda also asked Al-Lughmani about the democratic process in Tunisia and the political awareness of Tunisians.


YH: What will be the focus of COLIBE’s work?

Al-Lughmani: The name of the committee says it all. The work will focus on individual rights and freedoms on the one hand and equality on the other. Equality in inheritance is one of the most complicated issues but it is not the main topic nor the only one we will cover.

The importance of individual freedoms and rights is to revive the idea of ​​the individual within Tunisian society. In our Tunisian and Arab cultures, the individual has been neglected in favor of the group. The latter can be a family, society, or nation. Unfortunately, the culture does not uphold the existence of the individual as an independent being. Rather, our societies focus on political, cultural, social, and economic freedoms as a collective.

Therefore – in the presence of this committee – we must work today on raising awareness of individual rights and freedoms, firstly as a mechanism to protect the individual as an independent being with a body, intellect, beliefs and conscience, and secondly [to protect] their freedom to privacy. The protection of the individual’s private life is completely absent in our [contemporary] Arab [social culture]. There is no understanding of the concept of: ​​“as long as I did not break the law by infringing on the freedoms and rights of others; as long as I did not use violence; and as long as I exercise freedom within my boundaries, the state must not interfere”. This concept is stipulated in the text of the Constitution and international conventions.

We should not only view this from a legal perspective, but also from a sociological point of view. The change that would include freedoms and rights may affect the beliefs of the majority of people, but it will not affect the beliefs of the individual who exercises a certain act. Everyone is free in their practices. If some freedoms and rights contradict your beliefs then don’t practice them. However, you do not have the right to deprive others of practicing them.

As far as equality is concerned, it is not just limited to equality in inheritance. Gender equality must be recognized in Tunisian law. But what about children, minorities and people with special needs? Equality in inheritance is also an aspect that we must address regarding equality between men and women. What about the dowry as a prerequisite to the validity of marriage? The dowry in Tunisian mentality is a tradition. The committee, for example, could keep the dowry because of its connection to Tunisian traditions but ensure that it no longer be a condition for the validity of marriage.


YH: What is the authoritative basis that COLIBE relies on for its work?

Al-Lughmani: COLIBE was established by a decision of the [country’s] president on August 13, 2017. It was assigned to prepare a report on the reforms related to individual freedoms and equality. The presidential decree stated that the committee must base its work on the provisions of the 2014 Constitution, international conventions, and contemporary trends in the fields of individual rights, freedoms and equality.

There was no mention of Islamic law [Sharia] in the presidential order. However, pursuant to Article 1 of the 2014 Constitution which states that Islam is an integral part of Tunisia and its people, Essebsi stressed that the proposed reforms should take into account that “the people of Tunisia are Muslims and Tunisia is a civil state”. In other words, that we should take into account Islamic values ​​and beliefs in our work and proposals.

In Tunisia, Islamic law does not have a binding legal status. All that is Islamic is limited to popular values, ​​and not more. COLIBE has talked to many parties and civil society components of different intellectual affiliations. We also met with professors from the University of Ez-Zitouna who also have different intellectual and ideological views. Some advocate change, but there are many who tend to embrace extreme views and reject the idea of ​​change.


YH: What is the main objective behind the work of COLIBE? Is it to achieve full gender equality?

Al-Lughmani: Equality in inheritance is not the only matter that we are tasked to achieve. As I mentioned earlier, one of the basic components we should take into account is the Islamic culture of the Tunisian people. Our goal is towards equality and placing the Tunisian state on this path. However, will we reach full equality in our report? This is actually constitutionally required, but it is not the only possibility that the committee’s report may cover. We will not limit the president to only one solution or choice. We will present several suggestions. Full equality is one solution. However, we can suggest moderate equality where we can move towards full equality in the future. This is still a subject of discussion and contemplation among COLIBE members.


YH: In your opinion, what will Ennahda’s position on the report be, especially in light of COLIBE’s adoption of an advanced discourse regarding individual rights and freedoms?

Al-Lughmani: Indeed, the statements made by Ennahda’s leaders show that the movement does not categorically reject equality and individual rights and freedoms. However, how far will it go in accepting this at the political level? What does Ennahda consider as “red lines”? We do not know. I don’t think the movement will announce any position before the report and the president's decision is issued. I think their reaction will depend on what will be proposed. Will they go far in terms of “updating” [existing laws]? This will also depend on how far we go as a committee to achieve equality, rights and freedoms.


YH: In your opinion, to what extent will Tunisian society accept this renewal?

Al-Lughmani: With regard to the issues we have addressed, the reaction of society will vary from one issue to another. The three issues that are expected to raise a great debate in society are the human’s right to life, namely abolition of the death penalty; the issue of homosexuals and the decriminalization of homosexuality; and the issue of equality in inheritance.


YH: As the process of establishing the foundations of democracy proceeds, what is your assessment of the political and rights-based awareness of Tunisian citizens?

Al-Lughmani: At the level of establishing the mechanisms of democracy, we have taken great and serious strides. The best example of this were the elections we conducted in Tunisia. These elections were very pluralistic, transparent and open, and monitored by an independent body.

The next municipal elections are expected to be at the same level of pluralism and democracy. This is one of the basic achievements of democracy. However, democracy is not only mechanisms but ethics and values. For example, democracy has taught us that mistakes always exist and that humans are fallible. Therefore, one cannot propose an idea they believe in and impose it on others. We are still somewhat behind in this regard. There must be a time to establish democracy as a system of ethics and values, not just mechanisms.


This article is an edited translation from Arabic.


Keywords: Tunisia, Democracy, COLIBE, Salim Al-Lughmani

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