The Avocats Sans Frontières team is delighted to present its latest annual report.
We have come a long way since ASF was founded in 1992 by a group of Belgian lawyers. Over these 30 years, hundreds of people have contributed to making the organisation what it is today: a militant organisation active in a dozen countries, working to promote access to justice and the rule of law based on human rights, in close collaboration with local actors.
These thirty years of action, the local roots we have developed and the links we have forged with human rights defenders from the four corners of the world give us a great deal of strength and confidence as we look to the future and continue to deploy impactful action in the service of populations in vulnerable situations (women, children, the LGBTQI+ community, ethnic minorities, people in detention, people in migration, etc.).
But the challenges are many. All over the world, civil society organisations and human rights defenders are faced with worrying developments and trends: the rise of authoritarianism, the shrinking of civic space, growing public distrust of institutions, heightened social tensions, etc.
Defenders of human rights and access to justice have to work in contexts that are increasingly hostile to them. The very notions of human rights and the rule of law are being called into question. Activists, lawyers and journalists working to defend the fundamental rights of populations in vulnerable situations are increasingly systematically targeted by repressive policies.
Every page of this report bears witness to the vigour of the flame that drives those who are committed to upholding human rights at the very heart of our societies, at the risk and peril of their own freedom. This report is a tribute to each and every one of them.
At the 10th ExPEERience Talk, Nadia Ben Halim (consultant) and Zeineb Mrouki (Programme coordinator at ASF Tunisie) will present a study on corporate responsibility with regard to human rights in the textile sector in the governorate of Monastir in Tunisia.
The textile industry is now worth 3,000 billion dollars and is one of the world’s most important economic sectors. In Tunisia, clothing production accounts for a quarter of the country’s industrial output in terms of gross domestic product, making it a central sector of the Tunisian economy. However, for years, human rights organisations and official reports have documented systemic violations of workers’ rights (undignified working conditions, informal and illegal work, etc.). Among the companies guilty of flagrant violations of workers’ rights are many subcontractors of multinational companies. These systematically fail to meet their obligations and apply the duty of care throughout the supply chain, as required by international standards.
The study, based on documentary research, field surveys and, in particular, consultations with women workers in the textile sector in the governorate of Monastir, reveals systematic violations of workers’ rights, including the lack of social security cover, unfair dismissals, failure to account for overtime, and discrimination specifically targeting women. Recommendations are made to combat the impunity of companies in the face of the legal violations they commit.
This study is part of the PREVENT – Pour une Responsabilité et une Vigilance des Entreprises project, carried out in collaboration by Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF), the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) and I Watch. In particular, this project has led to the establishment of a mechanism to provide access to information and legal assistance to those most exposed to violations by industrial companies, particularly in the textile sector.
The study will be published on the ASF website at the end of June. You can already read the policy brief on the ASF website: “Les travailleueur‧euse‧s du textile tunisien en quête de dignité et de justice face à des pratiques abusives et discriminatoires”.
This article was written as part of ASF’s 2022 annual report, which will soon be available on ASF’s website.
Justice ExPEERience is an international network of actors active in the promotion of human rights on all five continents. It is above all a collaborative network, in which members are invited to share their experiences and expertise, but also to work together, in coalitions or communities of practice, on concrete projects for monitoring human rights violations, strategic litigation or advocacy actions.
More than a year after its launch, the Justice ExPEERience network has over 400 members. Among them are activists, lawyers, researchers, members of civil society, etc. who work in the fields of justice and human rights promotion. ASF’s ambition is to create an environment that allows all these actors to collaborate and mutually strengthen their expertise and capacities.
This is why ASF has started to develop in 2021 the digital platform Justice ExPEERience. This digital tool allows the network to be animated and structured. This is where exchanges take place, where learning between peers from different regions becomes possible, where working groups are formed and where collaborations are developed.
In order to guarantee the security of its members and the confidentiality of the information shared on Justice ExPEERience, the data is hosted directly on ASF’s servers and does not transit through the servers of big digital companies. To promote multi-country networking and meet the needs of as many actors as possible, Justice ExPEERience is a multilingual platform: its interface is currently available in German, English, Arabic, French and Portuguese; and posted content and news can be translated into other languages using an instant translation tool. In 2022, the platform was also developed as a mobile application, downloadable and usable on smartphones, to make it more accessible in all contexts.
On Justice ExPEERience, all members can share information, news and interact like on a social network, on human rights issues; but they can also share documentation and collaborate directly online, in a secure way, on documents. Different collaborative spaces are available on the platform, on specific themes or projects: the platform hosts 250 collaborative spaces, including 20 public spaces dedicated to the exchange and sharing of thematic information between all members of the network. The members of Justice ExPEERience are therefore invited to collaborate not only on public sharing spaces, open to the whole network, but also on confidential private spaces strictly reserved for members working on a common project.
Justice ExPEERience Community(ies)
In these different spaces, network members can work together in coalitions or communities of practice, maintaining the desired level of openness or confidentiality of their work. In 2022, Justice ExPEERience has developed several communities of practice, consisting of civil society actors implementing projects in different countries. They deploy and coordinate joint actions for monitoring human rights violations (in different countries), strategic litigation (national or transnational) or advocacy (at local, regional or international level). In the confidential spaces dedicated to them, the communities of practice have a shared and collaborative library, which the members enrich, in order to encourage the horizontal dissemination of expertise and learning between peers. This sharing of expertise and information also takes place in the thematic spaces open to all members, making Justice ExPEERience itself an international and multi-sectoral community of practice.
In order to energise the network and foster exchanges between its members, ExPEERience Talks are organised every month to promote the dissemination of expertise and knowledge. They are webinars during which network members present a research, a project, a tool or an analysis related to the promotion of human rights and justice. In 2022, 5 ExPEERience Talks took place, on topics as varied as the trajectories of Tunisian migrants repatriated from Italy, the governance of natural resources in Uganda and the DRC, penal practices in the CAR, or the scope and impact of the decisions of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Each month, information on new research, activities and events of the network is shared in a newsletter, The ExPEERience Letter.
Justice ExPEERience has the ambition to develop further in 2023: attracting new members, enriching the creation and sharing of expertise through its platform but also its Talks and newsletter, developing new collaborations – especially transnational -, opening up to partnerships with external actors and improving the platform and its tools to better meet the needs of its members. Justice ExPEERience will be the subject of a tech-demo at the international summit for digital and human rights, RightsCon, in June 2023.
For this 9th ExPEERience Talk, we are delighted to welcome Céline Bardet, founder of the organisation We are NOT Weapons of War (WWOW) whose mandate is to fight sexual violence in conflicts, in particular against rape as a weapon of war. She will talk about the importance, in the face of these issues, of support – particularly legal – for victims, but also of awareness-raising and advocacy on a global scale.
During this Talk, Céline Bardet will present the development process of the Back Up project, launched by WWOW in 2018. This project aims to address the three major challenges posed by war rape: the inability for victims to access appropriate services; the lack of coordination of the professionals involved; and the lack of reliable data on the extent of sexual violence in conflicts. It is a digital tool, accessible on mobile phones, encrypted and secure, which allows victims to report and transmit evidence, and professionals involved to better coordinate. After an initial pilot phase, Back Up is now being deployed in several countries, including Ukraine and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This Talk will be an opportunity to present the genesis of the project, as well as the development and functioning of the tool. What was the process used to make it a tool that best meets the real needs of victims and that can be easily used by everyone, even in the most fragile contexts? How can we ensure the security of the data collected andthe security of the victims? What is the process for the appropriation of the tool, in wartime contexts, by local partners and victims? Céline Bardet will discuss the development methodology and the scope of this digital project, which serves not only the victims but also the collection of evidence and data and, ultimately, advocacy against sexual violence in conflicts.
Tunisia: From a state of exception to a populist and authoritarian turn
Tunisia was considered the democratic exception in the region after the Arab revolutions of 2011 until the activation of article 80 by President Saied on 25 July 2021. That day, the country entered a state of exception (suspension of parliament, dismissal of the head of government and the President’s takeover of the executive and legislative branches) and it generated a rule of law crisis that now threatens to put an end to Tunisia’s democratic transition process.
This authoritarian turn, the end of the separation of powers, ratified by the new Constitution voted one year later (July 2022) by less than a third of the electorate, has been accompanied by increasing and major attacks on the rule of law and on rights and freedoms. The arbitrary dismissal of judges, the press and media being increasingly hindered, opponents, lawyers, trade unionists and journalists being prosecuted and arrested. Civic space is shrinking every day and civil society organisations seem to be the next target. The independent institutions created by the 2014 Constitution, such as the Supreme Council of the Magistracy (CSM), the Constitutional Review Body for draft legislation (IPCCPL) and the Anti-Corruption Commission (INLUCC) have also been meticulously dismantled. The ISIE, the body in charge of elections, which is now subservient to the government, organised legislative elections in December and January to which the overwhelming majority of Tunisians (89%) refused to participate. Finally, the rise in xenophobia, fuelled by the President’s racist and conspiratorial remarks in February 2023, has generated an unprecedented wave of violence against black people, mainly sub-Saharan migrants.
Furthermore, an economic and social crisis continues to worsen, generating impoverishment and the departure, at the risk of their lives, of many Tunisians and migrants from the coast. The country is also still struggling to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the prospect of default is getting dangerously close.
Since 25 July 2021, ASF and the members of the Alliance Sécurité et Libertés have been monitoring the consequences of President Kais Saied’s actions on the situation of the rule of law and freedoms in Tunisia. Through a qualitative and quantitative analysis, four periodic bulletins have already been published 50, 100, 200 and 365 days after 25 July 2021. The next bulletin to be published, which will cover developments since the vote on the new Constitution unilaterally drafted by President Saied, will offer an analysis of the serious deterioration of the country’s situation in recent months.
The analysis of the political and institutional landscape (I) will focus on the new distribution of powers under the 2022 Constitution, the massive abstention in the last year’s elections following electoral processes that flouted all standards of free elections and the emergence of new institutions of dubious legitimacy and independence, as well as on the situation of the judiciary and the socio-economic crisis the country is going through.
Rights and Freedoms (II) will address the instrumentalisation of justice against opponents of the regime, the repression of the press and media and of trade union work, as well as the migration situation in Tunisia and the massive violence suffered by black people in the country.
Finally, the positioning (III) will analyse the recompositions of the Tunisian political scene and their positions regarding the President’s “roadmap”. It will also analyse foreign reactions to the regime’s excesses as well as Tunisia’s diplomatic policy, in particular its efforts at rapprochement with the Arab states and Italy.
How did it come to this? What is the state of resistance to these abuses? What are the prospects for the future?
In order to provide answers to these questions and provide an analysis of the authoritarian turn in Tunisia, we will welcome Lamine Benghazi (programme coordinator for ASF in Tunisia) and Mahdi Elleuch (coordinator of the research department for Legal Agenda in Tunis) on Thursday 30 March for our 8th ExPEERience Talk. Entitled “Authoritarian drift in Tunisia: diagnosis and power mapping“, this Talk will take the form of a dialogue between our two guests, followed by an exchange with the participants, concerning the current situation in Tunisia, its stakes and its consequences, based on the analysis carried out within the framework of the report “500 days after article 80” which will be published soon.
The Alliance Sécurité et Libertés (ASL) is an alliance of Tunisian and international civil society organisations based in Tunisia which, in the continuity of the Revolution of Freedom and Dignity, reflects, mobilises and acts so that Tunisia consolidates the construction of a democratic state whose public policies are at the service of the citizens guaranteeing peace, respect for their human rights and equality between all.
Find all the reports of the Alliance Sécurité et Libertés. The report ‘500 days after Article 80’ is currently being written and will be available soon.