Question to Commission over Obstruction of EU Human Rights Funding in Tunisia

Chairwoman Hautala presented a question to the Commission on 26th of October concerning problems in EU’s funding of human rights activities in Algeria and Tunisia and enquired the EU position to the controversial amendment to the Tunisian Penal Code.[:]

Ms Hautala made the first question about the funding via European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights; Great concern remains over the management and effectiveness of the EIDHR funding in Tunisia and Algeria. There are several reports that the civil society has not either received the funding or it has been withdrawn. Not only is the funding vital for the human rights activists and independent organisations to carry out their work, but this can have drastic implications for their personal safety. She asked if the Commission could explain how this funding has met its targets in those countries, what the cause of any problems might be and how the Commission plans to tackle such problems does.

The Commission explained that they try to engage with Tunisia and Algeria as much as possible on human rights. Funding of human rights activities has, however, wielded mixed results, the representative agreed. In Tunisia the Commission has faced significant difficulties and constraints while in Algeria the funding has succeeded better. Supporting Tunisian human rights activists has got practically extremely difficult and for this reason the Commission has had to resort to supporting Tunisian human rights groups that are based outside the country. He assured the Chairwoman that EU raises the difficulties in its human rights dialogue with Tunisia.

Secondly, Ms Hautala made enquiries concerning the new Penal Code in Tunisia; Obstructing the EIDHR funding is closely linked to Tunisia’s new Criminal Law legislation as they both aim to stifle independent civil society. Additions to Article 61bis of the Penal Code prohibit anyone from harming Tunisia’s “economic security” and Justice and Human Rights Minister Lazhar Bououni has explained that “harming Tunisia’s vital interests” included “inciting foreign parties not to grant loans to Tunisia, not to invest in the country, to boycott tourism or to sabotage Tunisia’s efforts to obtain advanced partner status with the European Union.”
Amendment to the penal code targets the independent civil society and human rights activists who lobby foreign bodies, such as the European Union, to put pressure on the Tunisian authorities to improve its human rights record. She thus wanted to know how the Commission plans to respond to the amendment to the Penal Code.

The Commission representative noted that while in Tunisia there have been great difficulties already before, the new Penal Code will have potentially detrimental effect. He informed Ms Hautala that the EU has taken the matter up via its Delegation in Tunis and that Mr Stefan Fule, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy has also expressed concern over the amendments. He further added that the Commission will continue to monitor the developments closely.