Human Lives Human Rights: The Tunisian authorities must halt the implementation, pending amendment, of a new Covid-19 decree-law that will deny anyone aged 18 or above without a vaccine pass access to many public and private spaces, ban them from working in public-sector or salaried private-sector jobs, and – if they are Tunisian citizens – bar them from traveling abroad.
The restrictive law is set to come into force on 22 December for six months. Although some aspects of the pass, align with international law and World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, rights groups call on authorities to amend provisions that violate the rights to work and freedom of movement as guaranteed by international law.
After the health crisis this summer, the population of Tunisia enjoys far greater access to vaccines, but not all people enjoy the same access to public healthcare or vaccines.
In seeking to limit the spread of Covid-19, the Tunisian authorities must only introduce restrictions that are necessary and proportionate for the protection of public health.
Rights group say that the Tunisian authorities must not implement the new decree-law until they have amended it to ensure the vaccine pass requirements do not violate international human rights law by needlessly threatening the livelihoods of Tunisians and inflicting unduly harsh penalties for non-compliance.
The new decree-law, bans public sector and salaried private sector employees from working until they are able to obtain a vaccine pass, with their employers ordered not to pay wages for during the period of suspension.
The authorities are also mandated to order businesses that fail to enforce the vaccine pass requirements, with the exception of private health facilities, to close for up to 15 days.
These penalties could unreasonably undermine the livelihoods of those penalized and their families, especially considering the fact that Tunisia is already suffering from a severe economic crisis.
Public healthcare infrastructure is uneven across the country and weaker in some poorer regions, which affects access to vaccines.
The Tunisian authorities have said the vaccine pass aims to help “bring about collective immunity“, yet they have not offered a clear, widely communicated, science-based rationale to justify vaccine pass requirements as per Decree-Law 2021-1 as opposed to less restrictive measures.
According to WHO guidance on Covid-19 vaccine mandates and vaccine pass requirements, governments should provide clear reasoning behind these policies to help build public trust and address any ethical questions that arise through consultation with the public, especially representatives of those likely to be most affected.
Instead of intimidating people and tightening the noose around their daily lives, the Tunisian authorities should opt for effective communication strategies and public outreach to encourage people to get vaccinated by choice.
The decree-law also requires Tunisian citizens aged 18 and above to show a vaccine pass to travel outside the country. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Tunisia has ratified, any limitation on the right to freedom of movement must be necessary to achieve a legitimate aim, proportionate, provided by law and must not violate other rights guaranteed by the ICCPR.
This requirement is clearly not a legitimate limitation on freedom of movement under international law, because it is unjustified and unfairly restrictive.
WHO guidance on international travel during the Covid-19 pandemic states that governments should not impose blanket travel restrictions based on proof of vaccination, and should opt instead for risk-based measures such as testing for Covid-19, imposing quarantine on incoming travellers, or requiring arrivals to present a negative Covid-19 test result.
The authorities should also establish a transparent mechanism for the frequent review of their vaccine pass policy based on the latest scientific research, Tunisia’s obligations under international human rights law and WHO recommendations, and then communicate the findings clearly and transparently to the public.