Mohammed Yassine Jamali carefully laid out brochures and leaflets on the table at a stand in downtown Kairouan, Tunisia, on 10 October last year. People started to approach him as the day went by and asked questions. One visitor asked him: “What do you mean by administrative justice?”
Mohammed, a young volunteer from a local NGO Mourakiboun, answered the question attentively and showed the visitor a colourful guidebook in Arabic. Administrative justice refers to the protection of the citizens' rights when it comes to state administration, and ensuring there is no unjust treatment against the people by public authorities. As Mohammed explained, another visitor asked a few more questions. Satisfied with the answer, they left the stand armed with new information.
“During the exchanges with people, it was clear that many of them are currently in situations that they need to take to the administrative court, and they don’t have much information on administrative justice,” said Mohammed.
Many of the visitors leave the stand aware of their rights to get administrative justice and settle administrative issues as a citizen, according to Mohammed. “We were surprised that many people participated and asked us questions. I think they realize it’s important to have the information,” he added.
The Campaign on Administrative Justice was launched by Democracy Reporting International (DRI) Tunisia in June 2021. Along with its partners, Mourakiboun, a Tunisian civil society organisation that focuses on election monitoring, and Tunisian Alternative Media (ATMA), the campaign aimed at increasing people’s awareness of their rights as citizens, as well as the use of fair and effective justice systems.
The campaign was done on three different levels: in the field, online, and on traditional media. Because of the pandemic and political situation which began in July last year, when President Kais Saeid announced the freezing of the Tunisian parliament, the field campaign only started in October 2021. It covers five different regions in Tunisia: Sousse, Sfax, Kairouan, Kasserine and Sidi Bouzid. The programme was designed based on a large-scale quantitative study conducted by a research company, One to One, in the five regions to assess citizens’ knowledge of administrative justice.
“The survey shows that 95.7% of the respondents are not sufficiently informed about administrative justice, while nearly 50% don’t even know about the existence of administrative courts,” said Haifa Mansouri, DRI Tunisia Project Officer. Out of all the respondents, only 9.2% have a basic knowledge of administrative justice and administrative court.
Tunisia began the process towards decentralisation after the 2011 revolution. The current constitution, drafted in 2014, guarantees comprehensive decentralisation. And in 2018, Tunisia held the first-ever full-democratic local elections. This also means that citizens will have to deal with the local administrative courts more often.
Within the Tunisian legal system, there are administrative, judiciary, and financial courts. The administrative court deals with administrative matters from social security to taxation, while the judiciary court deals with legal disputes between individuals. “But most people don’t even know the difference between the two,” said Haifa.
According to Rahma Bouhalli, Mourakiboun Project Manager, in addition to the quantitative study, they consulted with a few members of the public to gauge common information gaps and plan a more targeted campaign. “Then we moved on with the field campaigns. We chose spaces with high visibility, where there are a lot of crowds, for example in the market or downtown,” Rahma explained.
DRI Tunisia and its partners designed flyers and guidebooks on administrative justice with information that is easy to understand for the general public. “We distributed the flyers and factsheets during our field campaigns,” she said.
Meanwhile, DRI Tunisia worked with ATMA to implement the digital and media campaign. Mouna Trabelsi, the director of ATMA, said that they produced 12 weekly radio programmes, covering different topics related to administrative justice in each edition.
“We invited experts in the field, from lawyers to judges, and explain the problems with administrative justice. We gave examples and scenarios so that it’s easy for people to understand,” said Mouna.
She said that ATMA has platforms on social media and local radio stations. They also posted videos on Facebook and received a lot of views and reactions from their followers. “We produced a program about the field activities and broadcast it on our radio partners, ” Mouna added.
Haifa said the campaign has been successful so far in raising awareness of the citizens’ administrative rights. “I think that’s the first most important thing, that we have transformed a difficult issue that primarily concerns the legal elites and simplified it for the public,” she explained.
“Secondly, the campaign has reached the rural areas far from the city centre, where people have never heard about administrative tribunals. And people from these areas are the most vulnerable groups who might be deprived of their rights and in urgent need of access to justice,” said Haifa.