TUNIS - Tunisia's draft constitution still lacks full provision for human rights despite making some progress, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday in a letter to the National Constituent Assembly.

The US-based watchdog said that it wrote urging the interim parliament to "amend those articles of the second draft of the constitution that risk undermining human rights."

Such articles include "a broad formulation of permissible limitations on rights and freedoms, weak guarantees for the independence of the judiciary, immunity for the head of state, and discrimination based on religion," it said.

Tunisia's assembly made the second draft of the new constitution public on December 14, but it is still being negotiated between the Islamist ruling Ennahda party and its allies and the opposition.

HRW said there was "no explicit mention of the international framework of human rights or to 'universal human rights,' in contrast to the previous constitution."

It said this fails to situate rights freedoms "in their universally understood meaning and risks opening the door to divergent interpretations incompatible with universally recognised human rights."

But HRW also cited as positive the fact that the draft drops "the criminalisation of all attacks on 'the sacred' and the criminalisation of any form of 'normalisation' with 'Zionism and the Zionist state'."

It also said the new draft "contains language that better protects equal rights for women."

In its letter, signed by HRW's Middle East and North Africa executive director Sarah Leah Whitson, the watchdog said immunity accorded to the head of state was excessive.

"While immunity laws are commonplace for elected officials while they hold office, they should be worded so as to exclude lifetime immunity from prosecution for grave human rights abuses and international crimes," it said.

It also recommended that a "draft provision that discriminates among citizens by requiring that the President of the Republic be a Muslim" be removed as it is a form of discrimination.

On judicial independence, the draft's "ambiguous formulation" could "lead judges and legislators to ignore Tunisia’s international obligations on the basis that they contradict the new constitution," HRW said.