Tunisia in a continuous State of Emergency fails to uphold Women’s Rights

Published on 30 Mar 2020, 01:54 PM

Human Rights Committee – 128th session – March 2020

Men crowded into a small detention facility in Tunisia. Long pretrial detentions have led to overcrowding throughout the country. Yaël Goujon for NEON

On the 3rd and 4th of March 2020, Tunisia underwent its sixth periodic review by the Human Rights Committee on the implementation of the ICCPR. The last review of Tunisia by the Human Rights Committee was in 2008, before the Arab spring. The Head of the Delegation mentioned the 2010 revolution and the critical efforts that Tunisia’s Civil Society played in this democratic revolution.

The Delegation started this conversation by noting their accomplishments since that last review. One of their first reforms was lifting all restrictions relevant to CEDAW because they believed in the key role to be played by women in developing peace. Additionally, they noted their further ratification of many international human rights instruments and their peaceful and smooth alteration of power after the 2014 parliamentary and presidential elections. Although they are proud of the progress that has been made, the delegation knows “that there are still areas for improvement in our legislative and institutional system” and that they are “still far from having enshrined all the rights and freedom that we need to.”

Among the concerns raised by the Committee were discrimination against women, torture and conditions of detention. Additionally, they discussed the continuous state of emergency, violence against women, independence of the judiciary, racial discrimination and human trafficking. 

As for corruption, there was considerable time devoted to the Anti-Corruption Authority in Tunisia. Specifically, how this body functions, the number of corruption cases and the safeguards that are in place.

The webcast is available here: Part 1 and Part 2.

"Our commitments to international conventions...compels us to pinpoint gaps and weak points with a view to completing the democratic transition, all of this against a difficult democratic backdrop."

- Head of Delegation

Women’s Rights

Today in Tunisia gender-based violence and discrimination still persist. Of the registered violence against women cases, only 515 individuals (1.4%) of the perpetrators were arrested. This statistic was worrying to the Committee because of the high number of perpetrators and the coinciding low number of arrests in relation. The Committee was also concerned by the low rates of participation by women in the public sphere. The Committee wondered whether this was a direct correlation to feelings of stigmatization in society and their lack of protections from the federal government. More specifically, the Committee asked how many women are working as judges and prosecutors, their underrepresentation in the media and in the 2019 elections.

The Delegation noted their new law from 2017 to end violence against women and girls. This was a landmark law which provided many new protections for women and girls. Additionally, they established a 24/7 hotline to receive complaints and provide advice to children and women in vulnerable groups. But the Committee was concerned about what financial resources were devoted to the provisions and instruments set out in this act? As for the representation of women in the public sector, Tunisia claimed that 45% of judges were women. Whereas the Committee had received reports that women only represent 25% of parliament. The Delegation blamed the lack of women in the public sector to “women not submitting their applications given the difficult nature of the job”. This of course was not a sufficient answer for the Committee, and they requested more action in this area. 

Racial Discrimination

NGOs in Tunisia have documented that in one region of the country, there is segregation: there are buses reserved for white people and buses reserved for black people. Currently the Committee has no legal statistics on the number of trials or procedures, which have been opened on the basis of racial discrimination. The Committee was extremely worried by these discoveries and pressured the Delegation to take action against this rampant racial discrimination in their country. They asked generally whether the State is drafting a general law on discrimination in domestic law, regardless of the reason for that discrimination? More specifically the Committee requested data for the way in which Tunisia is rolling out means to combat discrimination on the ground. Additionally, the Committee suggested that the parliament amend the criminal code to make sure that any offence that is grounded on racial hatred is considered an aggravated offence. 

The Delegation in response to questions about the crime of racial discrimination said that the law does criminalize discrimination on the grounds of color, but it is not considered an aggravated offence. Basic law 50 of 2015 defines the offence of racial discrimination with a particular status as an offence in itself. Additionally, the delegation seemed hesitant to admit that racial discrimination existed in their country. They gave anecdotes of traveling to areas of the country where racial discrimination was occurring according to the Committee and reporting that no such racial discrimination existed in that area. Additionally, they spoke of how many black Tunisians are in the parliament, in judiciary, celebrities and artists. Overall, the Committee still required concrete data to determine the actual level of racial discrimination which is evident in the country and could not rely on short stories. 


NGOs reported that in 2017, roughly 21,634 individuals were detained across the country and 51% of the prisoners are awaiting trial to this day and that many of the facilities are running 200% over capacity. This many people in prison makes it very hard for prison staff to provide necessary services like quality healthcare and food. Also, since 2013 there have been on average 34 suspicious deaths in prisons a year. The Committee asked the delegation for more information on the number of deaths in detention facilities, the investigations and the outcome of those investigations. Additionally, what measures have been taken to reduce the number of deaths in prison? 

The Delegation responded to questions about pre-trial detention and arrests by saying that the same rules applied in their country be there a state of emergency or not. It is the criminal code that governs procedures here. Although they did admit that a certain number of exceptional decisions may of course be taken, in a state of emergency, but this must be done in keeping with all safeguards. They claimed that their goal was to counter terrorism and the threat thereof. Additionally, the Delegation claimed to have greatly improved the conditions of detention after 2015. The ICRC and NGOs have undertaken many visits to the places of detention and the state is working on a project to better deal with detainees during detention. In general, the Committee required more information on this subject and statistics to prove how effective their measures have been. 

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

The State party is requested to provide, by 27 March 2022, information on the following recommendations from the Committee’s Concluding Observations.

Freedom of peaceful assembly and excessive use of force by public officials

The State party should:

  • Ensure that the laws and regulations governing the use of force are in accordance with the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and the use of firearms by law enforcement officials, and ensure that the security forces apply non-violent measures before any use of force, during the control of demonstrations, and respect the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and accountability;
  • Ensure that impartial and thorough investigations are carried out promptly on all allegations of excessive use of force or extrajudicial executions by state agents during protests, that officials are prosecuted and, if found guilty, punished, and that the victims obtain reparation.

State of emergency and fight against terrorism

The State party should:

  • Consider ceasing the continuous extension of the state of emergency;
  • Speed up the process of adopting a law that is consistent with the provisions of article 4 of the Covenant and general comment No. 29 of the Committee;
  • Guaranteeing the rule of law and respect for non-derogable rights enshrined in the Covenant during the state of emergency. Put an end to the misuse of house arrest, restrictions on freedom of movement and violations of the right to privacy.

Constitutional Court

The State party should finalize the establishment of the Constitutional Court and make the necessary changes to Organic Law No. 2015-50 so as to: 

  • Ensure the diversity of the members of the Court, in particular through adequate representation of different political opinions, in order to guarantee their independence and impartiality, as well as their credibility with the public; 
  • Ensure that the members of the Court have the skills and knowledge necessary to enable them to function effectively, individually and collectively, and better define the conditions for their dismissal; 
  • Allow any individual, in case of violation of their rights, to access the Court to raise questions of the constitutionality of laws.

The next constructive dialogue with the State party will take place in 2028 in Geneva. 


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