The Human Truth Foundation

Human Rights and Freedom in Tunisia

By Vexen Crabtree 2019

#human_rights #international_law #politics #tunisia #tunisia_human_rights

Tunisian Republic

[Country Profile Page]
StatusIndependent State
Social and Moral Index53rd best
LocationAfrica, The Mediterranean
Life Expectancy73.77yrs (2017)2

Tunisia is very poor at ensuring human rights and freedom compared to the rest of the world, and it has cultural issues when it comes to tolerance and equality. Tunisia comes in the best 20 in speed of uptake of HR treaties3 (the best in Africa). It does better than average when it comes to commentary in Human Rights Watch reports4 (amongst the highest in Africa), opposing gender inequality5 (one of the best in Africa) and in its nominal commitment to Human Rights6. Since finally removing the authoritarian Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has made some progress in supporting women's rights and improving detainee procedures7. From 2016, the Truth and Dignity Commission began hearing and airing complaints against human rights abuses7, helping to foster new era of dignity and responsibility towards fellow humans, although it has so far avoided the most serious kinds of complaints (for example, torture and high-level corruption). The 2014 constitution upholds many "key civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights"7. Tunisia does not succeed in everything, however. Tunisia does worse than average when it comes to the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators)8 (yet still one of the lowest in Africa), supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms9, supporting press freedom10 and in freethought11. And finally, it sits amongst the bottom 20 when it comes to its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice12 (amongst the worst in Africa) and in LGBT equality13. Some recent changes are worrying; granting amnesty for state officials previously accused of corruption7 can only ever cause further corruption in the future, leading to degradation of national life. The needless discriminatory law that criminalizes sodomy continues to result in prison spaces being filled by people who have done nothing other than conduct private and consensual sexual relations7.

1. Tunisia's Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance

#equality #gender_equality #human_rights #morals #politics #prejudice #tolerance

Compared to Africa (2020)14
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank14
1S. Africa56.1
10S. Sudan90.5
Africa Avg108.2
Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance (2020)14
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank14
94St Vincent & Grenadines89.2
96S. Sudan90.5
World Avg87.9

The best countries in the world at ensuring human rights, fostering equality and promoting tolerance, are Sweden, Norway and Denmark15. These countries are displaying the best traits that humanity has to offer. The worst countries are The Solomon Islands, Somalia and Tuvalu15.

The data sets used to calculate points for each country are statistics on commentary in Human Rights Watch reports, its nominal commitment to Human Rights, speed of uptake of HR treaties, supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms, supporting press freedom, eliminating modern slavery, opposing gender inequality, the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators), the year from which women could participate in democracy, its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice, LGBT equality and freethought. The regions with the best average results per country are Scandinavia, Baltic States and Europe15, whereas the worst are Melanesia, Micronesia and Australasia15.

For more, see:

Amnesty International's 2023-23 summary on human rights in Tunisia stated:

President Kaïs Saïed continued efforts to concentrate power in his hands following his power grab in 2021. He also issued decree-laws to dismantle key institutional safeguards for human rights, notably attacking judicial independence and the right to freedom of expression. Authorities used unlawful force to disperse protesters, and targeted high-profile critics and perceived enemies of the president with prosecutions and arbitrary detentions. The right to freedom of association was threatened. A decree-law to amend the electoral law undid legislative measures to promote women€s participation in parliament. Tunisia continued to penalize consensual same-sex relations between adults.

"The State of the World's Human Rights 2022/23" by Amnesty International (2023)16

Seven years after ousting its authoritarian president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia is still facing numerous challenges in consolidating human rights protection. [...]

On November 17 and 18, 2016, the Truth and Dignity Commission held the first public hearings of victims of human rights violations, which were aired live on national TV and radio stations. Since then, the commission has held 11 more hearings covering various human rights violations during the Ben Ali and Bourguiba presidencies, such as torture, abuses against union rights, sexual assault against women imprisoned for political reasons, and violations of economic rights.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)7

2. Human Rights & Tolerance

2.1. Human Rights Watch Comments


Human Rights Watch Comments
Higher is better4
52=Sri Lanka-2
52=S. Africa-2
Africa Avg-5.6
World Avg-1.9
(amongst the highest in Africa)Regarding commentary in Human Rights Watch reports, Tunisia comes 49th in the world.

Human Rights Watch comments concentrate mostly on negative issues, however, they also make positive comments for those countries that engage in human rights defence around the world, or who make improvements at home. By adding up positive and negative comments (including double-points for negatives that involve large scales and crimes against humanity), the Social and Moral Index turns HRW commentary into quantified values. Some countries may be unfairly penalized because HRW have not examined them, and, some countries "get away" with abuses if they manage to hide it, or if it goes unnoticed - a negative point has been given for those countries in which HRW specifically state that access to investigators has been barred. The points were limited to a minimum of -10 because there are some points at which things are so bad, with abuses affecting so many, it is difficult to be more specific about the depths of the issues.

2.2. Nominal Commitment to HR


Nominal Commitment to HR
Higher is better6
2=Costa Rica23
70=El Salvador18
76=Timor-Leste (E. Timor)17
Africa Avg14.8
World Avg15.1
Tunisia is 66th in the world regarding its nominal commitment to Human Rights.

There are many international agreements on human rights, and, many mechanisms by which countries can be brought to account for their actions. Together, these have been the biggest historical movement in the fight against oppression and inhumanity. Or, putting it another way: these are rejected mostly by those who wish to oppress inhumanely. None of them are perfect and many people object to various components and wordings, but, no-one has come up with, and enforced, better methods of controlling the occasional desires that states and peoples have of causing angst for other states and peoples in a violent, unjust or inhumane way. Points are awarded for the number of human rights agreements ratified by the country, plus the acceptance of the petition mechanisms for disputes. The maximum possible score in 2009 was 24.

2.3. HR Treaties Lag

#human_rights #international_law #micronesia #politics #small_islands

HR Treaties Lag
Lower is better3
Avg Yrs/Treaty3
5Costa Rica4.05
Africa Avg9.88
World Avg10.02
Tunisia ranks 3rd-best in the world in terms of speed of uptake of HR treaties.

Human Rights (HR) Treaties Lag is a count of how long it took each country to sign each of 11 key HR treaties. From the date of the first signatory of each treaty, all other countries have one point added to their score for each day they delayed in signing. Results are presented as average time in years to sign each one. The lower a country's score, the more enthusiastically it has taken on international Human Rights Treaties - which are, of course, minimal standards of good governance. The slowest are the countries of Micronesia, Melanesia, Australasia and Polynesia all lagged by over 12 years per treaty. The best regions are The Americas, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.

For more, see:

2.4. Personal, Civil & Economic Freedom

#freedom #politics

Personal, Civil & Economic Freedom
Lower is better9
1Hong Kong1
3New Zealand3
120=Timor-Leste (E. Timor)120
Africa Avg114.2
World Avg79.7
Tunisia is positioned 123rd in the world regarding supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms.

The Human Freedom Index published by the Fraser Institute is...

... a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint. It uses 79 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom in the following areas: Rule of Law, Security and Safety, Movement, Religion, Association, Assembly, and Civil Society, Expression, Relationships, Size of Government, Legal System and Property Rights, Access to Sound Money, Freedom to Trade Internationally, Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business. [...]

The highest levels of freedom are in Western Europe, Northern Europe, and North America (Canada and the United States. The lowest levels are in the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. [...]

Countries in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significant higher per capita income ($37,147) [compared with] the least-free quartile [at] $8,700). The HFI finds a strong correlation between human freedom and democracy.

"The Human Freedom Index" by The Fraser Institute (2016)17

2.5. Press Freedom

#democracy #freedom #Freedom_of_Speech #Good_Governance #mass_media #politics #UK

Press Freedom
Lower is better10
141Congo, DR4166
Africa Avg3511
World Avg3249
Tunisia is 137th in the world in terms of supporting press freedom.

The freedom to investigate, publish information, and have access to others' opinion is a fundamental part of today's information-driven world, and is linked with Freedom of Speech and Good Governance. Scores on the Press Freedom Index are calculated according to indicators including pluralism - the degree to which opinions are represented in the media, media independence of authorities, self-censorship, legislation, transparency and the infrastructure that supports news and information, and, the level of violence against journalists which includes lengths of imprisonments. The index "does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted". The rankings are used as one of the datasets of the Social and Moral Development Index18

It must be noted that press freedom is not an indicator of press quality and the press itself can be abusive; the UK suffers in particular from a popular brand of nasty reporting that infuses several of its newspapers who are particularly prone to running destructive and often untrue campaigns against victims. The Press Freedom Index notes that "the index should in no way be taken as an indicator of the quality of the media in the countries concerned".

In 2011, the transitional authorities liberalized the press code and law pertaining to the broadcast media, eliminating most of the criminal penalties these laws impose on speech offenses. However, authorities continued to resort to the penal code and the Code of Military Justice, to prosecute people for speech offenses. [...]

[Amongst several similar cases] trials of two prominent bloggers, Mariem Mnaouer and Lina BenMhenni, continued in 2017. The first was prosecuted in 2012 for insulting a state official, and the second in 2014 under the same charge, shortly after each had filed complaints against police officers for using violence against them.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)7

2.6. Slavery

#burundi #eritrea #france #human_rights #indonesia #slavery

Lower is better
% Victims19
39=Sri Lanka0.21
Africa Avg0.96
World Avg0.65
(amongst the lowest in Africa)Regarding eliminating modern slavery, Tunisia is 41st in the world.

The taking of slaves has been an unwholesome feature of Human cultures since prehistory20. Private households and national endeavours have frequently been augmented with the use of slaves. The Egyptian and Roman empires both thrived on them for both purposes. Aside from labourers they are often abused sexually by their owners and their owners' friends21. The era of colonialism and the beginnings of globalisation changed nothing: the imprisonment and forced movements of labour continued to destroy many lives except that new justifications were invented based on Christian doctrine and the effort to convert non-Christians. By 1786 over 12 million slaves had been extracted from Africa and sent to colonial labour camps, with a truly atrocious condition of life22. But they were not the only ones to blame; in Africa internal nations such as the Asantes sold and bought tens of thousands of slaves23.

The abolition of the slave trade was a long and slow process. Until a relatively modern time, even philosophers, religious leaders and those concerned with ethics justified, or ignored, the problem of slavery24. The first abolitionists were always the slaves themselves. Their protests and rebellions caused the industry to become too expensive to continue. After that, it was the economic costs of maintain slave colonies that led the British to reject and then oppose the slave trade globally. Finally, the enlightenment-era thinkers of France encouraged moral and ethical thinking including the declaration of the inherent value of human life and human dignity25. A long-overdue wave of compassionate and conscientious movements swept across the West, eliminating public support for slavery, until the industries and churches that supported it had no choice but to back down.

'Modern slavery' includes forced labour (often of the under-age), debt bondage (especially generational), sexual slavery, chattel slavery and other forms of abuse, some of which can be surprisingly difficult to detect, but often target those fleeing from warzones and the vulnerable.26. Some industries (diamond, clothing, coal) from some countries (Burundi27, Eritrea27, Indonesia28) are a particular concern. The Walk Free Foundation, say that in 2016, 40.3 million people were living in modern slavery29.

For more, see:

3. Gender Equality

The 1950s saw a late rush of 43 countries, including Tunisia and many developing nations, move to cease preventing women from voting. Tunisia is on the way towards ending gender inequality but women are still in an unfavourable position much of the time.

Tunisia continued to make progress towards the consolidation of women´s rights. [In 2017] parliament adopted a comprehensive law on fighting violence against women, which includes key elements that are essential to prevent violence against women, protect domestic violence survivors, and prosecute abusers.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)7

Some laws that enshrined gender inequality have been finally removed, many of them based on common Islamic law-making, such as the provision that a man can avoid rape charges by marrying his victim, and, has removed restrictions that prevented women from marrying non-Muslim men7. There are still too many other areas of formal inequality.


3.1. Gender Inequality

#gender #gender_equality #human_rights #misogyny #women

Gender Inequality
Lower is better
Africa Avg0.54
World Avg0.36
(amongst the best in Africa)Tunisia is 58th in the world with regard to opposing gender inequality.

The UN Human Development Reports include statistics on gender equality which take into account things like maternal mortality, access to political power (seats in parliament) and differences between male and female education rates. Gender inequality is not a necessary part of early human development. Although a separation of roles is almost universal due to different strengths between the genders, this does not have to mean that women are subdued, and, such patriarchalism is not universal in ancient history. Those cultures and peoples who shed, or never developed, the idea that mankind ought to dominate womankind, are better cultures and peoples than those who, even today, cling violently to those mores.

For more, see:

3.2. Gender Biases

#gender #gender_equality #prejudice #women

Gender Biases
Lower is better
2New Zealand34.431
59S. Africa97.130
Africa Avg98.10
World Avg83.93
(amongst the best in Africa)With regard to the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators), Tunisia ranks 57th in the world.

The Gender Social Norms Index (GSNI) looks at gender biases across seven criteria; the % given here is for the total people who are biased across any of those criteria. By subtracting the value from 100%, you can see that those who do well on this index, you are seeing a count of those who do not appear to be biased against women in any of the criteria, and so, doing well on this index is a very positive sign for any country.

The data was included in UN (2022) with full results in Annex table AS6.7.1; their data stems for ranges between 2005 and 2022, depending on the country in question.

3.3. Year Women Can Vote

#christianity #gender_equality #human_rights #politics #women

Year Women Can Vote
Lower is better
1New Zealand1893
120=Burkina Faso1958
Africa Avg1961
World Avg1930
Tunisia comes 122nd in the world when it comes to the year from which women could participate in democracy.

Women now have equal rights in the vast majority of countries across the world. Although academic literature oftens talks of when a country "grants women the right to vote", this enforces a backwards way of thinking. Women always had the right to vote, however, they were frequently denied that right. The opposition to women's ability to vote in equality with man was most consistently and powerfully opposed by the Catholic Church, other Christian organisations, Islamic authorities and some other religious and secular traditionalists.

For more, see:

4. Prejudice

4.1. Anti-Semite Opinions

#antisemitism #christianity #germany #indonesia #israel #jordan #judaism #laos #morocco #netherlands #pakistan #philippines #religion #religious_violence #saudi_arabia #spain #sweden #turkey #UK #vietnam

Anti-Semite Opinions
Lower is better
Africa Avg45.9
World Avg36.8
Tunisia is 5th-worst in the world in terms of its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice.

Anti-Semitism is the world given to irrational racism against Jews. It is not the same as anti-Judaism (involving arguments against the religion) nor the same as anti-Zionism (arguments against Israel). In history, influential Christian theologians concocted the arguments against Jews that led, very early on, to widespread Christian action against Jews33,34,35,36. As Christianity rose to power in the West and presided over the Dark Ages, there were widespread violent outbursts against Jews of the most persistent and horrible kind. The Crusades were frequently aimed at them and the feared Spanish Inquisition paid Jews particular attention. The horror of the holocaust instigated by German Nazis in the 1940s was followed (finally) by the era of European human rights and a movement against racism in general.

The places that are the least anti-Semitical are a few countries of south-east Asia (Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam) and some of the secular liberal democracies of Europe (Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK). The worst countries for antisemitism are Islamic states of the Middle East37, which are undergoing their own Dark Age. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey see the most oppressive and violent actions towards Jews38,39. Jews in Muslim countries face a host of restrictions and "ceaseless humiliation and regular pogroms"40. In 2004 the European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia reported on violent anti-Jew crimes in the EU and found that that largest group of perpetrators were young Muslim males41.

For more, see:

4.2. LGBT Equality

#equality #homosexuality #human_rights #ICCPR #intolerance #sexuality #tolerance

Article 230 of the penal code punishes consensual same-sex conduct with up to three years in prison. Anal testing is used as the main form of evidence in order to convict men of sodomy. Shams, a Tunisian LGBTI association, said that at least 10 men were prosecuted under article 230 in various parts of Tunisia in 2017, and two were sentenced to two years in prison.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)7

Tunisia "a accepted a recommendation from Ireland to immediately cease the practice of forced anal examinations" and its own National Council of the Medical Order also spoke out against it as "a practice which is contrary to human dignity"7.

LGBT Equality
Higher is better
Africa Avg-10.4
World Avg12.6
In terms of LGBT equality, Tunisia comes 12nd-worst in the world.

Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) folk is rife across the world. Legal restrictions co-exist alongside social stigmatisation and physical violence42. LGBT tolerance and equal rights have been fought for country-by-country across the world, often against tightly entrenched cultural and religious opposition. Adult consensual sexual activity is a Human Right, protected by privacy laws43. Despite this, homosexual activity is outlawed in around 80 countries42. The Social & Moral LGBT Equality Index was created to compare countries and regions, granting points to each country for a variety of factors including how long gay sex has been criminalized and the extent of LGBT legal rights. Graded negative points are given for criminality of homosexuality, unequal ages of consent, legal punishments and for not signing international accords on LGBT tolerance. The signs in many developed countries are positive, and things are gradually improving. Europe is by far the least prejudiced region (Scandinavia in particular being exemplary). The Middle East and then Africa are the least morally developed, where cultural bias goes hand-in-hand with state intolerance, all too often including physical violence.

For more, see:

4.3. Freedom of Thought

#europe #freedom_of_belief #freethought #human_rights #netherlands #religion #religious_tolerance #secularism #the_enlightenment

Freedom of Thought
Lower is better
162=Congo, DR4.0
Africa Avg3.1
World Avg3.0
Tunisia is 161st in the world with regard to freethought.

Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Belief are upheld in Article 18 the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights44. It affirms that it is a basic human right that all people are free to change their beliefs and religion as they wish45. No countries voted against this (although eight abstained). This right was first recognized clearly in the policies of religious toleration of the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe in the post-enlightenment era46 of the 19th century. In democratic countries, freedom of belief and religion is now taken for granted47. In 2016 a study found that over 180 countries in the world had come to guarantee freedom of religion and belief48. The best countries at doing so are Taiwan, Belgium and The Netherlands11,49 and the worst: Afghanistan, N. Korea, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia11,50.

Long-term studies have shown that religious violence and persecution both decrease in cultures where religious freedom is guaranteed51. Despite this, there still are many who are strongly against freedom of belief45, including entire cultures and many individual communities of religious believers. Their alternative is that you are not free to believe what you want and they often state that you cannot change religion without being punished (often including the death penalty): this is bemoaned as one of the most dangerous elements of religion52 and "the denial of religious freedoms is inevitably intertwined with the denial of other freedoms"53 and the solution is, everywhere, to allow religious freedom and the freedom of belief.

For more, see:

5. Freedom of Belief and Religion

#atheism #islam #religion_in_tunisia #tunisia

The International Humanist and Ethical Union produced a report in 2012 entitled "Freedom of Thought" (2012)54, in which they document bias and prejudice at the national level that is based on religion, belief and/or lack of belief. Their entry for Tunisia states:

The constitution and other laws and policies largely provide for freedom of religion or belief but, in practice, the government enforces some restrictions on this freedom.

Since the Arab Spring revolution, there has been a democratic process to create a new constitution that will better protect international human rights standards. Unfortunately, political Islamists are meeting little opposition in their efforts to insert a clause against blasphemy in the new constitution. Article 3 in the draft constitution says: "The state guarantees freedom of religious belief and practice and criminalises all attacks on that which is sacred." In August 2012, the ruling party, the Islamist party Ennahdha , filed an anti-blasphemy bill which criminalises "curses, insults mockery, and desecration" of Allah, the Prophets, the three Abrahamic books, the Sunnah (the practices of the Prophet Muhammad), churches, synagogues and the Kaaba (the most sacred building in Islam). The bill also forbids pictorial representation of God and Prophet Muhammad. When Sofiene Chourabi, a democracy activist and journalist called for a protest against the blasphemy law he was arrested the next day for "drinking alcohol during Ramadan", which is not a crime under Tunisian law.

Even before the blasphemy ban has become law, there has been an increase in prosecutions and censorship of allegedly blasphemous speech. The legal and political situation remains fluid and unpredictable.

Cases of Discrimination

On 28 March, 2012, two atheist friends, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji were sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, and to a fine of 1200 Tunisian Dinars (around US $800) each, for posting images on Facebook deemed blasphemous. Mejri,and Beji were put on trial following a complaint lodged by a group of residents in Mahdia. While Jabeur Mejri is in prison, his friend Ghazi Beji sought refuge in Europe. Mejri, and Beji were convicted under Article 121 (3) of the Tunisian Penal Code, which states that: "The distribution, putting up for sale, public display, or possession, with the intent to distribute, sell, display for the purpose of propaganda, tracts, bulletins, and fliers, whether of foreign origin or not, that are liable to cause harm to the public order or public morals is prohibited."

On May 3, 2012, Nabil Karoui was convicted for disrupting public order and violating moral values by airing Persepolis an animated film that some religious leaders say insults Islam. Karoui, the head of Nessma TV a private tv station, was ordered to pay a 2,400 dinar (US$1,500) fine.

"Freedom of Thought" by IHEU (2012)54