Covenant for equality and individual freedoms published in Tunisia

By agency reporter
July 25, 2018

On 24 July 2018 more than 90 organisations and civil society groups in Tunisia issued a Covenant for Equality and Individual Freedoms, outlining the fundamental rights that all Tunisians should enjoy. This is being issued to confirm a commitment to a civilian and democratic Tunisian Republic in the wake of the publication of the report of the presidentially appointed Commission for Individual Freedoms and Equality on 12 June .

The commissions’ proposals aim to place human rights at the heart of the Tunisian justice system and to get rid of laws that governments had long used as tools of repression. The signatories outline 10 points based on the commission's main recommendations and call on the authorities to integrate them into legislation as soon as possible. 

“Tunisia is at an important turning point in its history,” said Yosra Frawes, president of the Tunisian Association of Women Democrats. “Its recent gains in the field of democracy will remain very fragile unless the foundation of individual freedoms and equality among all Tunisian citizens is strengthened.”

President Beji Caid Essebsi created the commission for Individual Freedoms and Equality on 13 August 2017, National Women’s Day. He tasked it with recommending reforms “relating to individual freedoms and equality, which stem from the provisions of the constitution of 27 January 2014, international human rights standards, and current trends in the area of freedoms and equality.” The chair of the nine-member commission is Bochra Bel Haj Hmida, a member of parliament.

In its report, the commission recommends decriminalising sodomy, guaranteeing equal inheritance rights for men and women, revoking laws based on “morality,” and abolishing the death penalty, among other actions.

“Today it is the responsibility of all political actors, including the president of the republic and parties represented in Parliament, to set everything in motion to turn into law the recommendations and principles contained in the commission's report and reiterated in this pact,” said Nessryne Jelali, president of Al Bawsala [The Compass].

Based on the principles of freedom, equality and dignity, the covenant also calls for the abolition of the death penalty, as well as of all forms of discrimination, regardless of the justification or alleged basis.

“Human rights have long been obscured in the Tunisian justice system, which preferred to sanction authoritarianism and the dominance of uniformity of thought in the political and societal fields over respect for individual liberty”, said Dimitris Christopoulos, president of International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

The covenant calls for strengthening efforts to end torture and all other forms of violations of human dignity, as well to respect sexual freedom and gender orientation, inherent in fundamental human rights. It makes the presumption of innocence and the guarantee of access to a fair trial, as well as a prohibition on arbitrary arrests, central elements of the rule of law.

“Tunisians have rejected many forms of oppression since the revolution, but now needs a real legislative revolution to set out that individual Tunisians, as creators of values, standards, and wealth for themselves and for the community, should be protected from arbitrary interference by the state or other parties,” said Amna Guellali, Human Rights Watch director in Tunisia.

The right to privacy, freedom of conscience and thought, freedom of expression, and academic and artistic freedoms are also considered fundamental rights and represent pillars of a democratic, creative, and pluralist society.

“Tunisia’s history has been marked by progressive laws, such as the 1956 Code on Personal Status and the 2014 Constitution. Today, the logical next step to complete this trajectory would be to adopt the Code for Individual Freedoms and the Code for Equality as recommended by the Commission,” said Jinan Limam, president of the Tunisian Association for Individual Freedoms.

* The Tunisian Covenant for Equality and Individual Freedoms and signatories can be seen here

* Human Rights Watch


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