Report on Human Rights
Practices for 1996Tunisia
Tunisia is a republic dominated by a single political party.
President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his Constitutional Democratic
Rally (RCD) continue to control the government, including the
legislature and the judiciary, and to deny opposition groups the
opportunity to play a significant role. The President appoints
the Prime Minister, Cabinet, and 23 governors. Four opposition
parties hold 19 of the 163 seats in Parliament.
The police share responsibility for internal security with a paramilitary
national guard. The police operate in the capital and a few other
cities. In outlying areas, their policing duties are shared with,
or ceded to, the national guard. Both forces are under the control
of the Minister of Interior and the President. The security forces
continued to be responsible for serious human rights abuses.
Tunisia has made substantial progress towards establishing a market
economy based on agriculture, petroleum, textiles, manufactured
exports, and tourism. The year 1996 marked the end of a 3-year
drought and a consequent improvement in the rate of growth, estimated
at 6 percent. The per capita gross national product for 1995
was approximately $1,900. Sixty percent of Tunisians are in the
middle class and enjoy a high standard of living. Remittances
from workers abroad also are an important source of revenue.
The Government's human rights performance did not improve, and
it continued to commit some serious abuses. The ability of citizens
to change their government has yet to be demonstrated. Members
of the security forces reportedly tortured and beat prisoners
and detainees. Security forces also monitor the activities of
government critics and at times harass them, their relatives,
and their associates. Prison conditions reportedly ranged from
spartan to poor, and prolonged pretrial detention is a problem.
The judiciary is subject to executive influence, and due process
rights in trials of a political nature are not always observed.
The Government generally did not respond effectively to allegations
of human rights abuses, often not divulging the results of investigations.
It demonstrated a pattern of intolerance of public criticism,
and continued to stifle freedoms of speech, press, and association.
Because of government pressure, newspapers did not carry press
releases of the leading human rights group. The Government continued
to use control of advertising revenue as a means to discourage
newspapers and magazines from publishing material that it deemed
undesirable. The Government frequently seized editions of foreign
newspapers containing articles it considered objectionable, and
it restricted ownership of satellite dishes and access to the
Internet. The Government also restricted the freedom of movement
of government critics.
The convictions of two opposition party leaders and that of a
human rights lawyer were regarded by human rights observers as
government attempts to suppress political dissent. In response
to international criticism, the Government granted parole to all
three in December and released them from prison. Membership both
in the Islamist movement known as An-Nahda and the Tunisian Communist
Workers Party is prohibited, and the Government sentenced several
persons to prison for their association with these groups. The
President made an unprecedented visit to prisons and authorized
the National High Commissioner for Human Rights to make unannounced
As part of its efforts to advance the rights of women and children,
the Government passed a body of legislation pertaining to community
property, family allowances, child support, and survivors benefits.
Nonetheless, legal and societal discrimination against women
continues to exist.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.
Investigations of the deaths in detention of Abderraouf Laaribi
and Abdelwahed Abdelzi, who died in 1991, are no longer being
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment
The Penal Code prohibits the use of torture, and other cruel,
inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Nonetheless, security
services allegedly employed various means of torture to coerce
confessions from detainees. Five students arrested in August
for membership in an illegal organization claimed to have been
tortured during their 6-day detention. The forms of torture allegedly
used included electric shock, submersion of the head in water,
beatings with hands, sticks, and police batons, and food and sleep
deprivation. Jalel Ayachi, a former detainee, filed a complaint
against the Government for his loss of hearing in one ear, the
alleged result of a police beating. Police and prison authorities
also reportedly mistreat prisoners by beating them. There were
reports that Radhia Aouididi was tortured following her November
A German citizen reported being severely beaten while serving
his prison sentence, losing several teeth as a result, after complaining
about prison food and making critical remarks. The authorities
are investigating his complaints.
Human rights advocates maintain that charges of torture and mistreatment
are difficult to substantiate, since government authorities often
deny medical examinations until evidence of abuse has disappeared.
The Government maintained that it investigates all complaints
of torture and mistreatment filed with the prosecutor's office
and noted that alleged victims sometimes publicly accused authorities
of acts of abuse without taking the steps required to initiate
an investigation. Absent a formal complaint, the Government may
open an administrative investigation but is unlikely to make the
According to defense attorneys and human rights advocates, prison
conditions ranged from spartan to poor. Overcrowding is common,
with as many as 30 to 50 prisoners sharing a common cell, often
sharing beds. Human rights advocates report that prisoners receive
inadequate medical care and are unable to obtain either medical
evaluations to determine special needs or treatment for injuries
or illness. Healthy prisoners are sometimes confined with ill
inmates. There were credible reports that conditions and prisons
rules are more stringent for political prisoners than for the
general prison population and that the authorities limit the quantity
and variety of food that families can bring to supplement prison
fare. One credible report alleged the existence of special cell
blocks and prisons for political prisoners. Political prisoners
may be held in solitary confinement for months on end. Convicted
opposition Movement of Democratic Socialists (MDS) party president
Mohamed Moaada was held in solitary confinement since his 1995
arrest until his release in December.
The Government does not permit international organizations or
independent human rights organizations to inspect or monitor prison
conditions. In August the President visited certain prisons and
subsequently authorized the National High Commissioner for Human
Rights to make unannounced prison inspections. The High Commissioner
made his first such inpections on October 12 and announced to
the press that prisoners in the two facilities he had visited
lived relatively well and received adequate medical care.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The law authorizes the police to make arrests without warrants
in the cases of suspected felons or crimes in progress. The Government
may hold a suspect incommunicado for 10 days
following arrest. Detainees have the right to be informed of
the grounds for arrest before questioning and may request a medical
examination. They do not have a right to legal representation
during prearraignment detention. Attorneys, human rights monitors,
and former detainees maintain that the authorities illegally extend
the 10-day limit by falsifying the date of arrest. There are
reports that authorities held Radhia Aouididi, arrested on November
8, incommunicado for a period exceeding the 10-day legal limit.
Detainees have a right to be represented by counsel during arraignment.
The Government provides legal representation for indigents.
At arraignment, the examining magistrate may decide to release
the accused or to remand him to pretrial detention. Since 1993
the law has allowed for release of accused persons on bail or
on the personal surety of a third party. This provision is little-known
and rarely invoked. During the year the Government publicized
its support of release-on-bail as a means of reducing or eliminating
prison stays. In cases involving crimes for which the sentence
may exceed 5 years, or which involve national security, pretrial
detention may last an initial period of 6 months and may be extended
by court order for 2 additional 4-month periods. During this
period, the court conducts an investigation, hears arguments,
and accepts evidence and motions of both parties.
A case proceeds from investigation to the Criminal Court of Appeals,
which sets a trial date. There is no legal limit to the length
of time the court may hold a case over for trial; nor is there
a legal imperative to a speedy hearing. Complaints of prolonged
detention awaiting trial were common, and President Ben Ali publicly
encouraged judges to make better use of release on bail and suspended
There is no reliable estimate of the number of political detainees.
The law prohibits exile, and the Government observes the prohibition.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judiciary is part of the Ministry of Justice and therefore
not independent of the executive branch, which appoints, assigns,
grants tenure to, and transfers judges. In addition, the President
is head of the Supreme Council of Judges. This situation renders
judges susceptible to pressure in politically sensitive cases.
The court system comprises the regular civil and criminal courts,
including the courts of first instance, the courts of appeal,
and the Court of Cassation, the nation's highest court, as well
as the military tribunals within the Defense Ministry.
Trials in the regular courts of first instance and appeals are
open to the public.
The Code of Procedure is patterned after the French legal system.
By law, the accused has the right to be present at trial, represented
by counsel, question witnesses, and appeal verdicts. However,
in practice, judges do not always observe these rights. For example,
defense attorneys representing Mohamed Moaada, an opposition leader
convicted of treason (see Section 2.a.), were unable to question
the prosecution's principal witness, who had been released from
prison and allowed to return to Libya prior to Moaada's trial.
The law permits trial in absentia of fugitives from the law.
Both the accused and the prosecutor may appeal decisions of the
lower courts. The Court of Cassation, which considers arguments
on points of law, as opposed to the facts of a case, is the final
arbiter. Trials in the courts of first instance and in the courts
of appeals are open to the public.
The presiding judge or panel of judges dominates a trial, and
defense attorneys have little opportunity to participate substantively.
Defense lawyers contend that the courts often fail to grant them
adequate notice of trial dates or allow them time to prepare their
cases. Some also reported that judges have begun to restrict
access to evidence and court records, requiring in some cases,
for example, that all attorneys of record examine the court file
on one appointed day, in judges chambers, and prohibiting copying
of material documents. They also complained that the judges sometimes
refused to allow them to call witnesses on their clients' behalf
or to question key government witnesses.
In July the Government convicted opposition MDS Party Deputy Khemais
Chammari of divulging information from the grand jury investigation
of Mohamed Moaada. Chammari's attorneys denounced the trial,
protesting that they had received inadequate notice of the review
before the Court of Cassation and inadequate access to court records,
including the final judgment of the Criminal Court of Appeals,
and that the Court illegally restricted attorney-client visits.
In the last week before the hearing, the Court provided the defense
attorneys access to the records and to their client but refused
a continuance of the case and upheld the conviction. At the end
of December, both Chammari and Moaada were granted parole and
released from prison.
In January Nejib Hosni, a lawyer who had defended clients accused
of political offenses, was convicted and sentenced to
8 years in prison for forging the name of a terminally-ill client
on a land transaction. Defense attorneys asserted that the judge's
wide discretionary authority allowed him to ignore critical eyewitness
and expert testimony, thus denying Hosni a fair trial. In October
Hosni was acquitted of the charges of
passing arms to Islamists and, in December, released from prison
on parole. At the same time, the Government paroled and released
Mohamed Hedi Sassi, convicted of having distributed tracts of
the illegal Tunisian Communist Workers Party.
Military tribunals try cases involving military personnel and
civilians accused of national security crimes. The tribunal consists
of a civilian judge from the Supreme Court and four military judges.
Defendants may appeal the tribunal's verdicts to the Supreme
There is no reliable information on the number of political prisoners.
However, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report
that there may be hundreds of political prisoners, convicted and
imprisoned for membership in the Islamist group An-Nahda and the
Communist Workers Party, for disseminating information of these
banned organizations, and for aiding relatives of convicted members.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home,
The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the person
and the home and for the privacy of correspondence, "except
in exceptional cases defined by law." The law requires that
the police have warrants to conduct searches, but police sometimes
ignore the requirement if authorities consider that state security
is at stake or that a crime is in progress. Authorities can invoke
state security interests to justify telephone surveillance. There
were also reports of Government interception of facsimile and
computer-transmitted communications. The law does not explicitly
authorize these activities, although the Government stated that
the Code of Criminal Procedure implicitly gives investigating
magistrates such authority. The security services monitor the
activities of political critics, and sometimes harass, follow,
question, and otherwise intimidate their relatives and associates.
Many political activists experience frequent and sometimes extended
interruptions of residential and business telephone and facsimile
services. The security services question citizens seen talking
with foreign visitors or residents, such as visiting international
human rights monitors. One organization reported government interference
with the delivery of its mail. Police presence is heavy throughout
the country. The Government prohibits the receipt of some foreign
publications (see Section 2.a.). Traffic officers routinely stop
motorists to examine their personal identification and vehicular
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of thought, expression,
and the press. In practice, however, the Government limits exercise
of these freedoms. The President convoked newspaper editors in
August and affirmed the right of freedom of the press, "as
long as it is properly used."
In February Mohamed Moaada, then president of the opposition MDS
party, was convicted of treason for allegedly selling information
relating to national security to a Libyan citizen. He was sentenced
to serve 11 years in prison. The arrest (for an act that had
allegedly transpired a year before) took place the day after Moaada
had written a letter to President Ben Ali complaining of the lack
of political freedoms.
In May Khemais Chammari, an MDS colleague of Moaada and member
of the Chamber of Deputies, was arrested following a 7-month investigation
for having divulged information about the grand jury investigating
Moaada. Chammari's arrest took place the day after the Director
of the Arab Institute for Human Rights had been detained at the
airport, allegedly in possession of documents written by Chammari.
Observers believed that the Government proceeded with the prosecution
because of Chammari's outspoken criticism of the Government.
Convicted and sentenced to 5 years' imprisonment, Chammari was
released on parole at the end of the year.
Indications of continuing press restrictions were evident throughout
the year. The confiscation of two journalists' passports prevented
them from attending a regional seminar on promoting an independent
Arab press. The Government also refused to renew the passport
of Salah Bechir, a Tunisian journalist residing in France. The
law permits such denials in cases where "the good reputation
of Tunisia" might be tarnished. The Government also exerts
control over the media by issuing or withholding credentials to
journalists. It continued to deny accreditation to a journalist
dismissed from the government news agency, Tunis Afrique Presse
(TAP), in 1994 for publishing an interview with an opposition
politician in a foreign publication.
Authorities used the placement of government advertising, a significant
source of revenue for newspapers and magazines, as a means of
controlling the press. There were reports that the Government
withheld advertising orders in publications that published articles
that the Government deemed offensive. As a result of such pressure,
the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH) was unable to find a publisher
for its annual report, and newspapers did not print its press
releases. On one ocassion, however, local television did report
an LTDH press
release praising the Government. The Government monitored the
activities and speech of human rights activists traveling abroad
and interrogated individuals upon their return to Tunisia.
The Press Code contains broad provisions prohibiting subversion
and defamation, neither of which is clearly defined. The Government
prevents distribution of editions of foreign newspapers and magazines
that contain articles critical of Tunisia--editions of Le Monde
and Al Hayat, for example, were blocked 8 to 10 times a month--and
has reportedly advised universities against subscribing to Le
Monde. The authorities prosecuted citizens during the year on
charges of distributing tracts--during the elections of 1994 and,
later, in 1995--critical of the Government and, in particular,
the absence of democratic freedoms and pluralism. While clandestine
organizations publish several underground newspapers, their contributors
risked trial for dissemination of false information. The Government
provides official texts on major domestic and international events
and has reprimanded publishers and editors for failing to publish
these statements. These factors induce a high degree of self-censorship
in the media.
In July the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) suspended the
Tunisian Newspaper Association for failing to fight against press
repression and noted "numerous instances...of jailing and
harassment of journalists, the banning of foreign publications
and broadcasts, and the withdrawal of passports from Tunisian
Before marketing publications, printers and publishers are required
by law to deposit copies with the Chief Prosecutor (Procureur),
the Ministry of Interior, the Secretary of State for Information,
and the Ministry of Culture. Similarly, distributors must deposit
copies of publications printed abroad with the Chief Prosecutor
and various ministries prior to distributing them. While publishers
need not wait for an authorization, they must obtain a receipt
of deposit before distribution. On occasion such receipts are
reportedly withheld, sometimes indefinitely. Without a receipt,
publications may not be legally distributed. The Press Code stipulates
fines and confiscations for failure to comply with these provisions.
The Government canceled at the last minute a conference dealing
with human rights issues, to have been cosponsored by several
activist organizations, allegedly because of the objectionable
content of some of the conference materials submitted for government
review (see Section 4).
In July 1995, the National Assembly passed legislation regulating
the purchase and installation of satellite receiving dishes.
While the Government continued to accept applications for permits
to own a satellite dish, it issued few, if any,
licenses. The black market reportedly supplies most of the stock
The Government owns and operates the Tunisian Radio and Television
Establishment (ERTT). ERTT's coverage of government news is taken
directly from the official news agency, TAP. There are several
regional radio stations and one local television channel. Bilateral
agreements with France and Italy permit Tunisians to receive the
French channel France 2 and the Italian Rai Uno.
Like journalists, university professors often practice a form
of self-censorship, avoiding classroom criticism of the Government
or statements supportive of the Islamist An-Nahda movement. The
presence of police on campuses also discourages dissent.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly. Groups wishing
to hold a public meeting, rally, or march must obtain a permit
from the Ministry of Interior. The authorities routinely approve
such permits, except in cases involving proscribed organizations.
In April the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women sponsored
a national conference celebrating the international observance
of Women's Day (April 8.) It was the first time in 2 years that
the group was able to hold a meeting in a public place. The Human
Rights League (LTDH) celebrated its 19th anniversary also in a
public gathering place.
The Government restricts freedom of association. The law bars
membership in political parties organized by religion, race, or
region. On these grounds, the Government prosecutes members in
the Islamist movement An-Nahda. It also bans organizations that
threaten disruption of the public order and prosecutes members
of the Communist Workers Party. In May the Government withdrew
authorization for a conference that was to be jointly held by
several nongovernmental organizations including the Human Rights
League, allegedly because of conference handouts that the Government
found objectionable. In November it canceled a League educational
program on the law concerning arrest and detention.
On the basis of a procedural error and without ruling on the merits
of the case, a court annulled a 1992 Ministry of Interior ruling
that the LTDH was in violation of rules governing associations
because it refused to open its membership to all applicants.
The LTDH sought to control the process of enrolling new members
as a means of ensuring its independence.
c. Freedom of Religion
Islam is the state religion, but the Government permits the practice
of other religions. The Government controls mosques and pays
the salaries of the prayer leaders. The 1988 Law on Mosques provides
that only personnel appointed by the Government may lead activities
in the mosques.
The Government regards the Baha'i faith as a heretical sect of
Islam and permits its adherents to practice their faith only in
private. With 1,300 adherents, the Jewish community is the country's
largest indigenous religious minority. The Government assures
the Jewish community freedom of worship and pays the salary of
the Grand Rabbi. The Christian community, estimated at about
2,000, is composed mainly of foreigners. It freely holds church
services and operates a small number of schools.
The Government views proselytizing as an act against "public
order." Authorities ask foreigners suspected of proselytizing
to depart the country and do not permit them to return. There
were no reported cases of official action against persons suspected
In a gesture toward tolerance and ecumenism, Tunisia hosted a
visit in April by the Pope.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel,
Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides for these rights. People are free to
change their place of residence or work at will. In practice,
the Government restricts the freedom of movement and foreign travel
of those critical of the administration.
Human rights monitors complained that the Government arbitrarily
withholds passports from citizens. The Government again confiscated
the passport of Moncef Marzouki, an opposition politician who
unsuccessfully sought to run for the Presidency in 1994. The
Government had restored his travel documents in 1995 following
a previous confiscation in 1994. A member of the LTDH was prevented
from traveling abroad as part of a human rights delegation. The
director of a human rights research institute on his way to a
conference overseas was arrested and detained for 4 days for allegedly
having on his person objectionable documents (see Section 2.a.).
The Government confiscated the passport of Hamma Hammami, former
editor of the Communist Workers Party newspaper, when he attempted
to attend an international symposium on torture.
Political activists reported that their movements were closely
monitored and that they were sometimes harassed by security services
personnel. Moncef Ben Salem, a former university
professor who served a 3-year prison term for defaming the Government,
said that he was prevented from leaving the limits of the southern
city of Sfax where he resides.
The Government has signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the
Status of Refugees, and the 1967 Protocol, and cooperates with
the office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees
(UNHCR) in assisting refugees. The Government acknowledged UNHCR
determination of refugee status which was accorded to approximately
150 persons during the year. Approximately 150 cases (300 to
400 individuals) await determination by the UNHCR. There is no
pattern of abuse of refugees in Tunisia. Although a few refugees
were deported during the year, none was forced to return to countries
where they feared persecution.
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of
Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitution provides that the citizenry shall elect the President
and members of the legislature for 5-year terms. However, the
ability of citizens to change their government through democratic
means has yet to be demonstrated. The ruling RCD party and its
direct predecessor parties have controlled the political arena
since Tunisia gained independence in 1956. The party dominates
the Cabinet, the Chamber of Deputies, and regional and local governments.
The President appoints the Cabinet and the 23 governors. The
Government and the party are closely integrated: The President
of the republic is also the President of the party, and the party's
Secretary General holds the rank of Minister of State.
The 163-seat Chamber of Deputies does not function as an effective
counterweight to the executive branch. The Electoral Code provides
for a winner-take-all formula for 144 of its seats. The ruling
party won all seats in the 1994 parliamentary elections. Nineteen
additional seats were reserved for unsuccessful candidates and
were divided among four opposition parties after the 1994 elections.
Election is by secret ballot. All legal parties are free to
present candidates. Candidates for president, however, must receive
the endorsement of 30 sitting deputies to launch a campaign.
In 1995 the ruling party won 4,084 of 4,090 seats in countrywide
municipal elections. In December the Government held special
elections to fill two seats, one of which had been vacated by
convicted MDS deputy Khemais Chammari. After the RCD declined
to enter a candidate for Chammari's seat in order to ensure that
the opposition retained the seat, the candidate of the opposition
Unity Party won the election. The RCD retained control of the
second seat. National presidential and legislative elections
are next scheduled for 1999.
The most vocal and active of the opposition parties, the Movement
of Democratic Socialists, suffered a split in its
ranks following the convictions and imprisonment of party president
Moaada and party vice-president Chammari. The Government denied
reports that it financed the faction that favored cooperation
with the Government and that it manipulated the press to portray
this group as legitimate. Newspapers rarely carried stories about
or press releases of the other faction. Because of MDS financial
difficulties, it was unable to pay its rent and was evicted from
Women participate in politics. Eleven of the 163 members of the
Chamber of Deputies are women. In addition one women is the junior
Minister for Women's and Children's Affairs in the Prime Minister's
office. Nevertheless, women's presence in public office is disproportionately
low, and they hold few senior government posts.
Section 4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International
and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human
There are human rights offices in certain ministries, and a governmental
body, the Higher Committee for Human Rights and Basic Freedoms,
that address and sometimes resolve human rights complaints. The
Committee's last publicly distributed report covered the 1993-1994
The Tunisian Human Rights League is the most active independent
advocacy organization, with branches in many parts of the country.
The organization receives and researches complaints, and protests
individual and systemic abuses. The Government places significant
obstacles in the way of its effective operation, however. League
members and other human rights activists report government harassment,
interrogation, property loss or damage, unauthorized home entry,
and denial of passports. The LTDH continues to be unable to find
local newspapers willing to publish communiques issued by the
League that are critical of the Government.
The Arab Institute for Human Rights, headquartered in Tunis, was
founded in 1989 by the LTDH, the Arab Organization for Human Rights,
and the Union of Arab Lawyers. It is an information, rather than
Amnesty International (AI) continued to maintain a Tunisian chapter.
Its Tunis office, however, suffered repeated loss of telephone
and facsimile service. In August a Tunisian staff member from
AI's London headquarters was arrested when entering the country
for a family vacation. Authorities allegedly detained him incommunicado
for a week and interrogated him. The Government continued to
deny entry to a London-based AI researcher responsible for Tunisian
affairs, claiming that she has an anti-Tunisia bias. It did permit
the International President of AI to visit on an occasion coinciding
with the visit of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In June AI released its annual report for 1995, containing a section
critical of Tunisia. Also in June, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs'
Human Rights Section published a booklet entitled "Reflections
on Human Rights in Tunisia" in which it dismissed most criticisms
of its human rights record by suggesting that the authors were
members of organizations infiltrated by religious and political
The Government denied entry to the head of the International Federation
for Human Rights. The Government allowed a few foreign human
rights researchers entry. One reported being followed regularly.
Another's computer data disks, notes, and documents were stolen
from his hotel room. A third was interrogated at the airport
for 2 hours upon arrival. Resident foreign human rights monitors
found it increasingly difficult to arrange meetings with some
government human rights officers. When the Government did grant
meetings, officials often delayed, sometimes indefinitely, responding
to questions about human rights. The Government canceled at the
last minute a conference dealing with human rights issues, to
have been cosponsored by several activist organizations, allegedly
because of the objectionable content of some of the conference
materials submitted for government review.
In May the European Union (EU) passed a resolution criticizing
Tunisia's human rights policies and practices. In concluding
its Euro-Mediterranean Trade Agreement with Tunisia, the EU also
linked respect for human rights and democratic principles to economic
cooperation. The Government agreed to allow periodic monitoring
of the human rights situation and to engage in ongoing discussions
on human rights with its European partners.
Section 5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution provides that all citizens shall have equal rights
and responsibilities and be equal under the law. The Government
generally observes this practice. Legal or social discrimination
is not prevalent.
Violence against women occurs, but there are no reliable statistics
to measure its extent. The Tunisian Association of Democratic
Women operates the country's only counseling center for women
who are victims of domestic violence. The center, located in
Tunis, assists approximately 20 women per month. Instances of
rape or assault by someone unknown to the victim are rare. Battered
women first seek help from family members. Police intervention
is often ineffective because police officers and the courts tend
to regard domestic violence as a
problem to be handled by the family. Nonetheless, there are stiff
penalties for spouse abuse, double that for normal battery. Both
the fine and imprisonment for battery or violence committed by
a spouse or family member are double those for the same crimes
committed by an individual not related to the victim.
Women enjoy substantial rights, and the Government has made serious
efforts to advance women's rights. However, women still face
legal and societal discrimination in certain social and economic
areas and in employment. Most property acquired during marriage,
including property acquired solely, is held in the name of the
husband. Inheritance laws, based on Shari'a (Islamic) law and
tradition, discriminate against women.
Overseeing programs concerning women's issues is the Junior Ministry
for Women and the Family. It maintains effective links with women's
professional associations and with the government-supported Women's
Union and Women's Research Center.
Passage in April of a body of legislation on women's rights appeared
to represent significant progress. The legislation authorized
joint application for loans and encouraged discussion prior to
marriage of the possibility of joint ownership of property acquired
during the marriage and inclusion in the marriage contract of
relevant language. While the new laws are technically in effect,
since passage there has been little public attention paid to the
legislation and no public discussion. Some women's advocates
believe that more traditional segments of society urged the Government
not to publicize and promote the new laws. There were also new
provisions regarding family allowance, alimony, child support,
and survivors' benefits that especially benefit households headed
Women in increasing numbers are entering the work force, employed
particularly in the textile industry, manufacturing, health, and
agricultural sectors. According to government statistics for
1995, women constituted 22 percent of the work force. Excluding
the agricultural sector, they accounted for 44 percent. There
are an estimated 1,500 businesses headed by women. Women represent
25 percent of the civil service, employed primarily in the fields
of health, education, and social affairs at the middle or lower
levels. Approximately 43 percent of the university students enrolled
in the 1995-96 academic year were women. On the other hand, while
the rate of illiteracy has dropped markedly in both rural and
urban areas, the rate of female illiteracy in all categories is
at least double that of men. Among 10- to 14-year olds, 5.5 percent
of urban girls are illiterate, compared with 2.2 percent of urban
boys; and 27 percent of rural girls, compared with less than 7
percent of rural boys.
Several active nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) focus, in
whole or in part, on women's advocacy, or research women's issues,
and a cadre of attorneys represent women in domestic cases. Media
attention focuses on women's economic and academic accomplishments
and usually omits reference to culturally sensitive issues.
The Government demonstrates a strong commitment to public education,
which is compulsory until the age of 16. Primary school enrollment
for the 1996-97 scholastic year was roughly the same as the preceding
year; secondary school enrollment showed an 8 percent increase
over last year. The Government offers a maternal and child health
program, providing prenatal and postnatal services. It also sponsors
an immunization program targeting preschool-aged children.
In 1995 the Government promulgated laws to constitute a code for
the protection of children. The code proscribes child abuse,
abandonment, and sexual or economic exploitation. Penalties for
convictions for abandonment and assault on minors are severe.
There is a Ministry for Children and Youths and a presidential
delegate to safeguard the rights and welfare of children.
People with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination based on disability and mandates
that at least 1 percent of the public and private sector jobs
be reserved for the disabled.
All public buildings constructed since 1991 must be accessible
to physically disabled persons. Many cities, including the capital,
have begun to install wheelchair access ramps on city sidewalks.
There is a general trend toward making public transportation
more accessible to disabled persons. The Government issues special
cards to the disabled for benefits such as unrestricted parking,
priority medical services, preferential seating on public transportation,
and consumer discounts.
The small Berber minority constitutes less than 2 percent of the
population. Some older Berbers have retained their native language,
but the younger generation has been assimilated into Tunisian
culture through schooling and marriage. Berbers are free to participate
in politics and to express themselves culturally.
Section 6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution and the Labor Code stipulate the right of workers
to form unions. The Tunisian General Federation of Labor (UGTT)
is the country's only labor federation and claims about 15 percent
of the work force as members, including civil servants and employees
of state-owned enterprises. There is no legal prohibition against
the establishment of other labor federations. A union may be
dissolved only by court order.
The UGTT and its member unions are legally independent of the
Government and the ruling party but operate under regulations
that restrict their freedom of action. The UGTT's membership
includes persons associated with all political tendencies, although
Islamists have been removed from union offices. The current UGTT
leadership follows a policy of cooperation with the Government
and its economic reform program. There are credible reports that
the UGTT receives substantial government subsidies to supplement
modest union dues and funding from the National Social Security
Unions, including those representing civil servants, have the
right to strike, provided they give 10 days' advance notice and
the UGTT approves of the strike. These restrictions, however,
are rarely observed in practice. In recent years, the majority
of strikes have been illegal because the UGTT had not approved
them in advance. The Government does not prosecute workers involved
in illegal strike activity. The law prohibits retribution against
strikers, but some employers punish strikers, who are then forced
to pursue costly and time-consuming legal remedies to protect
Labor disputes are settled through conciliation panels in which
labor and management are equally represented. Tripartite regional
arbitration commissions settle industrial disputes when conciliation
Unions are free to associate with international bodies.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The right to organize and bargain collectively is protected by
law and observed in practice. Wages and working conditions are
set by triennial negotiations between the UGTT member unions and
Forty-seven collective bargaining agreements set standards for
industries in the private sector and cover 80 percent of the total
private sector work force. The Government's role in these negotiations
is minimal, consisting mainly of lending its good offices if talks
appear to be stalled. However, the Government must approve, but
may not modify, the agreements.
The UGTT also negotiates wages and work conditions of civil servants
and employees of state-owned enterprises.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers. The
UGTT, however, is concerned about antiunion activity among private
sector employers, especially the firing of union activists and
the use of temporary workers to avoid unionization. In certain
industries, such as textiles and construction, temporary workers
account for a large majority of the work force. The Labor Code
protects temporary workers, but enforcement is more difficult
than in the case of permanent workers. A committee, chaired by
an officer from the Labor Inspectorate of the Office of the Inspector
General of the Ministry of Social Affairs, includes a labor representative
and an employers' association representative; it approves all
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Tunisia abolished compulsory labor in 1989. The practice of sentencing
convicts to "rehabilitation through work," which had
been of concern to the International Labor Organization's (ILO)
Committee of Experts as a possible violation of ILO Convention
29 on forced labor, ended in 1995.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
An August revision of the Labor Code raised the minimum age for
employment in manufacturing from 15 to 16 years. The minimum
age for light work in agriculture and some other nonindustrial
sectors is 13 years. The Government requires children to attend
school until the age of 16. Workers between the ages of 14 and
18 must have 12 hours of rest a day, which include the hours between
10 pm and 6 am. Children between the ages of 14 and 16 may work
no more than 2 hours a day. The time that they spend in school
and work may not exceed 7 hours per day. Inspectors of the Ministry
of Social Affairs examine the records of employees to verify that
employers comply with the minimum age law. Nonetheless, young
children often perform agricultural work in rural areas and work
as vendors in urban areas.
The UGTT has expressed concern that child labor continues to exist
disguised as apprenticeship, particularly in the handicraft industry,
and in the cases of young girls whose families place them as household
domestics in order to collect their wages.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Labor Code provides for a range of administratively determined
minimum wages, which are set by a commission of representatives
from the Ministries of Social Affairs, Planning, Finance, and
National Economy in consultation with the UGTT and the employers'
association. The President approves the commission's recommendations.
When supplemented by transportation and family allowances, the
minimum wage covers only essential costs for a worker and family.
The minimum wage schedule was adjusted twice during the year,
in May and September. The industrial minimum wage is $168.59
(161.696 dinars) per month for a 48-hour workweek and $147.71
(141.664 dinars) per month for a 40-hour workweek. The agricultural
minimum wage is $5.17 (4.960 dinars) per day.
The Labor Code sets a standard 48-hour workweek for most sectors
and requires one 24-hour rest period. The standard workweek is
40 hours in the energy, transportation, petrochemical, and metallurgy
Regional labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing standards.
They inspect most firms about once every 2 years. However, the
Government often encounters difficulty in enforcing the minimum
wage law, particularly in nonunionized sectors of the economy.
Moreover, more than 240,000 workers are employed in the informal
sector, which falls outside the purview of labor legislation.
The Ministry of Social Affairs has responsibility for enforcing
health and safety standards in the workplace. There are special
government regulations covering such hazardous occupations as
mining, petroleum engineering, and construction. Working conditions
and standards tend to be better in firms that are export-oriented
than in those producing exclusively for the domestic market.
Workers are free to remove themselves from dangerous situations
without jeopardizing their employment, and they may take legal
action against employers who retaliate against them for exercising
Source: U.S. State Department Report on Human Rights Practices