GENEVA, Switzerland, April 20, 2018–Tunisia has continued to make progress on democracy since the revolution more than seven years ago, including a Constitution guaranteeing fundamental rights for all Tunisians, but there is still a lot to do, says a UN human rights expert.
“Tunisia still faces numerous challenges, including setting up key institutions required by the Constitution, such as the Constitutional Court, and aligning a number of overly-restrictive laws with the democratic and human rights standards proclaimed by the new Constitution,” says the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed.
In a statement (https://goo.gl/ktfF9m) at the end of a country visit, the expert said: “The country’s new constitution enacted in 2014 is very progressive, and could be a model or source of inspiration for the entire region, guaranteeing every citizen freedom of conscience and belief, and the freedom to peacefully exercise one’s religious practices.”
Mr Shaheed also identified several challenges facing the country. “The road ahead remains a rocky one, with the multi-faceted challenges of combating violent extremism, ensuring sustained economic development, consolidating democratic institutions, promoting the rule of law, and transforming societal attitudes by fostering pluralism and inclusion,” stressed the expert.
He observed that the Constitution requires that the Head of State be a Muslim and that the State is required to be the “guardian of religion” and to undertake to “protect the sacred”.
“This could be a source of numerous problems, if this provision is interpreted as an obligation upon the state to protect religion per se rather than individuals,” said the Special Rapporteur.
The expert welcomed the provisions in the 2014 Constitution for a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) and a draft bill to ensure that the current NHRI becomes fully compliant with the international Paris Principles (https://goo.gl/Py3hFn).
He also hailed the appointment of a Commission, established by the Tunisian President, to report on establishing equality with regard to inheritance and child custody saying: “These are very progressive measures that demonstrate a deep commitment to a civil state with equality for all.”
Mr. Shaheed also considered the human rights situation of women in Tunisia during his visit. He said: “Women have generally succeeded in securing far more equitable laws than in many of Tunisia’s neighbours, and are likely to make even greater progress in gender equality.”
The expert, who visited the country at the invitation of the Government of Tunisia, met with Government officials, including the Prime Minister. He also had meetings with civil society organizations, members of various religious or belief groups, academics and UN Agencies. A final report on the main findings of his visit and the key recommendations, will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2019.