A country of a long reformist tradition, Tunisia has since the 1987 Change put the protection and promotion of human rights at the top of its agenda. Under the leadership of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, it has taken a host of initiatives to promote human rights, be they political, civil, social, economic or cultural.
Protection of civil rights
Tunisia has given special attention to the protection of civil human rights. Towards this end, it has introduced a series of reforms that provide the legal framework for the preservation and protection of these rights.
It also ratified without reservations the 1988 United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Following this, the Penal Code was amended by adding provisions defining the crime of torture.
Moreover, the sentence of jail at hard labor was removed in 1989. In 1995, were also removed the sentences of rehabilitative labor and civil service. The legal system of preventive detention and custody was amended through reforms introduced into the Code of Penal Procedures (1987, 1993 and 1999).
Community service was introduced as a substitute for prison terms through amendments and reforms entered into the Penal Code in 1999.
The law of May 14, 2001 added new provisions guaranteeing the rights of prison inmates and defining their duties, in light of the international standards concerning the treatment of prisoners in a way that preserves their dignity and humanity.
The law of October 2002 concerning the indemnification of those detained and sentenced but then proven innocent, established, for the first time in the history of the Tunisian legislation, the possibility for the state to pay due compensations to anyone who is subjected to preventive detention but not proven guilty, and to anyone who is sentenced to imprisonment but later declared innocent by the court.
Another important initiative is the transfer of penitentiary institutions and administrations from the authority of the Ministry of the Interior to that of the Ministry of Justice (January 2001).
The 1959 Constitution guarantees the freedom of religious faith and worship. The law of May 3, 1998, pertaining to mosques, stipulated that "individuals and groups are free to exercise their right to worship in mosques," and that "the State guarantees the sanctity and due respect to mosques." The State protects the places of worship of all faiths and safeguards the right of religious minorities to practice their own faith.
The Tunisian legislation prohibits incitement to religious or racial hate. The educational system, as specified by the Law on Schooling and Education of July 23, 2002, promotes the values of religious and racial tolerance and gender equality.
Trade union freedom
unisian workers have the right to form trade unions and engage in trade union activity, including work stoppages and strikes. The Tunisian General Workers' Union (UGTT) takes part in collective bargaining sessions along with the business federation and the Government. Agreements on salaries and benefits have ensured a climate of social peace in the country during the last 16 years. The UGTT publishes its own newspaper (Ash-Shaab). Its representatives present their views in talk-shows on radio and television.
The right to freedom and democracy
In addition to the reforms consecrating the independence of the judiciary, such as the abolition of the state security court and the office of Public Prosecutor in 1987, constitutional and legal reforms were introduced to promote fundamental freedoms.
Among the reforms is the constitutional law dated October 27, 1997, which addresses the role of political parties in public life and widens the scope of recourse to referendums in decisive questions affecting the country's future.