Universal Periodic Review


First session meeting highlights

8 April 2008 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the human rights obligations of Tunisia this morning, during which 65 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

Presenting the national report of Tunisia was BÉCHIR TEKKARI, Minister of Justice and Human Rights of Tunisia, said ever since its independence in 1956 Tunisia had placed great emphasis on all universal human rights. The Government of Tunisia had recently adopted several measures to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights in the country and to consolidate cooperation with United Nations regional bodies. In 2008 the Government would be submitting eight reports to United Nations bodies. Tunisia had taken a decision to receive Special Rapporteurs from the Human Rights Council as well as from the African Commission on Human Rights. The Government had also decided to consolidate its Higher Committee on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, in line with the Paris Principles, by giving it legislative status, reinforcing its administrative and financial autonomy, expanding its prerogatives, and developing its means of action to stand against all forms of human rights violations. Moreover, the State had decided to withdraw reservations annexed to the law concerning the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The State had also recently ratified the optional protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This accession was a further determination of Tunisia’s commitment to alleviate all forms of discrimination against women. The Government had also approved the Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities and its related optional protocol.

Per an agreement publicly announced by the Head of State, Tunisia did not execute persons sentenced to death. The State had also agreed, in principle, to allow Human Rights Watch to visit its prisons, as part of its cooperation with international human rights organizations, particularly the International Committee of the Red Cross, following an agreement signed in April 2005. Tunisia had also decided to create an institution related to the General Human Rights Coordinator in charge of the follow-up of different Treaty Bodies’ recommendations in order to promote their effective implementation. The Minister stated that through amendments to national legislation polygamy had been abolished and men and women were considered equal when it came to the family. Additionally, there had been significant progress when it came to the education of girls, in particular in primary school. Between the years 2006 and 2007, there was an increase in the number of girls who were enjoying universal education, which had risen to 59%. There had also been efforts to ensure the promotion and protection of women’s rights and there was an increasing number of women in political life. Furthermore, a law was enacted in 2007 that meant that boys and girls could get married at the made age, which was 18.

Tunisia had been recognized as a model country in the recognition of economic, social and cultural rights, the Minister added. It was also one of the most competitive countries on the African countries with an economic growth rate of 5%; the poverty rate had also been on the decline, and the current figure was now 3.9%. There were nine political parties fully active in Tunisian society. The State had also taken a number of measures to ensure transparent in election processes. With regard to freedom of expression and opinion, the Press Code had been amended to ensure greater liberty and it was now possible for newspapers and publications to conduct their work without legal approval. As to the prohibition of torture, Tunisian law expressly prohibited any act of torture or cruel treatment and law enforcement agents had been sentenced to prison terms if found guilty of such acts. Concerning violence against children, a report was drafted each year by the Tunisian Ministry of Women and Children, which spelled out progress and challenges in this regard. In concluding, the Minister said his country was well aware that progress achieved in the area of human rights required further efforts through political will and further coordination with civil society. In order to counter challenges such as terrorism, it was important to ensure that the international community expressed its solidarity in promoting and protecting human rights.

Issues raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to efforts taken to strengthen the independence of the Constitutional Council and the judiciary; measures taken towards the advancement of women; how the Tunisian Government was combating extremism and terrorism, in particular with regard to hate message spread over the Internet; efforts to combat the negative effects on globalization especially with regard to poor and marginalized communities; the effects of the law on prison management and the conditions of prisoners; the promotion of interfaith and intercultural dialogue and themes of religious instruction; the review of the mandate of the Supreme Council of Tunisia; Government support to NGOs; and education and training programmes on the CEDAW to enhance the knowledge of judges, lawyers and law enforcement personnel and efforts taken by the Government to ensure equal access of women to paid employment.

Other issues raised during the three-hour dialogue concerned legal remedies on court decisions in which women had obtained redress; strengthening of international cooperation in light of human rights obligations; the role of the National Commission for International Humanitarian Law established in 2006; Tunisia’s cooperation with the ICRC; results of the international solidarity fund to combat poverty; special programmes put in place to enhance the empowerment of women in Tunisia and the measures taken at the judicial level on the tutoring of children; the impact of the reform of the Press Code and of the education programmes to spread a culture of human rights in the country; the promotion of freedom of association; limits on freedom of expression, as well as with regard to the Internet; treatment of prisoners; disparities between rural and urban regions in the area of health services; illiteracy rates; and efforts made to ensure that progress made with regard to the rights of women were irreversible.

Additional information was sought on the participation of all citizens in public life; registration requirements for NGOs operating in Tunisia; the respect of press freedom; election laws, and in particular when the laws with regard to the elections of 2009 will be promulgated; representation of civil society in the Supreme Council; the promotion and protection of religion and belief; HIV/AIDS; gender balance; intention to amend the laws on association; the role of the Constitutional Council related to the promotion and protection of human rights; invitations to all Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, and in particular the visit of the Special Rapporteur on torture; and the sharing of best practices on combating poverty.

Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, the Russian Federation, Slovenia, China, India, Ghana, Bangladesh, Angola, Japan, the United Kingdom, Zambia, Senegal, Mali, Azerbaijan, France, Qatar, Romania, Cuba, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Brazil, Nigeria, Egypt, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Germany, Djibouti, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Canada, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jordan, South Africa and Italy.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Kuwait, Palestine, Chad, Madagascar, Mauritania, Syria, Morocco, Singapore, Lebanon, Sweden, Bahrain, the Sudan, Libya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United States, Yemen, Iran, Algeria, Latvia, Belgium, Oman, Thailand, Turkey, Albania, Mozambique, Ethiopia, the Holy See and Zimbabwe.

The 19-person delegation of Tunisia consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry for Education and Training, the Agency of External Communication, and the Permanent Mission of Tunisia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Tunisia are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mauritius and China.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Tunisia can be found here.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Tunisia on Thursday, 10 April.

When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 3 p.m. it will review the human rights obligations of Morocco.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp