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Tunisia: UN rights expert to assess freedom of religion or belief


GENEVA (6 April 2018) – The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief will undertake an official visit to Tunisia from 9 to 19 April to examine the country’s policies and practices promoting and protecting freedom of religion or belief.

“I look forward to getting a first hand understanding of the human rights situation in Tunisia, including the good practices and challenges facing the country in relation to freedom of religion or belief,” said the Special Rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed.

Tunisia has had many achievements since the 2011 revolution. It has produced major institutional reforms in a relatively short time and is often labelled as the most progressive country in the region.

“While Tunisia has certainly made significant progress on women’s rights, there is still more to be done to achieve gender equality in the country,” said the Special Rapporteur. His comment follows a joint statement with the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women on 26 September 2017, welcoming the abolition of a ban on Muslim women marrying men who are not of the same faith.

Since 2014, Tunisia has experienced a number of terrorist attacks, and the Government’s handling of security threats will also be reviewed by the Special Rapporteur. “It is a challenge for any country to strike a balance in its approach to security issues while respecting fundamental freedoms,” said Mr. Shaheed.

“Policies that enhance the capacity of security forces to combat terrorism by limiting fundamental rights, such as the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, often have dire consequences for the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief,” he stressed.

The Special Rapporteur will visit Tunis and Djerba where he will meet Government officials, representatives of faith-based organisations, NGOs, civil society and UN agencies. A number of issues will be considered including religious diversity as well as tolerance and women’s rights. The expert will also examine the human rights situation for those most disadvantaged, such as religious minorities and migrants.

Mr. Shaheed will share his preliminary findings at a news conference on Thursday 19 April at 11:00 local time, at the Hotel Belvedere Fourati (10 Avenue Des Etats Unis), in conference room Kairouan, in Tunis. Access to the press conference is strictly limited to journalists.

The Special Rapporteur’s findings and recommendations will be presented at a forthcoming session of the Human Rights Council. 


Mr. Ahmed Shaheed (the Maldives) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016. Mr. Shaheed is a Visiting Professor at Essex University, UK; a former member of the Maldivian presidential Commission Investigating Corruption; and a foreign policy advisor to the President of the Maldives. He was Foreign Minister of the Maldives from 2005 to 2007 and from 2008 to 2010. He led the country’s efforts to sign and ratify all nine international human rights Conventions and to implement them in law and practice.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights - country page: Tunisia

For more information and media requests:
In Geneva (before and after the visit): Ms. Maken Tzeggai (+41 22 917 9889 / mtzeggai@ohchr.org)

In Tunisia (during the visit): Ms. Issaaf Ben Khalifa (+216 98 745 085 / ibenkhalifa@ohchr.org) or Ms. Maken Tzeggai (+41 79 201 0119 / mtzeggai@ohchr.org )

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact:
Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.