Tunisia UPR Women Human Rights for Review April - May 2017

The Advocates for Human Rights and Mobilising for Rights Associates submitted a joint stakeholder report to the UN Human Rights Council for the 2017 Periodic Review of Tunisia. The stakeholder report addresses violence against women in Tunisia. 

Violence against women in Tunisia is widespread and systematic. Almost half of women ages eighteen to sixty four in Tunisia have been subjected to violence at least once in their lives. During the 2012 Universal Periodic Review of Tunisia, it accepted numerous recommendations urging it to address violence against women. Tunisia has taken limited or no steps to implementing the recommendations. 

Although Article 46 of the constitution in part states, the "[S]tate shall take all necessary measures in order to eradicate violence against women," there is currently no specific legislation addressing violence against women in Tunisia. The Penal Code contains some general prohibitions that may be applied to domestic violence, but the application of these Penal Code provisions to situations of domestic violence is limited. Current articles only apply to situations of physical violence, and exclude psychological and economic violence. The language also does not apply to unmarried or divorced intimate partners. Further, the Penal Code classifies rape as a crime against morality, rather than a crime against persons and sets the age of consent at thirteen years old. Marital rape is not a crime under the current penal code and spouses are required to "fulfill their conjugal duties to practice and custom." It is geenrally understood that sexual relations constitute marital obligation. In 2010, it was reported that one in six married women in Tunisia has faced sexual violence at least once in her life, chiefly by her intimate partner. 

Article 227 bis in the Tunisian Crimianal Code allows people who have committed a sexual act without violence on a minor to avoid prosecution or sentencing if they marry the victim. 

Women are also discouraged from reporting violence and if they retract their complaint, the trial or sentence is cancelled. Very few women victims of violence in Tunisia report the violence to authorities and less than four percent of women identified the police or health system institutions as sources of assistance they would seek. Sixty five to seventy two percent of complaints were withdrawn or dismissed. Tunisian law does not currently provide for any protection or preventive remedies to remove a violent offender from the home or forbid them from having any contact with or harassing the victim. In addition, police often refuse to intervene when women ask for help, viewing domestic violence as a private matter. In order to file an assualt case, women must first bring a medical certificate establishing the violence and its severity and then go to the forensic medical doctor in a public hospital. If women do experience violence, there are currently only two to four shelters for survivors of violence and the national helpline dedicated to victims of violence is non-operational. There is also no comprehensive or consolidated database on the incidence of sexual violence. 

Women in Tunisia also face widespread discrimination. Although poligamy is illegal under Tunisian law, there is concern about the growing practice of customary marriages to circumvent the law. These marriages do not grant women rights stemming from legal marriages and leave women and children vulnerable to abandoment. Women InTunisia are also insufficiently protected from sexual harassment. Although there is some legislation to combat sexual harassment, it has proven ineffective and lacks, some activists have said, an adequate definition of harassment. 

Tunisia has also failed to implement laws combatting human trafficking, a significant issue in the country. In the judiciary year 2012-2013, there were a total of 1,279 recorded cases for trafficking in persons, 540 of which were for sexual crimes. 

The joint stakeholder report makes various recommendations to begin addressing violence against women. The report recommends that Tunisia creates a law combatting sexual violence against women, and work with NGOs and experts in the field to draft the law. The law should, among other things, expand the definition of violence against women; expand the scope of relationship covered by law; clearly and specifically criminalize acts of domestic violence; eliminate the high threshold of incapacity certificates for women to bring a complaint of violence; establish civil remedies including comprehensive protection orders and child custody for the non-violent parent; and increase police powers and resources to respond to reports of violence against women. The Penal Personal Status Codes should be amended to explicitly criminalize marital rape and eliminate the requirement for spouses to "fulfill their conjugal duties." Penal Code provisions allowing the perpetrators of sexual violence to escape prosecution by marrying his victims should also be eliminated. Similarly, Penal Code provisions allowing prosecutions of sentences to be cancelled when the victim withdraws the complaint should be abolished. Funding and legal support for shelters for victims of violence should also be increased. Lastly, the report recommends that Tunisia pass a specific human trafficking law.