Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Monday urged [press release] Tunisia to modify the country's draft constitution to address potential human rights violations. After analyzing the third draft constitution, HRW expressed concern that the language recognizes universal human rights regarding only "cultural specificities of the Tunisia people." HRW fears that affirmatively naming Islam as the religion of the state and stating that the text was drafted under "the fundamentals of Islam" will damage the equality of non-believers. While the constitution claims that religious freedom should be allowed, HRW says the text fails to establish "broader concepts of freedom of thought and of conscience" that may help to protect those citizens who abide by other religions. HRW also claims that the non-discriminatory language is weak and unconvincing, and states that the legislature is given too much power to restrict freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. To assuage these concerns, HRW recommends that a new draft contain clearer affirmations to the rights of freedom of religion and conscience, and should construct a clause incorporating the international treaties signed by Tunisia into the country's human rights laws. Also, HRW says that the new draft should state that the references to Islam should not be interpreted to promote discrimination against non-believers.
Tunisia has faced political turmoil since former president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] left office amid nationwide protests in 2011. In March Tunisian lawmakers voted [JURIST report] on a timetable to establish that the draft constitution [JURIST op-ed] was to be completed by the end of April and elections are to be held by December. A UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice in January called on the government of Tunisia to adopt stronger constitutional measures to combat gender inequality and discrimination [JURIST report], while accelerating the participation of women in all aspects of society. In October HRW called on Tunisian authorities to investigate a series of attacks [JURIST report] by religious extremists and to bring those responsible to justice. In October 2011 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] emphasized the importance of adherence to the rule of law [JURIST report] as Tunisia moves forward with its new government.