Tunisia's Parliament [official website, in Arabic] on Sunday passed a new constitution, its first since the ousting of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in January 2011. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] commended [UN News Centre report] the country's democratic transition, stating his belief that Tunisia's example could serve as a model to other peoples seeking reforms in a statement [text] from his spokesperson. The text, which was passed by 200 votes [BBC report] out of 216, guarantees freedom of worship, though it names Islam as the state religion and forbids "attacks on the sacred." It also, for the first time, recognizes equality between men and women. The new constitution, which is the result of many concessions by the governing Ennahda party including the elimination of references to Islamic law, has been praised by Ban as a "historic milestone."
Tunisia has faced political turmoil since Zine El Abidine Ben Ali left office amid nationwide protests in 2011. Earlier this month Tunisian members of parliament rejected [JURIST report] Islam as the main source of law for the country as they voted to establish a new constitution. In July UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] condemned [JURIST report] the assassination of a Tunisian opposition leader. In May Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged Tunisia to modify its draft constitution [JURIST report] to ensure protection of human rights. Two months earlier HRW urged Tunisia to repeal its criminal defamation law [JURIST report], which is typically considered a civil offense throughout the world. That same month Tunisian lawmakers voted to approve [JURIST report] a timetable for its draft constitution and national elections. In October 2012 HRW called on Tunisian authorities to investigate a series of attacks [JURIST report] by religious extremists and to bring those responsible to justice.