[JURIST] The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice [official website] urged [press release] the government of Tunisia on Tuesday to ensure that women’s rights are protected in line with the nation’s international human rights obligations. Kamala Chandrakirana, the head of the UN Working Group, expressed concern that Tunisia’s new constitution [text, PDF] presents a setback for women’s rights by making them “complementary” to men’s rights. In the press release Chandrakirana argued that making making women’s rights complementary to men’s undermines the ability of women to be independent citizens:
Rights are guaranteed to women not on the basis of them being entitled to human rights by virtue of the fact that they are human, but rather, them being complementary to men. … Although the text refers to women’s role in nation-building, it conditions this on women being “complementary to men,” thereby failing to establish the basis for full independence and empowerment of women, and their participation as active citizens for change.
Chandrakirana also called on Tunisia’s government to uphold the nation’s history of championing women’s rights as evidenced by Tunisia’s passage of the Code of Personal Status [materials] in 1956.
Tunisia has faced political turmoil since former president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] left office amid nationwide protests. Earlier this month Human Rights Watch (HRW [advocacy website] urged Tunisia’s new government to ensure judicial independence [JURIST report]. A Tunisian military court last month sentenced Ben Ali in absentia to life in prison [JURIST report] for his involvement in the killing of 43 protesters during last year’s Tunisian revolution which resulted in the death of more than 200 protesters. Ben Ali was already sentenced to life in prison [JURIST report] for his involvement in the killing of 22 protesters. He has also been sentenced to 20 years [JURIST report] on charges of inciting violence and murder in connection with the death of four protesters. The two sentences were added to previous sentences amounting to 55 years in prison including 15 years for drug and gun charges and 35 years [JURIST reports] on charges of theft and unlawful possession of money and jewelry. In April the country’s military appeals court upheld [JURIST report] the convictions against the former president for torturing military officers over an alleged coup plot in 1991. In January a military court started its trial against Ben Ali focusing on who ordered snipers to kill 41 protesters during last year’s revolution. Ben Ali had denied [JURIST report] all charges brought against him.