All the rights they will let you have

Human Rights Watch says Tunisia’s draft constitution needs improvement. Now there’s a surprise.

The shortcomings in human rights protections largely concern the status of international human rights conventions ratified by Tunisia, freedom of expression, freedom of thought and belief, equality between men and women, and non-discrimination, Human Rights found in an analysis of the proposals.

Quite a few things, in other words. Quite important things.

Article 3 threatens freedom of expression by stipulating that, “The state guarantees freedom of belief and religious practice and criminalizes all attacks on the sacred.” This provision, which defines neither what is “sacred” nor what constitutes an “attack” on it, opens the door to laws that criminalize speech, Human Rights Watch said.

Anything for a quiet life, eh? But what if someone comes along who has a different idea of what “the sacred” is? Don’t ask.

Other provisions that cause concern are:

  • Article 3, which says that, “The state guarantees freedom of belief and religious practice,” but omits wording that would affirm freedoms of thought and of conscience, including the right to replace one’s religion with another or to embrace atheism. Human rights would be best protected by an explicit guarantee in the constitution of a right to change one’s religion or to have no religion, Human Rights Watch said.
  • Article 28 on women’s rights invokes the notion of complementarity of the roles of women and men inside the family, omitting the principle of equality between the sexes.
  • Article 22, stating that, “All citizens are equal in rights and freedoms before the law, without discrimination of any kind,” is contradicted by another article that states that only a Muslim can become president of the republic.

Familiar, and repellent.




  1. Rodney Nelson says

    From the linked article:

    “If passed with these articles intact, the constitution will undermine freedom of expression in the name of protection of ‘sacred values,’ provide a basis for chipping away at the country’s proud record on women’s rights, and weaken in other ways Tunisia’s commitment to respect international human rights treaties it has signed,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

    Sounds like the Democratic Islamic Republic of Tunisia is aborning.

  2. barrypearson says

    Tunisia is a member of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation).

    In June 2000 the OIC (under its earlier name) officially resolved to support the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. That Declaration is Sharia dressed up to look superficially like Universal Human Rights.

    I guess that, since Islam is the official state religion, the Constitution was influenced by the Cairo Declaration. Some quotes from the Cairo Declaration:

    Article 6: “Woman is equal to man in human dignity, and has rights to enjoy as well as duties to perform; she has her own civil entity and financial independence, and the right to retain her name and lineage. The husband is responsible for the support and welfare of the family.”

    Article 10: “Islam is the religion of unspoiled nature. It is prohibited to exercise any form of compulsion on man or to exploit his poverty or ignorance in order to convert him to another religion or to atheism.”

    Article 19: “… There shall be no crime or punishment except as provided for in the Shari’ah….”

    Article 22: “Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Shari’ah. Everyone shall have the right to advocate what is right, and propagate what is good, and warn against what is wrong and evil according to the norms of Islamic Shari’ah….”

    Article 24 & 25: “All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari’ah. The Islamic Shari’ah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification to any of the articles of this Declaration.”

  3. DaveL says

    This is a cargo cult constitution.

    I mean that in the same sense that Creationism is cargo cult science, and the arguments of the birther movement are cargo cult law. Just as creationists long for the credibility of real scientific inquiry, without challenging their cherished beliefs by actually following the evidence, it’s clear the drafters of this document hope to don the mantle of legitimacy of the world’s open and democratic governments, without letting dissenters get too uppity.

    It’s doomed to work about as well.

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