In February 2017, ARTICLE 19 reviewed the Tunisian Draft Organic Law Related to the Elimination of Violence against Women (Draft Law) for its compliance with international freedom of expression standards. The Draft Law was initiated by the Tunisian Ministry of Women, Family and Children and was approved by the Cabinet in July 2016.
The Draft Law’s purpose is to “define measures required to eliminate all forms of violence based on gender and to ensure equality and respect for human dignity, by adopting a comprehensive approach based on the fight against the different forms of violence, the prosecution and sanctioning of perpetrators and the protection and support of victims.” It is a part of the ongoing efforts of the Tunisian Government to eliminate violence against women in the country; the measures include the adoption of the National Action Plan for the Elimination of Violence against Women in 2013 and the withdrawal of reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It is also a result of strong advocacy by civil society and the support of many domestic and international organisations.
ARTICLE 19 commends Tunisia’s efforts to legislate in accordance with its obligations under international law to combat violence against women. We note, however, that Tunisia will need to ensure that these efforts do not violate its obligations under international law regarding the right to freedom of expression. As such, we are particularly concerned about the provisions in the Draft Law that criminalize speech is an overly broad manner.
ARTICLE 19 calls upon the Tunisian government to ensure that all provisions in the Draft Law are made compliant with international standards on freedom of expression before the Draft Law is adopted. We believe that reviewing the Draft Law for the compliance with these standards will ultimately lead to a stronger protection of human rights for all in the country.
Summary of recommendations
- The Draft Law should be carefully reviewed and partially revised to bring it in line with Tunisia’s obligations under international law regarding the right to freedom of expression;
- Priority should be given to the provisions in the Draft Law that criminalise speech, most notably the definitions that determine what entails “violence against women”, as this impacts on the scope of the Draft Law in its entirety;
- Amendments should be made throughout the law to more narrowly and precisely define the scope of provisions that potentially infringe upon the right to free expression and privacy. This should be done by eliminating overly broad and vague terminology and clearly defining key elements of those provisions so as to meet the test of legality under international law.