General: The human rights situation in Tunisia: A stark decline and indicators of imminent danger


"You, a human for the people, a messenger of words

Speak, suffer, and perish within words

And if you don't live among them, then let the words be

A witness on them, and the words a witness on thee[1]." 

Mounour Samadeh, Tunisian Poet 1931 -1998. 

It is undeniable that nowadays in Tunisia, there is great need of words and expression, raising the voice of righteousness and conscience to uphold and reinforce human rights after the dramatic decline of the important legal methods for rights and freedoms, and violations of some basic human rights.

The regression of human rights indicators is considered a serious phenomenon faced by the Tunisian state after a series of conflicts aimed at undermining public freedoms since independence, which is damaging the social structure and has a significant negative impact on inclusive development, political and social stability.

In recent years, Tunisia has become a beacon for human rights defenders, a haven for refugees, and a harbor for advocates of human rights and peace.

Since the end of 2018, there has been a significant increase in the flow of human rights defenders to Tunisia, particularly from Libya, Egypt, and even from other countries in the Arab Maghreb region, such as Algeria for example. Which is an exceptional situation compared to any other capital city in North Africa.

This was the history of contemporary Tunisia, which now seems to be fading and losing its luster. Therefore, it is necessary to express concerns and condemn this danger that affects not only Tunisians but also anyone who sets foot on Tunisian soil.

Analytical table: Constitutions of the Republic of Tunisia and rights and freedoms. 

Constitution of the Third Republic 

Constitution after revolution2011 

Constitution after independence 





Year of Release                     

kais Saied

Moncef Marzouki

Habib Bourguiba


President of the Republic

Modified Presidential

Mixed parliamentary



Political system

By referendum

Assembly Tunisia's National Constituent

National Constituent Council





Number of chapter




Number of Articles

Section II, 22 to 55

Section II, 21 to 49

Within General Provisions


Section on Rights and Freedoms

Articles 55


Articles 5-17

Guarantees of rights and freedoms

 Articles 55

Articles 49 

Principle and limits of principle

Limits of rights and freedoms

As observed from this analytical table, there is a lack of significant changes at the legislative and legal levels, particularly concerning constitutional texts. However, there is a noticeable violation and disregard for these legal provisions in practice. This is clearly observed in the issuance of new decrees and orders that deviate from constitutional principles, which should serve as the highest legal authority.

Political and social rights

  1. Basic human rights guarantees have been dismantled and weakened since the concentration of power in the hands of the President of the Republic in July, despite his repeated commitments to ensure respect for human rights by the authorities.
  2. Decrees are being issued without proper oversight or review [2], resulting in the erosion and decay of numerous significant human rights achievements in recent years. Unfortunately, there are no indications of a prompt restoration of these rights.
  3. Several national institutions, including the Independent High Electoral Commission, have been dismantled [3]. Just three months before the referendum[4], a restructuring took place on April 21, 2022, through a decree that altered its composition, granting the presidency of the Republic the authority to intervene in the appointment of all commission members.
  4. In a concerning development, the electoral law was amended three months prior to the legislative elections without any public consultations or discussions. On September 15, 2022, "Decree Num. 55-2022" was issued, reducing the number of parliament members from 217 to 161. Additionally, voters were allowed to cast their votes for individuals instead of party lists, a change aimed at diminishing the influence of political parties, as observed by experts.
  5. The new electoral law also eliminated the principle of gender parity, which previously aimed to ensure equal participation of women in the political arena.

The judiciary and the right to a fair trial

  1. The President has issued two decrees that grant him the power not only to appoint judges and public officials but also to dismiss them based on vague reasons, while depriving them of the right to appeal. This move undermines the principles of justice and fairness, as it fails to ensure the independence of the judiciary and leaves judges vulnerable to political interference.
  2. On June 01, 2022, a total of 57 judges were arbitrarily dismissed, allegedly on charges related to impeding terrorism-related investigations, engaging in financial and moral corruption, and adultery.This shows that the executive authority is not committed to preserving the right to a fair trial[5] by ensuring the independence of the courts and protecting judges from political influence [6].
  3. There has been a significant increase in the prosecution of civilians before military courts, with at least 12 individuals being subjected to such trials since July 25, 2021. This practice has been strongly condemned by Amnesty International and other human rights organisations. Over the past years, at least six civilians have been tried in military courts, raising serious concerns about fair and just legal proceedings.
  4. Tunisia ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture in 1988. This protocol mandates states to carry out comprehensive, unbiased, and expeditious investigations into any allegations of torture and ill-treatment. However, the current situation in Tunisia presents a stark contrast to these obligations, as highlighted by various human rights organisations and associations. The swiftness and gravity of the investigations raise concerns as they do not adequately guarantee accountability for instances of torture and ill-treatment.
  5. Within a one-year period between March 2020 and March 2021, a total of 630 human rights violations were documented inside prisons and detention centers in the country. The National Human Rights Commission received 630 notifications and reports concerning these violations, highlighting the concerning state of human rights in such facilities[7].
  6. The conditions of imprisonment, detention in research centers, and overall detention do not meet international standards, despite efforts being made to improve them. The current conditions fall short of ensuring the dignity and well-being of detainees, raising concerns about the treatment and care provided to individuals in these facilities.
  7. A worrying trend is the lack of accountability for security service members who commit violations against prisoners. The absence of consequences for such actions contributes to the perpetuation and repetition of these attacks, creating an environment where abuses can continue to occur without repercussions [8].
  8. The issue of significant overcrowding is prevalent in most prison units in Tunisia. With only 5,000 beds available, the number of prisoners exceeds 25,000. This situation is spread across 27 prisons and 6 correctional centers throughout the country, as per the official statistics updated in 2021. The overcrowding poses challenges to the living conditions and well-being of inmates.
  9. The current state of the judiciary in Tunisia lacks reasonable timelines for litigation and fails to ensure the effective participation of victims in legal proceedings. Lengthy and repetitive legal procedures hinder the progress of cases, and there are no specific time limits set by law for the completion of investigations. This situation contributes to the persistence of impunity, as the lack of timely justice undermines the rights of victims and allows for prolonged delays in legal processes.

Fundamental freedoms

  1. Freedom of expression and the press in Tunisia have experienced a significant decline. Authorities have engaged in harassment, arrests, and prosecutions targeting human rights activists, political opponents, social media users, and bloggers. These individuals have faced charges related to expressing and publishing their personal opinions, including criticism of the government, security forces, and the army. Some have even been subjected to trials in military courts, which raises concerns about the fair and impartial handling of their cases.
  2. On March 02, 2023, lawyer Abdul Razzaq Al-Kilani, a former minister and dean of lawyers, was imprisoned after facing charges such as "disturbing public comfort" and "insulting a public official." These charges stemmed from an altercation between him and security forces while attempting to visit one of his clients. The imprisonment of Al-Kilani highlights the tightening restrictions on individuals exercising their right to legal representation and raises questions about the protection of lawyers' rights and the independence of the judiciary.
  3. As a result of these developments, Tunisia's ranking in the Press Freedom Index, published by "Reporters Without Borders," witnessed a significant decline in 2023. The country dropped from the 94th position in 2022 to the 121st position, marking a steep decline of 27 places in just one year. This decline reflects the worsening conditions for press freedom in Tunisia and the increasing restrictions faced by journalists and media outlets [9].
  4. On September 16, 2023, President Kais Said issued a new decree aimed at combating crimes related to information and communication systems. However, certain provisions within this decree have raised concerns as they severely limit freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the right to privacy. These restrictive measures have sparked criticism from various quarters, highlighting the potential implications for the exercise of fundamental rights and the ability of individuals to express themselves freely.
  5. Article 24 of this new decree has particularly drawn attention as it provides a broad scope for judicial interpretation and potential criminalization. It criminalizes the production, promotion, or dissemination of "false news, statements, or rumors" and carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison. Moreover, if such acts target public officials, the penalty can be increased by ten years. This provision has raised concerns regarding its potential impact on freedom of expression, as it could be used to surpress dissenting voices and limit critical reporting.

Peaceful demonstration and association

  1. The security forces in Tunisia have been repeatedly involved in preventing demonstrations by blocking access to certain areas and resorting to excessive force to disperse protesters. Instances of such actions were witnessed on significant dates such as January 14, 2023, commemorating the anniversary of the 2011 revolution, and on July 22, 2023, during a protest against the 2022 constitutional referendum. These incidents have raised concerns about the infringement on the right to peaceful assembly and the use of disproportionate force.
  2. The Tunisian authorities have imposed numerous arbitrary travel bans without proper judicial oversight, thereby restricting the freedom of movement, particularly for political activists. Such measures limit individuals' ability to exercise their rights to engage in political activities and hinder their participation in civil society.
  3. In February 2022, the presidency of the Republic made accusations against civil society organisations, alleging their alignment with foreign interests. As a result, the authorities decided to restrict "foreign funding" for these organisations. This move has been criticized for its potential to impede the work of civil society and limit the support and resources available to them in their efforts to promote human rights and advocate for social and political change.
  4. Furthermore, there are plans to enact a new law that imposes restrictions on the organisation of associations, which represents a setback to the previous measures taken to protect freedom of association. This new law undermines the progress made through the amendment of Decree No. 88 of 2011, which aimed to regulate the functioning of civil society and ensure the rights of civil society organisations to freely exist and carry out their activities.
  5. The introduction of this new law raises concerns about the potential limitations and obstacles that may hinder the work of civil society and restrict their ability to advocate for human rights and engage in activities that promote social development.

Women's and gender rights

  1. Despite the historic appointment of Najla Bouden as prime minister in 2021, Tunisia has not made significant progress in advancing women's rights. While her appointment was a precedent in North Africa, she has not been granted substantial political autonomy to drive meaningful change in this regard. Women in Tunisia continue to face various challenges and barriers in their pursuit of equal rights and opportunities.
  2. The Tunisian legal framework still perpetuates discrimination against women, particularly in the area of inheritance rights. Despite the efforts of late President Beji Caid Essebsi, who presented a draft law to Parliament advocating for inheritance equality, it was not adopted. President Kais Saied has expressed strong opposition to such reforms, impeding progress in achieving gender equality in inheritance laws.
  3. Tunisia lacks a comprehensive policy that effectively protects the rights of pregnant girls to access education. Pregnant girls often face societal stigma and discrimination, leading to barriers in continuing their education. The absence of a protective policy hinders their ability to pursue educational opportunities and perpetuates inequalities based on gender and reproductive status.
  4. Despite the adoption of the law on Combating Violence Against Women in 2017, which aimed to provide new support services and establish prevention and protection mechanisms for victims, there have been significant shortcomings in its implementation. One area of concern is the handling of complaints of domestic violence by the police and the judiciary. There is a need for improvement in how these institutions address such cases to ensure the effective protection of victims. Additionally, the prevalence of domestic violence continues to rise, particularly in recent years, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive and effective measures to address this issue.
  5. The 2022 Constitution of Tunisia retained several provisions from the 2014 constitution regarding gender equality. It explicitly states that women and men are equal in rights, duties, and before the law without any discrimination. Furthermore, the constitution obliges the state to take measures to eliminate violence against women. However, the serious implementation of these provisions by government authorities has been lacking. Efforts need to be made to effectively translate these constitutional commitments into tangible actions, policies, and programs that protect women's rights and combat violence against them.


The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls on authorities in Tunisia to:

  1. Consider repealing or amending repressive provisions that have been used to impose restrictions on women's freedom and freedom of expression. This includes provisions found in the Penal Code and the military proceedings and sanctions code that prohibit insulting symbols, public bodies, and government officials. These provisions should be reviewed to ensure they align with international human rights standards and protect individuals' rights to freedom of expression.
  2. Immediately suspend the implementation of Decree 54 of 2022 on combating crimes related to information and communication systems. This decree poses illegal obstacles to journalists' right to access information from official sources and citizens' right to obtain information. The suspension would allow for a comprehensive review of the decree's provisions and their compatibility with freedom of expression and access to information.
  3. The recommendations put forth by the World Organisation Against Torture on January 24, 2023, should be promptly considered. Tunisia should give due regard to their manual titled "10 Obstacles to Justice: A Guide to Legislative Reforms Against Impunity." These recommendations provide valuable insights on necessary legislative reforms to combat impunity and ensure accountability for human rights violations.
  4. Collaborative international mechanisms should be developed to safeguard digital human rights, particularly freedom of expression through social media, and ensure the protection of personal data. Efforts should be made to facilitate access to information in matters of public interest. International cooperation in this regard can help establish effective frameworks that balance privacy rights with the free flow of information.
  5. It is crucial to keep laws abreast of technological advancements and address the potential negative impacts of artificial intelligence. Developing effective safeguards is necessary to protect individuals' rights and mitigate any adverse consequences that may arise from the use of AI technologies. Continuous evaluation and updates to legislation will contribute to a regulatory framework that supports responsible and ethical AI development. 6 Strengthening the role of Tunisia as a center
  6. Strengthen the role of Tunis as a hub for human rights defenders in North Africa. This can be achieved by increasing investment in the field and enhancing the capacities of organisations operating in Tunisia. Supporting human rights defenders through resources, training, and protection measures will contribute to the advancement and protection of human rights in the region.
  7. Uphold its international obligations regarding the right to asylum. It should ensure that human rights defenders can carry out their legitimate activities without hindrance, regardless of their nationality. Regardless of security cooperation relations with other countries, Tunisia should prioritize the protection and support of human rights defenders, guaranteeing their safety and enabling their important work in promoting and defending human rights.

[1] The quote by Tunisian poet Mounour Samadeh emphasizes the power and significance of words in the human experience. It suggests that as human beings, we have the capacity to convey messages, express ourselves, and bear witness to the world through the use of words. The poet recognizes the role of words as a means of communication, as well as a tool for reflecting on and understanding our own existence. By living through words, we become witnesses to our own experiences and the experiences of others. This quote highlights the value of language and the profound impact it can have in shaping our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

[2] Presidential Order 2021-117 of September 2021 deals with the power to enact new laws by decree without review or control by any other authority.

[3] Decree No. 2022-22 of April 21, 2022 was issued in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Tunisia, relating to the revision and completion of the provisions of Basic Law No. 2012-23 of December 20, 2012 relating to the Independent High Authority for Elections.

[4] Tunisian Constitutional Referendum 2022 Public referendum held in Tunisia on July 25, 2022, organised by the Independent High Authority for Elections, to allow Tunisians to decide on a new constitution for the Tunisian Republic.

[5] The Tunis administrative court suspended the president's decision concerning 49 of the 57 judges, and decided to reinstate them, but this decision remained only judicial.

[6] Dissolution of the Superior Council of the Judiciary and reformulation of the Council by decrees (December 10, 2021).

[7] According to the reports of the Tunisian Authority for the Prevention of Torture.

[8] According to the reports of the Tunisian Authority for the Prevention of Torture.

[9] According to reports from the National Union of Tunisian Journalists / March 2023.