Treatment by society and the authorities of Muslims who are in a relationship with a Christian individual — Nov. Domestic violence, legislation and protection available to victims — Nov. Situation of a woman who has a child out of wedlock; the attitude of the mother's family and of Tunisian society toward the mother and her child — Sept. Protection and resources available to women fleeing family abuse; whether a single woman could find safety in any part of the country — July You Say You Want a Lawyer?
The Destour Democratic Party; its founding members and founding date; its political persuasion and ideology; its relationship with other established parties; its relationship with the authorities — June F of 31 October regarding the situation of homosexuals; the attitude of the authorities; protection offered to homosexuals — May The passport; procedures for obtaining a passport — Oct. Financial assistance for students who want to study abroad, particularly in Canada, and conditions for obtaining such scholarships; Tunisia's control over those students — Oct.
The government did not restrict the widespread possession of satellite dishes. Although no official reason was given for the cancellation, some media sources suggested that it was due to government pressure since the show presented an unfavorable picture of government efforts to eradicate poverty. The government continued to withhold press credentials from, and delayed granting passports to, journalists, such as Slim Boukhdir, who in posed a question in a press conference implying that relatives of the president had pressured the judiciary to influence a legal case.
The government did not grant government press cards to other experienced journalists, including Lotfi Hajji, Abdelatif Fourati, Slaheddine Jourchi, and Mohamed Fourati. Such press cards were needed for official accreditation as a journalist and were reviewed annually. Accreditation allowed journalists to attend official press conferences. According to many journalists and non-journalist sources, senior government officials routinely called news directors and editors to inform them which issues they were forbidden to cover or publish and to direct editorial content and news coverage.
The Tunisian Agency for External Communications enforced this policy and other informal censorship mechanisms by favoring certain publications for placement of government advertising. In addition, private companies were unwilling to advertise in newspapers no longer receiving government advertisements in order to avoid the appearance of siding with the media organization being punished by the government.
The government blocked nearly all sites belonging to domestic human rights, opposition, and Islamist groups. Opposition news sites and Internet discussion sites were also blocked. In November the OpenNet Initiative, a collaborative of universities in several nations studying government attempts to control Internet information, reported that the government had blocked 10 percent of the 2, Web sites it tested and targeted and blocked substantial online material on political opposition, human rights, methods of bypassing filtering, and pornography.
A November HRW report on online censorship noted that the government cited counterterrorism and the need to curb incitement to hatred and violence among its justifications for censoring information online. The same report noted, however, that tests on 41 radical Islamist Web sites found only four blocked. In April a court found Mohamed Abbou, a lawyer, guilty of publishing statements "likely to disturb the public order" in which he condemned torture in the country's prisons and compared the fate of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib to that of citizen prisoners see section 1.
Two decrees cover in part Internet and telecommunications services. The Commission on Telecommunications Services, including representatives from the ministries of defense and interior, as well as officials holding posts related to communications, information, and computer sciences, reviews each application. The director of the ISP must maintain "constant oversight" of the content on the ISP's servers to insure that no information remains on the system that is contrary to "public order and good morals.
Among other legal requirements, Internet cafe owners must maintain a database of their customers and inform customers of their obligations and their responsibility for any infringements of the legal provisions relating to Internet use. The government limited academic freedom and fostered a culture of self-censorship in universities. The government closely monitored administrators, teachers, and students to identify any political activity.
Police on university campuses, both uniformed and in plainclothes, discouraged students from openly expressing dissent. Sgaier went on a day-hunger strike to protest the court's decision and to demand the renewal of his passport. The government allegedly refused to issue him a new passport for six months due to his political activities. In March police assaulted students during campus demonstrations against the government's invitation to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to attend a UN summit hosted by the country. Police arrested one faculty member and several students, who were released the following day see section 2.
Authorities subjected academic publications to government approval before publication, and university libraries did not purchase foreign books or subscribe to foreign magazines deemed critical of the government. Close government control over academic research funds prevented university administrators from authorizing or applying for grants on research topics that they believed the government would find objectionable.
Professors avoided teaching classes on subjects considered sensitive, such as legal courses on political systems or classes on civil liberties. University professors often avoided discussion of subjects deemed sensitive enough to interest the government, and faculty members reported that they were hesitant to gather outside the classroom. The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, but the government severely restricted this right in practice.
The law requires groups wishing to hold a public meeting, rally, or march to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Interior no later than three days before the proposed event and to submit a list of participants; authorities routinely approved such permits for groups that supported the government and generally refused permission for dissenting groups.
As in previous years, NGO leaders reported difficulty in renting space to hold large meetings. They maintained that police pressured venue managers to prevent them from renting meeting space. Hotel managers and businesses denied any specific ban on renting space to opposition groups; however, they said they cooperated with the Ministry of Interior and accommodated its requests when possible. However, the day before the conference, hotel managers cancelled the reservation, citing ongoing work at the hotel facilities. Activists alleged that the government had instructed the hotel not to allow ATFD access to prevent it from holding the planned event.
The government used police and other state security forces to monitor, control, and sometimes disrupt demonstrations. The government broke up several unsanctioned demonstrations during the year. In general demonstrators and security forces did not resort to violence; however, there were some exceptions, such as scuffles ensuing from demonstrators' attempts to cross police lines barring access to a demonstration site or demonstrators not dispersing when ordered by police. The government consistently blocked meetings by the LTDH, in its headquarters in Tunis and in regional offices throughout the country.
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Hundreds of police, a majority of whom were in civilian clothing, blocked access to the LTDH headquarters buildings by LTDH members and international observers. Police throughout the country reportedly prevented members from regional cities from traveling to Tunis to attend the congress. Plainclothes police beat some persons attempting to gain access to the site.
In July the government refused to allow several demonstrations to take place. Opposition groups, human rights NGOs, the Tunisian labor union and students had petitioned for permission for multiple demonstrations to protest Israeli actions in Lebanon. Police in Sfax, Gabes, and Kairouan reportedly used violence in breaking up unauthorized demonstrations held in protest against the conflict between Israel and Lebanon in July.
Only one demonstration, sanctioned and led by the government, took place. On both occasions, plainclothes police and security officials prevented the officials from entering the LTDH branch office and conducting a meeting. On October 31, the government sent a diplomatic note to all diplomatic missions in Tunis saying that the LTDH was subject to a court decision that "forbids all activity of the LTDH. However, the LTDH had conducted widespread activity since , although a September ruling reportedly prevented the LTDH from any activity involving the preparation of its national congress.
On September 8, the government blocked an international conference on labor and employment issues organized by the German Friedich Ebert Foundation, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, the Euromed Trade Union Forum, and the Fundacion Paz y Solidaridad of the Spanish Comisioners Obreras trade union in liaison with the UGTT, ostensibly because the organizers had not given the government advance notification. However, officials reported privately that the government blocked the conference due to the participation of two local activists.
In November organizers of the "Citizen's Summit on the Information Society," an unofficial parallel summit to the UN World Summit on the Information Society, reported that the Tunis hotel where they reserved space notified them that the hall was no longer available. Representatives of the organizations planning the citizen's summit also tried to meet at the Goethe Institute, but they were prevented from entering by several dozen plainclothes police.
According to HRW representatives, the police, who did not identify themselves, "manhandled local and foreign activists, knocking down several individuals as they pushed them along the streets.
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The law provides for freedom of association; however, the government generally did not respect this right in practice. The law requires that new NGOs apply to the government to gain recognition and to operate legally. According to the law, an NGO that has filed an application to register may operate freely while the government processes its application.
If the government does not reject the application within 90 days, the NGO is automatically registered. The government routinely blocked registration of new independent NGOs by refusing to provide receipts for their registration applications. Without such a receipt, NGOs were unable to counter the government's assertions that they had not applied to register and therefore were not allowed to operate. In such cases, NGOs could be shut down, their property seized, and their members prosecuted for "membership in an illegal organization. Their apparent intent was to limit the NGOs' independence by gaining control through elections or disrupting their operations.
In some cases RCD members used the NGOs' own bylaws, while in other cases they exploited a provision of the law on associations that requires "organizations of a general character" to grant membership to all who apply. Leaders of the AMT also alleged that the government used members loyal to the RCD to disrupt its meetings and operations. In AMT members allegedly under government and RCD control held new elections for AMT leadership after the AMT president proposed new judicial reform initiatives and supported a group of lawyers alleging improprieties in the trial of Mohamed Abbou see section 1.
In the government evicted AMT leadership from the association's headquarters in Tunis. Previously, several other AMT board members were also transferred from Tunis to regional cities. Human rights organizations viewed these transfers as punishments and stated that the government removed the current AMT leadership due to its demonstrated independence. On September 10, the new AMT leadership, allegedly loyal to the RCD, drafted an internal regulation reducing the number of AMT members serving on the executive board and excluding members serving in regional cities from the board.
Human rights activists reported that this was done to exclude independent-minded members who had been transferred from Tunis as punishment. The law provides for freedom of religion that does not disturb public order, and the government generally respected this right in practice, although there were some restrictions and abuses.
The government recognizes all Christian and Jewish religious organizations that were established before independence in Although it permitted other Christian denominations to operate, the government formally recognized only the Catholic church. In March the government allowed the re-opening of a Catholic church in Djerba, but did not permit Christian groups to establish new churches. While it was not illegal to change religions, government officials occasionally discriminated against converts from Islam to another religion using bureaucratic means to discourage conversion.
Muslims who convert to another religion faced social ostracism. Customary law based on Shari'a forbids Muslim women from marrying outside their religion. The government required non-Muslim men to convert to Islam before marrying a Muslim woman. The government did not allow married couples to register their children with non-Muslim names. However, marriages of Muslim women to non-Muslim men abroad were generally recognized by the government. While judges generally ruled that marriages abroad were legal, on rare occasions judges have declared that a marriage abroad was void in the country.
While authorities did not deport foreigners suspected of proselytizing, the government did not renew the visas of suspected missionaries. During the year there were no reports of official action against persons suspected of proselytizing. The government required Islamic religious education in public schools. The religious curriculum for secondary school students also included histories of Judaism and Christianity. The government did not permit the establishment of political parties based on religion, and it used this prohibition to continue to outlaw the Islamist party An-Nahdha and to prosecute suspected An-Nahdha members for "membership in an illegal organization" see section 1.
The government continued to maintain tight surveillance over Islamists and monitored activity in mosques. The law provides that only persons appointed by the government may lead activities in mosques. The government required that mosques remain closed except during prayers and other authorized religious ceremonies, such as marriages or funerals. According to human rights lawyers, the government regularly questioned individuals observed praying frequently in mosques.
Authorities instructed imams to espouse governmental social and economic programs during prayer times in mosques. The government paid the salaries of imams. The government sought to suppress certain outward signs of citizens' religious practice. For example, authorities characterized the hijab as a "garment of foreign origin having a partisan connotation. In addition, some women were stopped in public places, detained, and told to remove their hijab. In several cases school officials took disciplinary action to punish and deter hijab use by attempting to have women sign written oaths renouncing its use.
There were reports that police sometimes detained and harassed men with what were termed "Islamic" beards, compelling them to shave. These reports increased in frequency after attacks by alleged Islamists on December 23 see section 1. Religious publications were subject to the same restrictions on freedom of speech and the press as secular publications. Christian groups were generally allowed to distribute religious documents in English, but not in Arabic and not in public. Only sanctioned Muslim religious groups were allowed to distribute religious documents. In the government's view, distribution by other groups constituted an illegal "threat to public order" see section 2.
The government determined which citizens could make the Hajj due to country quotas from the Saudi Arabian government on how many nationals from each country could participate in the Hajj. Cartoons in some mainstream newspapers used derogatory images of historically stereotypical Jews to portray the state of Israel and Israeli interests. These cartoons were drawn by cartoonists outside of the country and reprinted locally. Christians and Jews living in the country, including foreigners, constituted less than 1 percent of the population.
According to church leaders, the practicing Christian population was approximately 2, and included a few hundred native-born citizens converted to Christianity. The government permitted Christians and Jews who did not proselytize to worship as they wished, and it allowed Jewish communities to operate private religious schools.
Some Christians reported government harassment in the form of surveillance and interrogation. There were reports of Christian citizens being detained by police and government security officials and questioned about their conversion to Christianity. There was one report that a Christian from the country was told by a local security official that it was illegal to be a Christian and was threatened with imprisonment. There were reports that the process of renewing passports was inexplicably delayed for some Christians, although passports were subsequently issued see section 2.
Jewish children on the island of Djerba were permitted to divide their academic day between public secular schools and private religious schools. Jewish community leaders reported that the government actively protected synagogues, particularly during Jewish holidays. The government allowed the Jewish community freedom of worship and paid the salary of the grand rabbi. The government partially subsidized restoration and maintenance costs for some synagogues. The Provisional Committee of the Jewish community met weekly and performed religious activities and charity work, although the government had not granted it permanent registration.
In March according to press reports and eyewitnesses, approximately students shouted anti-Israel and anti-Jewish slogans during a demonstration at Manouba University near Tunis at a ceremony to mark the donation of books from the library of the late Jewish and citizen historian Paul Sebag. After the incident the Manouba Student Union, mainstream citizen journalists, and the Tunisian Human Rights League strongly denounced the demonstration's anti-Jewish character.
While Baha'is do not consider themselves Muslims, the government regarded the Baha'i faith as a heretical sect of Islam and permitted its adherents to practice their faith only in private. The law provides for these rights, and the government generally respected them in practice; however, the government refused to issue, renew, amend, or accept passports of some dissidents, Islamists, and their relatives.
The government also may impose a five-year period of "administrative controls" at sentencing on certain former prisoners that constituted a type of internal exile. The law authorizes the courts to cancel passports and contains broad provisions that both permit passport seizure on national security grounds and deny citizens the right either to present their case against seizure or to appeal the judges' decision.
The Ministry of Interior is required to submit to the courts requests to seize or withhold a citizen's passport through the public prosecutor; however, the ministry routinely bypassed the public prosecutor with impunity. According to the constitution, no citizen can be exiled from the country nor prevented from returning. Many citizens reported difficulty applying for or renewing their passports and accused the government of blocking their applications solely on the basis of political opposition. Some Christian converts also reported unexplained delays in passport issuance or renewal.
Former Islamist leader Mohamed Sedki Labidi has been deprived of his passport for the last decade without a court decision. Administrative control measures, which take effect upon a convict's release from prison, are similar to parole restrictions, except that they may be applied to prisoners even after they have completed their sentences. The government requires those individuals to reside in a place, chosen by the government, which may be anywhere in the country, and they are required to stay "in the area of their residence.
At the police station, they may be forced to wait hours before they are allowed to sign in, making normal employment impossible. Numerous Islamists released from prison in recent years have been subjected to such continuing punishment. By law administrative control measures may only be imposed at sentencing; however, a former high school teacher, Nouri Chniti, claimed that, although his sentence did not include administrative control, he has been subject to extrajudicial administrative control measures since when he received a suspended sentence for membership in An-Nahdha.
Some political opponents in self-imposed exile abroad were prevented from obtaining or renewing their passports to return to the country. The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its protocol. The government cooperated to a certain degree with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting approximately refugees and asylum seekers primarily from sub-Saharan Africa. However, the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees or foreign nationals who may not qualify as refugees under the Convention and protocol, but who still need some form of international protection.
In practice, the government did not provide protection against refoulement , the return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. AI reported that Adel Tebourski was forcibly returned to the country from France after his request for asylum was rejected. In May Tebourski was sentenced in France to six years' imprisonment for providing false identity documents to two alleged al-Qa'ida operatives involved in the killing of Commander Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance coalition group in Afghanistan, on September 9, AI reported that Tebourski was at grave risk of torture and other serious human rights violations.
On August 7, according to AI, Adel Tebourski was deported back to the country and released after brief questioning from the country's border police. The law provides that citizens shall directly elect the president and members of the Chamber of Deputies for five-year terms; however, there were significant limitations on citizens' right to change their government. Moreover, there were irregularities that routinely called into question the legitimacy of elections.
In the October national elections, President Ben Ali faced three candidates and officially received The third opposition candidate, Mohamed Halouani of the Et Tajdid party, cited government restrictions and other irregularities to explain why he received less than 1 percent of the official vote count. According to official election returns, more than 90 percent of registered voters went to the polls; however, independent NGOs estimated that the actual turnout was closer to 30 percent.
The polling was characterized by irregularities. Opposition candidates and other observers also cited voter intimidation, restrictions on disseminating campaign materials and organizing campaign events. The Electoral Code significantly limits the number of individuals eligible to run for president. A candidate must be Muslim and must receive the endorsement of 30 sitting deputies or municipal council presidents to be eligible to run. By law 20 percent of the seats in one house of the legislature Chamber of Deputies are reserved for opposition party candidates.
The ruling party's domination of state institutions and political activity precluded any credible and competitive electoral challenges. In March the National Election Observatory, formed by the government in to monitor all stages of the elections, issued its report, concluding that the electoral process in general proceeded fairly and according to law.
The report contained references to opposition and NGO criticism of the election, including the non-distribution of voting cards to opposition party members, the ruling party's media advantage, the lack of transparency of the actual balloting, and secret ballot counts.
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While the report refuted the claims, it also listed 12 specific recommendations to address problems. Independent human rights activists complained that the real purpose of the observatory was to deflect criticism of the lack of independent or international observers. The ruling party has maintained power continuously since the country's independence in It dominates the cabinet, the legislature, and regional and local governments.
In July the government conducted elections for the seat Chamber of Advisors, a second parliamentary chamber created by a constitutional amendment. The voters consisted of 4, officials, including municipal counselors, deputies, and mayors, plus the members of the Chamber of Deputies. Of the 4, voters, only belonged to opposition parties.
The constitutional amendment creating the chamber specified that its seats must be allocated among various regional and professional organizations, including 14 seats for the General Union of Tunisian Workers UGTT , which refused to name candidates, citing a lack of independence and democracy in the candidate selection process. The president directly appointed 41 candidates. The elected members of the new chamber were overwhelmingly members or supporters of the ruling RCD party. The president appoints the prime minister, the cabinet, and the 24 governors.
The government and the party are closely integrated; current and former senior government officials constitute the top ranks of the RCD. The president of the country is also the president of the party, and the party's vice president and secretary general each hold the rank of minister. All members of the RCD politburo hold ministerial rank based on their current or former government service.
RCD membership conferred tangible advantages. For example, there were widespread reports that RCD members and their families were much more likely to receive educational and housing benefits, small business permits, and waivers on zoning restrictions. To reduce the advantages wielded by the ruling party, the Electoral Code reserves 20 percent of seats in the Chamber of Deputies 37 of for the seven officially recognized opposition parties, and distributes them on a proportional basis to those parties that won at least a single directly elected district seat.
In the elections, five of the opposition parties gained seats under that provision. The RCD held the remaining seats. On March 3, authorities authorized the establishment of the Green Party for Progress PVP , the first new political party created since Many critics alleged that the party was loyal to the RCD, particularly after its chairman told the media shortly after its authorization that it did not have a platform because it was still in the process of organizing.
The government refused to recognize the environmentally based political party, Green Tunisia, despite a long-pending application. The government partially funded legal opposition parties. In November the president announced an increase in the level of support for opposition parties represented in the chamber. By law the government prohibits the establishment of political parties on the basis of religion, language, race, or gender.
The government used the prohibition to continue to outlaw the An-Nahdha party and to prosecute suspected members for "membership in an illegal organization" see sections 2. On a number of occasions, the president expressed the desire to increase the level of representation of women in the government to 25 percent. In April he appointed the country's first female governor. There were 50 women in the seat legislature, two women in the seat cabinet, and five women among the 18 secretaries of state regarded as junior cabinet members.
Following municipal elections in May , more than one-fourth of municipal council members elected were women. Three women served as presidents of chambers on the Supreme Court, and two women served on the member Higher Council of the Magistracy. There are 13 articles of the penal code addressing corruption, and there were a small number of corruption cases prosecuted throughout the year. On July 26, a newspaper reported that the National Guard arrested a regional tax control officer and prosecuted him on corruption charges after allegedly taking bribes from merchants.
The officer, who was not named, was reportedly in detention, although he had not been sentenced at year's end. In March the Minister of Interior announced creation of the "Higher Institute of Security Forces and Customs," tasked not only with "reinforcing human rights and improving law enforcement," but also reducing corruption. There were no public reports of the organization's subsequent activities. There are no laws to provide government documents to citizens. According to Transparency International, human rights, and opposition groups, the public perception that serious corruption existed within the government increased.
Frequent complaints by citizens and articles in international and unauthorized domestic media about corruption corroborated these reports. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights has the lead on government policy on human rights issues in the country, although other ministries also had human rights offices. The ministry did not release any public reports of cases or investigations. A government-appointed and funded body, the Higher Commission on Human Rights and Basic Freedoms, received, addressed, and occasionally resolved human rights complaints in regard to prison conditions, requests for amnesty from families of prisoners, and other issues.
The commission submitted confidential reports directly to the president. The government maintained several government-run news sites that included sections on human rights, but the sites were not identified as government-sponsored. However, the government continued to block access to the sites of domestic and international human rights organizations see section 2. The government actively discouraged investigations of human rights abuses by domestic and international groups, who generally were able to investigate and publish their findings with difficulty.
The government sought to monitor and control the activities of some foreign NGOs within the country. There were approximately one dozen domestic human rights NGOs, although only half were authorized. Some NGOs loyal to the government received government funding. The government met with registered domestic human rights NGOs and on occasion responded to their inquiries; however, it also harassed, targeted, and prosecuted some of them.
Citing a court ruling that stated the LTDH could not hold its National Congress, the government blocked its meetings and events throughout the year. The LTDH traditionally was one of the most active independent advocacy organizations, with 41 branches throughout the country, although the blockage of LTDH activities by the government limited its operational effectiveness. On October 31, the government sent an official communication to all diplomatic missions in Tunis saying that the LTDH was subject to a court decision that "forbids all activity of the LTDH.
Other independent human rights NGOs included: The CNLT issued statements sharply criticizing the government's human rights practices. During the year significant numbers of ruling party RCD members joined and attempted to join independent NGOs such as the LTDH and other civil society groups with the apparent intent of eventually gaining control them see section 2. Police prevented translators and private citizens traveling with the group from attending some meetings. According to AI, Steiner had delivered a speech on May 20 to members of AI's local chapter in which he condemned growing human rights abuses in the country, notably restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of association.
According to international media, a government source said that Steiner had posed a threat to public order. In April following more than a year of negotiation, the ICRC signed an agreement with the government allowing the ICRC to conduct visits to all prisons and detention centers in the country.
Throughout the year the ICRC conducted visits, including repeat visits to prisons and detention centers previously visited, and reported that access and cooperation with the government were good see section 1. There were credible reports that police prevented some family members of prisoners from visiting ICRC offices and monitored, occasionally harassing, families that visited ICRC offices. The law provides that all citizens are equal before the law, and the government generally respected this provision, although in inheritance and family law, biased gender-based provisions in the civil code adversely affected women.
Laws against domestic violence provide for fines and imprisonment for assaults committed by a spouse or family member that are double those for the same crimes committed by an unrelated individual, but enforcement was lax, as police and the courts generally regarded domestic violence as an internal family problem.
Violence against women and spousal abuse occurred, but there were no statistics to measure its extent. The National Union of Tunisian Women UNFT , a government-sponsored organization that ran a center to assist women and children in difficulty, sponsored national educational campaigns for women.
The ATFD, active in debating and publicizing women's issues, operated a counseling center for female victims and reported that its shelter assisted approximately women using the shelter for the first time during the year, in addition to a continuing caseload from previous years. The penal code specifically prohibits rape, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the laws vigorously, giving significant press coverage to rape cases; however, there were no reports of prosecution for spousal rape.
The penalty for rape with the use of violence or threat with a weapon is death. For all other rape cases, the penalty is life imprisonment. The penal code prohibits prostitution, although individuals were rarely charged. There were government-sanctioned brothels, although under the penal code there is a penalty for prostitution of up to two years in prison. The law applies to both women and men and their accomplices. There were no reported cases of trafficking or forced prostitution involving women. Sexual harassment was a problem, although there were no comprehensive data to measure its extent.
In the legislature passed the country's first law making sexual harassment a criminal offense. Civil society groups vociferously criticized it for being too vague and susceptible to abuse. Women enjoy the same legal status as men, and the government advanced those rights in the areas of divorce and property ownership. The law explicitly requires equal pay for equal work, and although there were no statistics comparing the average earnings of men and women, anecdotal evidence indicated that women and men performing the same work received the same wages.
A slight majority of university students were women. On July 18, the Chamber of Deputies adopted a law that allowed some female employees in the public sector to work part-time while still receiving two-thirds of their original salary. The government stated that the law was motivated by a desire to allow women to balance family and professional life.
Women's rights activists, including the ATFD, said that treating women and men differently under the law was a major setback to women's rights in the workplace. Women served in high levels of the government as cabinet ministers and secretaries of state, and President Ben Ali appointed the country's first female governor in see section 3.
Women constituted approximately 37 percent of the civil service and 24 percent of the nation's jurists. However, women still faced societal and economic discrimination. Codified civil law is based on the Napoleonic code, although judges often used Shari'a as a basis for customary law in family and inheritance. Most property acquired during marriage, including property acquired solely by the wife, was held in the name of the husband. Married couples may choose between joint or separate property systems when signing marriage contracts. Customary law based on Shari'a Muslim prohibits women from marrying outside their religion.
Application of Shari'a inheritance law continued to discriminate against women, and there was a double standard based on gender and religion: The government considers all children from those marriages to be Muslim, and forbids those children from inheriting from their mothers. Female citizens can convey citizenship rights to their children regardless of the father's citizenship. The Ministry for Women's Affairs, Family, Children, and Senior Citizens sponsored several national media campaigns to promote awareness of women's rights.
Nearly two-thirds of its budget was devoted to ensuring the legal rights of women, while simultaneously improving their socioeconomic status. Several NGOs focused on women's advocacy and research in women's issues, and a number of attorneys represented women in domestic cases.
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The government demonstrated a strong commitment to free and universal public education, which is compulsory from age six to 16 years. According to the UN Children's Fund UNICEF , 95 percent of boys and 93 percent of girls were in primary school, and approximately 73 percent of boys and 76 percent of girls were in secondary school. The government reported the rate of school attendance was approximately 99 percent.
During the year female students graduated from secondary school at a higher rate than males. There were schools for religious groups see section 2.
The government sponsored an immunization program targeting preschool-age children and reported vaccinating more than 95 percent of children. Male and female students received equal access to medical care. Convictions for abandonment and assault on minors carried severe penalties. There was no societal pattern of child abuse. Child labor and child prostitution were not significant problems.
There were two ministries responsible for rights of children: Each had secretaries of state responsible for safeguarding the rights of children. The law prohibits trafficking in persons, and there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country. In the legislature approved amendments to the law on passports and travel documents. Traffickers may be prosecuted under laws prohibiting forced displacement of persons. There were no specific government campaigns to prevent trafficking, although the government worked closely with its European neighbors to interdict smuggling, some of which may include trafficking.
The government does not, however, have measures to identify trafficking victims from among persons smuggled voluntarily. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities and mandates at least 1 percent of public and private sector jobs be reserved for persons with disabilities; however, leaders of NGOs dedicated to persons with disabilities reported that this law was not widely enforced, and many employers were unaware of its existence.
There was little discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or in the provision of other state services. All public buildings constructed since must be accessible to persons with physical disabilities, and this was enforced. The government issued special cards to persons with disabilities for benefits such as unrestricted parking, priority medical services, preferential seating on public transportation, and consumer discounts.
The government provided tax incentives to companies to encourage the hiring of persons with physical disabilities, and the government strongly supported NGOs working to help persons with disabilities. Several active NGOs provided educational, vocational, and recreational assistance to children and young adults with mental disabilities. The government and international organizations funded several programs. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Solidarity and Tunisians Abroad was responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
The law provides workers the right to organize and form unions, and the government generally respected this right in practice. The UGTT was the country's only labor federation. There were some unauthorized, independent trade unions: Approximately 30 percent of the work force belonged to the UGTT, including civil servants and employees of state-owned enterprises, and a considerably larger proportion of the work force was covered by union contracts.
A union may be dissolved only by court order. The UGTT and its member unions were legally independent of the government and the ruling party; however, they operated under regulations that limited their freedom of action. The UGTT membership included persons associated with all political tendencies. There were credible reports that the UGTT received substantial government subsidies to supplement union dues; however, UGTT leaders stated that their only funding came from modest union dues and revenue from an insurance company and a hotel owned by the union.
The government provided the UGTT with land for its new headquarters and support for its construction. The central UGTT leadership generally cooperated with the government regarding its economic reform program. Throughout the year the UGTT board showed some independence regarding economic and social issues, and in support of greater democracy.
In the UGTT refused to submit a list of candidates for 14 UGTT-designated seats for elections to the newly created Chamber of Advisors, citing a lack of independence and democracy in the selection process and an unfair distribution of seats see section 3. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers, although the UGTT claimed that there was antiunion activity among private sector employers, such as firing union activists and using of temporary workers to avoid unionization. In certain industries, such as textiles, hotels, and construction, temporary workers accounted for a strong majority of the work force.
The labor code protects temporary workers, but enforcement was more difficult than for permanent workers. A committee chaired by an officer from the Labor Division of the Office of the Inspector General approved all worker dismissals. The law protects the right to organize and bargain collectively, and the government protected this right in practice. Wages and working conditions are set in triennial negotiations between the UGTT member unions, the government and employers.
Numerous collective bargaining agreements set standards for industries in the private sector and covered 80 percent of the total private sector workforce. During the year the triennial labor negotiations with the UGTT, the Union of Tunisian Employers the private sector employer's association and the government continued as the UGTT sought more favorable wage increases for employees.
Unions, including those representing civil servants, have the right to strike, provided that they give 10 days advance notice to the UGTT, and it grants approval.
The ICFTU has characterized the requirement for prior UGTT approval of strikes as a violation of worker rights, but such advance approval rarely was sought in practice. There were numerous, short-lived strikes over failure by employers to fulfill contract provisions regarding pay and conditions and over efforts by employers to impede union activities.
While the majority of the strikes technically were illegal, the government did not prosecute workers for illegal strike activity. The law prohibited retribution against strikers. Labor disputes were settled through conciliation panels in which labor and management were represented equally. Tripartite regional arbitration commissions settle industrial disputes when conciliation fails. The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor, including by children, and there were no reports that such practices occurred.
However, some parents of teenage girls placed their daughters as domestic servants and collected their wages see section 6. The law prohibits the employment of children under 18 in jobs whose nature and environment present a serious threat to their health, security, and morality, and the UGTT and CNSS conducted inspection tours of factories and industrial sites to ensure compliance with the law.
In April the government amended the Household Workers Law to prohibit the employment of children under the age of 16 years, which is consistent with the age for completing educational requirements, and inspectors of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Solidarity examined the records of employees to verify that employers complied with the minimum age law.