Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2014, 13:25 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Tunisia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Tunisia, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa503c.html [accessed 19 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
 

Tunisia is a republic in which the Constitution provides for a parliamentary democracy with separation of the executive, legislative, and judicial powers. In practice, the President and his party dominate decisionmaking at all levels. The President appoints the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, and the 23 regional governors. His Constitutional Democratic Rally Party (RCD) holds all 141 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. The banned Islamist party, An-Nahda, was dealt a severe blow in 1992 when 265 of its senior members were sentenced to prison terms for plotting to assassinate the President and overthrow the Government. Arrests of Islamists and some extreme leftists continued in 1993.

Tunisia's internal security is maintained by civilian services which include a paramilitary national guard. These services continued to be responsible for widespread human rights abuses, including torture, although not on the scale of previous years. Police presence, while not as oppressive as in 1991 or 1992, remained heavy in urban areas and on university campuses.

Tunisia has a mixed economy dependent principally on revenues from agricultural products, tourism, petroleum, textile, clothing and other manufactured exports, and remittances from workers abroad. It is now in the 7th year of a structural adjustment program designed to make the economy more market oriented, reduce staple food subsidies, and increase the role of the private sector. Average annual real growth over the past 6 years has been approximately 4.9 percent, but unemployment has been high and now stands at about 13 percent.

In 1993 Tunisia enacted a number of legal reforms to enhance the protection of human rights. Nevertheless, many of the reforms have not yet been translated into real improvement, and many basic rights continued to be restricted. The Government continued to seek out and arrest suspected members of the banned Islamist party, An-Nahda, and the banned Communist Workers' Party (POCT) and to harass their relatives and persons suspected of involvement with their organizations. The prosecution of leading members of organizations critical of the Government, as well as the Government's harsh reaction to the circulation of a petition protesting human rights abuses, had a chilling effect on freedom of speech. Despite amendments to the Press Code, press freedom also remained restricted. Other significant problems include: incommunicado detention, police abuse of detainees, the Government's refusal to publish detailed and specific information on the punishment of abusers, interference with the right to privacy, and the inability of citizens to change their government. Amendments to the Personal Status Code, including an amendment granting women the right to transmit Tunisian nationality even when married to a foreigner and living abroad, further enhanced women's rights in 1993. A new electoral code will ensure limited opposition representation in the Chamber of Deputies to be selected in March 1994 elections. The legal length of pretrial detention was reduced, forced prison labor was abolished, and some prisoners detained for membership in an illegal organization were pardoned.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or extrajudicial killing. The Government did not release any information cocerning the progress of its investigation into the death of Faisal Barakat or the judicial investigation into the deaths "under suspicious circumstances" of six others named in the 1992 Driss Report.

b. Disappearance

One case of disappearance came to light in 1993. Relatives and coworkers of Kamel Ben Ali Matmati reported he was taken by police from his place of work in late 1991 and has not been seen since. Family members believe he was taken to the Gabes police station, tortured, and died in custody. Responding to inquiries, the Government stated that Matmati was convicted in absentia in May 1992 and remains a fugitive.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Tunisian law forbids ill-treatment of detainees. However, there continued to be credible reports that security forces sometimes mistreated detainees, particularly Islamists and extreme leftists suspected of antigovernment activities. The beating of detainees is believed to remain widespread. Many of the defendants in Islamist trials alleged their confessions were extracted through torture. Human rights monitors in Tunisia, including those appointed by the Government, and oppositionists abroad generally agree that the practice of torture persists but not on a systematic and regular basis as was alleged during widespread roundups of Islamists in late 1991 and early 1992.

Amnesty International (AI) reported in June that women relatives of imprisoned Islamists were harassed, tortured, and sexually abused in substantial numbers by security forces. The Government immediately denounced the report as false, as did several opposition parties and government-affiliated women's groups.

The Government denies that torture is practiced as a matter of state policy, but acknowledges that unsanctioned abuses have occurred. However, it continued to refuse to identify offending officers by name and provide information on sentences imposed, causing human rights monitors to question its professed desire to put an end to abuses. In early 1993, the press reported that nine police and national guard officers were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of 6 months to 5 years in cases that date back several years. Government officials claimed that other officers have been punished as well. A 1992 report by Presidential Human Rights Commissioner Rashid Driss reported that 116 police officers had been implicated in 105 cases of abuse and that 55 officers were subject to disciplinary procedures. The Government released no further information on those cases.

As part of a campaign, initiated in 1992, to halt such abuses, the Government provides special human rights training for police, who are now required to sign a statement that they are aware of Tunisian and international human rights standards and will abide by them. Police officers are provided with a manual including the texts of human rights documents, and human rights directives are posted in police stations. In December the Justice Minister added a two-semester human rights training course on the scope and applicability of international treaties and conventions to the curriculum of the Magistrates' Institute, which trains all judges and prosecutors. The Interior Minister in December also distributed human rights training material to nonpolice personnel.

Prison conditions were generally adequate and did not threaten life or health. Human Rights Commissioner Driss was given authority to conduct unannounced prison inspections and reported that conditions were improving, though very few visits actually were made. In July the President ordered the abolition of forced labor for prison inmates as punishment for misconduct.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Under Tunisian law, arrests may be made without a warrant in cases of felonies or crimes-in-progress. These arrests must be reported immediately to the court, which determines if a detainee should be held or released. Under a law adopted in 1987, prearraignment detention is limited to no more than 10 days (4 days initially, followed by an additional 4, and then an additional 2 if authorized by the prosecutor). Attorneys, human rights monitors (including those appointed by the Government), and former detainees charged that this limit was frequently circumvented simply by delaying registration of the arrestee. International human rights groups report falsification of arrest records is widespread. Legally, an accused person must be informed of the grounds for arrest before questioning. A detainee may request an examination by a medical doctor but may otherwise be held incommunicado.

During prearraignment detention, detainees do not have the right to a lawyer. They do have a right to a lawyer at their arraignment, and the Government provides legal representation to indigents. In certain instances, such as cases involving national security or felony indictments, pretrial detention may be for 6 months, renewable by an arraignment judge for up to two additional 4-month periods. Prior to penal code reforms enacted in November, preventive detention for a total of 18 months was allowed (an initial period of 6 months, renewable for two 6-month periods). The examining magistrate at the preliminary hearing, which is supposed to occur within 10 days of arrest, decides whether to invoke pretrial detention. While the law provides for bail, in practice it is very rarely granted. In May and June, trials were held for at least 76 Islamist defendants who had been in custody since December 1991.

Tunisian law specifies that no citizen shall be exiled from the country, and there were no reports of government-imposed exile in 1993.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Tunisia's court system, modeled on the French system, is composed of regular (civil and criminal) courts, with appellate and supreme courts, and a Military Tribunal. A state security court was abolished in 1987. The Constitution provides for the presumption of innocence and states that the accused will be accorded "necessary guarantees" (not further specified in the Constitution) for his defense.

The regular court system is highly centralized under the Justice Ministry. An elected Supreme Council of the Magistrature, representing the judges, decides on matters of transfer and judicial discipline. However, in practice, the executive branch retains control in naming, assigning, granting tenure, and transferring judges, thus making them susceptible to pressure in politically sensitive cases.

Police, prosecutors, and judges work closely together, and trials, rather than an adversarial proceeding, are dominated by the presiding judge. Defendants have the right to be present and to be represented by counsel, at public expense if necessary. Witnesses may be confronted. However, the role of the defense attorney in such examinations is usually minimal. Although the court system is overloaded, in normal criminal cases the rights of the accused are generally respected. There were again complaints in 1993, however, that the rights of those accused of involvement in cases of a political or security nature were not always observed or that their lawyers were given insufficient time to prepare for trial.

Civilian trials are theoretically open to the public and both domestic and foreign observers are permitted to attend. However, access to trials involving Islamists or leftists is strictly controlled. Family members and other interested parties must seek advance police approval to attend such trials.

The Military Tribunal is presided over by a civilian judge from the Court of Cassation (the highest court) and four military judges. In addition to hearing cases involving the military, the Tribunal also may hear cases against civilians when national security is deemed to be involved. As with the civilian courts, decisions of the Military Tribunal may be appealed to the Court of Cassation, the country's highest court, which, however, limits its review to matters of law and procedure, not facts.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the person and the home and privacy in correspondence, "except in exceptional cases defined by law." Police must have a search warrant, but this requirement is sometimes ignored in cases in which the authorities consider that state security is involved or in which a "flagrant crime" is deemed to have been committed. Tunisian law specifies that, except in exceptional circumstances, arrests are to be made between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.

The authorities continued to surveil Islamists, leftists, and others believed to associate with them, detaining their visitors for questioning and searching their homes without warrants. Several human rights monitors and oppositionists accused the Government of harassment through acts of vandalism, theft, and burglary during the year.

There were reports of mail being opened and telephone conversations monitored, and the Government is believed to record some telephone conversations.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of thought, expression, and the press. In practice, however, these freedoms are limited. Tunisians are reluctant to discuss politics and sensitive issues in public. The Press Code includes limitations on subversion and defamation based on broad internal and external security concerns, which are neither defined nor subject to judicial review. These laws have been used against opposition members, particularly for alleged possession or circulation of illegal political tracts or correspondence. Such charges were filed against some defendants in Islamist and leftist trials.

In February the Government reacted harshly to the circulation of a petition critical of its human rights record. The organizer was jailed for 2 weeks, a foreign national was dismissed from his government job and threatened with deportation, and the remaining 16 signers were called in by the police for interrogation. In contrast, the Government took no action in April against over 200 signers after another petition critical of its policies was published. In 1993 a student leader was arrested on drug charges, the head of a journalists' association was prosecuted on bad check charges, and a journalist who wrote an article deemed critical of the Government for a French publication faced formal disciplinary proceedings at work. Questions remain regarding the validity of these charges, and these actions have had a chilling effect on freedom of speech and the press.

Freedom of the press is limited both by restrictive laws and practices and by self-censorship arising from a fear of government sanctions. Amendments to the Press Code in 1993 suggested that restrictions were being eased. Nevertheless, many of the changes so far have been largely cosmetic, and press freedom remained controlled. The Press Code prohibits defamation of government officials. The 1993 amendments make proof that the published material in question is true a valid defense against a libel charge brought by a minister or a deputy, as long as it is related to their official duties. Proof is still not a valid defense, however, in cases of libel brought by the President. In the past, charges of libel and spreading false information have been the two main bases for suits against the media. No new charges were filed in 1993.

In 1993 the Press Code also was amended to expand the definition of libel to include the expression of opinions based on racism or religious extremism. Journalists express concern that the vague language of the amendment gives the Government another tool that can be used against the press.

In practice, the Government exerted considerable control over the editorial content of newspapers, providing extensive advance guidance on important issues and reprimanding editors when guidelines were crossed, further encouraging self-censorship. There was, however, some increase in press coverage of the activities of opposition parties, and several opposition party newspapers resumed publication with the help of government subsidies.

Government advertising and subscriptions, an important source of revenue for some newspapers, is one of the means used to exert pressure on the press. In January the Government withdrew its advertising and canceled all its subscriptions to a weekly news magazine, urging private subscribers and advertisers to do the same, after the magazine published an article that was deemed to cast Tunisia in a negative light. In July, after the Journal appealed to the President, the Government resumed buying some advertising on a very limited basis but, at year's end, had yet to renew its subscriptions.

Prepublication censorship under the 1988 Press Code, which is still valid, requires the printer to deposit copies of all publications prepared in Tunisia with the Secretary of State for Information and the Interior and Justice Ministries prior to public release. The Interior Minister may order seizure of all copies of a single issue of a publication if the Ministry deems the issue would "disturb public order." The ruling on the publication has to be made within 3 days from the time of submission and may be appealed to an administrative court. Political tracts must also be submitted for approval. In 1991 the Government announced the President's decision not to enforce prepublication censorship, but it has retained the right to do so.

Although publications are no longer routinely censored prior to publication, the possibility of seizure without compensation after publication significantly increases the financial risk to publishers. In 1993 there was a reduction in the censorship of foreign newspapers, although the Government at times delayed circulation of papers containing negative articles for 1 or 2 days, lessening the demand for them and thus their readership. The Government also banned the sale of a French magazine containing an article, written by two Tunisians, considered critical of the Government.

The Government controls television and radio, and media coverage of the Government is consistently favorable. The Italian state television channel Rai Uno is available to viewers in much of the country, as is a French state channel, France 2, on which Tunisian news was substituted for French news. Some French newscasts were resumed in July after having been replaced with local programs since December 1992. Licenses for satellite dishes are freely granted, and more than 10,000 homes and multifamily dwellings had them in 1993.

While there are no official limitations on academic freedom, professors often practiced a form of self-censorship, avoiding classroom discussions that were either critical of the Government or supportive of An-Nahda. Police presence on campus was heavy at times. However, the police did not interfere when small-scale student strikes were held in March to protest academic reforms. The president of the Tunisian General Student Association was later arrested and convicted on a drug charge. While some described the charge as "trumped up," the Government claimed it was unrelated to his political role. After appeals on his behalf, the court permitted him to remain free pending his appeal, which had not been heard by year's end.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but any group wishing to hold a public meeting, rally, or march must apply to the Government for a permit 3 days in advance. The Government normally approves such permits, except in cases involving proscribed political parties or associations.

The Law on Political Parties stipulates that every political party must reject all forms of violence, including fanaticism and racism and other discrimination. No party may claim to represent a religion, race, sex, or region. No party may receive funds from a foreign party or material aid directly or indirectly from foreign countries or foreigners. All party members must have been Tunisian citizens for at least 5 years. There are seven legal parties. No new parties registered in 1993, but the Tunisian Communist Party transformed itself into a leftist grouping under a new name, the Renewal Movement Party. In addition, there are several unrecognized parties, including the Islamist An-Nahda Party, which claims a large membership and aspires to recognition, and the extreme left Tunisian Communist Workers' Party ("POCT"), a smaller organization which remains underground. An-Nahda is ineligible for recognition because it is a party that claims to represent a religion.

In March 1992, the Government amended the Law on Associations making it illegal for an officer in a political party to serve as an officer of a private "general" association and also for such an association to reject membership applications. The result of this amendment was the closure for several months of the Tunisian Human Rights League from June 1992 to March 1993. The League was permitted to resume its operations pending a judicial ruling on its status. The law is not known to have been applied against any other organization. (See also Section 4.) Human rights monitors claim that this amendment is one of the means by which the Government seeks to control all associations. Other means include the threat of arrest or prosecution of association leaders and the provision of subsidies which make organizations financially beholden to the Government.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but allows the practice of most other religions. Since 1984 there has been a ban on public Baha'i religious activities because the Government considers this faith a heretical sect of Islam. Moreover, proselytizing for religions other than Islam is prohibited, although no specific sanctions are prescribed. Foreigners caught proselytizing have been threatened with expulsion. The Constitution calls on all political parties to respect and defend Tunisia's Arab-Muslim identity, and the President as well as the parents and grandparents of the President must be Muslim. The Government controls the mosques and pays the salaries of the prayer leaders. According to the 1988 Law on Mosques, only government-appointed personnel may lead activities in the mosques, except with permission from the Prime Minister's office.

Jews comprise the largest religious minority, with a population of as many as 2,500. The Government assures freedom of worship for the Jewish community, safeguards its safety, and pays the salary of the Grand Rabbi of the community. Tunisia encourages Jewish tourism and gave widespread media coverage to the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the Tunisian island of Jerba in May. Tunisia's very small community of Christians is composed mainly of foreign nationals, who freely attend church services.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

There is freedom of movement within Tunisia, and people are free to change their place of residence or work at will.

In 1993 there were an increasing number of credible complaints that the Government withheld passports in certain cases, and Islamists continued to complain of difficulties in obtaining international travel documents. The Government stated it denies passports only to persons with legal problems at home or abroad and to those persons who are not likely to use them for tourist purposes. However, lawyers who have defended Islamist clients and persons associated with leftist or opposition causes also reported they and their family members were unable to obtain or renew passports.

There is no arbitrary restriction on emigration or repatriation. Approximately 570,000 Tunisians are living abroad. Tunisia does not accept refugees for permanent resettlement and is not a country of first asylum. There were no cases of forced repatriation. There are approximately 50 refugees with resident status and approximately 4,000 Palestinians residing in Tunisia. A growing number of Algerians moved to Tunisia in 1993 as the security situation in Algeria deteriorated.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The ability of the citizens of Tunisia to change their government through democratic means has yet to be demonstrated. The ruling RCD and its direct predecessor parties have controlled the political arena since independence. The largest opposition party, the proscribed Islamist An-Nahda party, received 18 percent of the vote in the legislative elections in 1989, when its candidates were permitted by the Government to run as independents. However, the party remains illegal and is in disarray following the conviction in 1992 of nearly all its leaders for plotting to overthrow the Government. Rachid Ghannouchi, the nominal head of the party, was sentenced in absentia to life in prison in 1992. In 1993 he was granted political asylum in Great Britain.

The Constitution provides for a parliamentary democracy with separation of the executive, legislative, and judicial powers. The all-RCD legislature remains subordinate to the executive branch. Portions of the plenary sessions are sometimes televised. Media representatives, diplomats, and other visitors are permitted to attend plenary sessions, but committee debates are in closed sessions and receive little media coverage.

The President appoints the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, and the 23 governors. The executive is dominated at the national, regional, and local levels by the President and his party. Government and RCD mechanisms are hardly distinguishable; the President of the Republic is also the President of the party, and the Secretary-General of the party holds the rank of Minister of State.

At the time of the last legislative elections in 1989, the Tunisian Electoral Code provided for a majority winner-take-all system. As a result, the dominant RCD was allotted all parliamentary seats after winning 80 percent of the popular vote. In 1993 the Electoral Code was amended to ensure representation of opposition parties. The winner-take-all system remains in place, but some 19 additional "national" seats were added to the chamber which will be reserved proportionally for parties that do not otherwise win representation in the chamber. Opposition parties that participate in the March 20, 1994, elections are assured of at least token representation in the chamber. Elections for the Presidency and the Chamber of Deputies are held every 5 years. Voting is by secret ballot. All legal parties are free to present candidates. However, to run for president a candidate must gather the signatures of at least 30 members of the Chamber of Deputies or presidents of municipalities. In 1993 there was only one person among the authorized opposition parties who was not a member of the President's RCD. By the end of 1993, all the legal opposition parties and many professional organizations and associations had endorsed President Ben Ali for reelection.

While there are no legal impediments to women's participation in government and politics, they are underrepresented and hold very few senior leadership positions. In 1993 the President promoted one woman to ministerial rank and one to the 13-member ruling party RCD Politburo There are 6 female members in the 141-seat Chamber of Deputies, and a woman is the second Vice President of the Chamber. In municipal councils, 11 percent of the members are women. Ten percent of the members of the Economic and Social Council are women.

There is a small Berber minority, constituting about 3 percent of the population, which is able to participate freely in the political process.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Several human rights organizations are active in Tunisia and are recognized by the Government, but they are subject to a variety of restrictions. The Tunisian Human Rights League was forced to suspend its operations in 1992 following amendments to the Associations Law (see Section 2.b.), but was permitted to resume its activities in March pending a judicial interpretation of the law. Despite the League's resumption, it has yet to recover fully from its period of suspension. The League is scheduled to hold its first congress since 1989 in early 1994. The Arab Institute of Human Rights, founded in 1989, is a collaborative effort of the Tunisian Human Rights League, the Arab Organization for Human Rights, and the Union of Arab Lawyers. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) operates a regional office in Tunis. The Maghreb Human Rights League is headquartered in Tunis.

In 1993 the Higher Committee for Human Rights and Basic Freedoms, formed by President Ben Ali in 1991, released a report "Human Rights in Tunisia: 1991-1993." The report does not address specific problems or cases but merely lists the accomplishment claimed by the Government. Human rights monitors are skeptical of the independence and effectiveness of offices created in 1992 to coordinate human rights concerns in the Interior, Justice, Social Affairs, and Foreign Ministries.

In 1993 AI officials, including its secretary general, met with the Foreign Minister and other Tunisian officials. Another AI representative visited Tunisia and issued a report alleging that security forces were responsible for torture, widespread harassment, and sexual abuse against women relatives of incarcerated Islamists. The Government strenuously disputed the report's findings, as did several of the opposition parties and prominent women activists.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Women

In 1993 the Chamber of Deputies adopted major changes to the 1956 Personal Status Code, which established equal rights for men and women in most fields. The Chamber also amended the Penal, Labor, and Nationality Codes to further enhance and protect women's rights. These changes increased the legal rights and protection enjoyed by women and children, including allowing women to transmit Tunisian nationality even though married to a foreigner and living abroad. Criminal penalties for wife beating were strengthened; labor laws were amended to further reduce job discrimination based on sex; and a fund was established to pay child support until delinquent fathers can be found and made to pay. Inheritance laws are still governed by Islamic law, which favors male descendants. The husband is still recognized as the head of the household, even though maintenance of the family is a joint effort and the wife's wishes are to be respected.

According to the 1989 census, 48.1 percent of females over the age of 10 were illiterate, compared with 26.3 percent of males. There is a significant trend, however, toward greater educational and professional opportunities for women, and the number of women in the medical, legal, and other professions continued to grow steadily. Twenty-five percent of Tunisian magistrates are women. In 1992 women comprised an estimated 25 percent of the work force, a figure that probably understates their presence as many women were employed in the informal sector and seasonally in agriculture. According to figures released in 1992, 21 percent of civil service employees were women, who were predominantly found in the fields of education, health, and social affairs at the lower or middle levels.

Violence against women does occur, but there are no official statistics or studies on the subject. In 1993 the Government initiated a survey on violence against women. The media has begun to break its silence on this issue, which had seldom been raised publicly given the importance attached to family privacy in this traditional society. A woman deputy called on the Religious Affairs Minister to instruct religious leaders to address the problem in mosques to emphasize that Islam does not condone violence against women. The Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD) operates a small office which provides counseling services to battered and abused women 6 days a week. An attorney and psychologist are on duty 2 days a week. However, very few women have used the organization's services. No other support groups or shelters are known to exist. A battered woman was still most likely to seek shelter with her extended family.

There are several active women's rights groups in Tunisia, the most influential being the RCD-affiliated National Union of Tunisian Women (UNFT), the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD), and the Tunisian section of the Worldwide Movement of Mothers (MMM).

Children

Laws protecting the rights of children are included in statutes governing education, health, inheritance, adoption, and child custody. The Personal Status Code, in particular, provides important guarantees for children in cases of adoption and the right to custody of minor children in the case of death or incapacitation of the father. Education is mandatory to age 16. The Government has an ambitious plan to reduce mortality rates by reducing malnutrition, reducing the incidence of low-weight births, and reducing iron and vitamin deficiencies in women.

Indigenous People

The small Berber minority constitutes approximately 3 percent of the population. Less than half of them have retained their native language.

People with Disabilities

The rights of the people with disabilities are protected by a law enacted in 1981 that prohibits discrimination based on disabilities and mandates that at least 1 percent of public agency and private sector employees be disabled persons. There are approximately 10 nongovernmental organizations that address the rights of disabled persons. These organizations receive government financing administered by the Ministry of Social Affairs and operate schools and other social programs for the benefit of the disabled. They also bring pressure on the Government to show sensitivity to the problems and rights of the disabled. The Ministry of Education operates one school for the deaf and two for the blind. All public buildings constructed since 1991 must guarantee accessibility to physically disabled persons. Many cities, including Tunis, have begun to install wheelchair access ramps on city sidewalks, and there is a general trend toward making public transportation more accessible to disabled people. Disabled persons also receive special cards from the Government which entitle them to such benefits as unrestricted parking, priority in receiving medical services, priority on public transportation, and some discounts. Vehicles purchased to transport disabled people are exempt from taxes and customs duties.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Tunisian Constitution and the Labor Code stipulate the right of workers to form unions. The central labor federation, the Tunisian General Federation of Labor (UGTT), claims about 15 percent of the work force as members, including civil servants and employees of state owned enterprises. The UGTT and its member unions are legally independent of the Government, the ruling party, and other political forces but operate under government regulations which have to some extent restricted their freedom of action. The UGTT's membership and officers include persons associated with all political tendencies. The current leadership follows a policy of cooperation with the Government, and there are credible reports that the UGTT receives substantial subsidies from the Government to supplement the officially mandated monthly union contributions from UGTT members. Most incumbent UGTT officials on the national, regional, and federation levels were reelected in 1993 in voting which some observers claimed was influenced by the Government.

Dissolution of a union requires action by the courts. There is no requirement for a single trade union structure; the fact that Tunisia has a single labor central (the UGTT) is a result of historical circumstances, not government action. However, the Government has decreed that UGTT member federations are the labor negotiators for collective bargaining agreements which cover 80 percent of the private sector work force, whether unionized or not (see Section 6.b.).

Unions, including those for civil servants, have the right to strike, provided 10 days' advance notice is given and the UGTT approves. The 1993 report of the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Committee of Experts (COE) cited the Labor Code provision that the UGTT approve strikes as being inconsistent with ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association. However, these restrictions on strikes are rarely observed in practice. In recent years, the majority of strikes were illegal because they were not approved in advance. In the first 6 months of 1993, there were 23 legal strikes and 245 illegal strikes. The Government did not prosecute workers involved in illegal strike activity. Tunisian law prohibits retribution against strikers, but some employers punish strikers who are then forced to pursue costly and time-consuming legal remedies to protect their rights. Labor disputes are settled through conciliation panels on which labor and management are equally represented. If conciliation fails, arbitration may be pursued, provided both sides agree on an arbitrator. The need for agreement, however, has meant that the latter mechanism is rarely used. Nearly all strikes in 1993 were settled through conciliation.

Unions in Tunisia are free to join federations and international bodies. The UGTT is a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and various regional groupings.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right to organize and bargain collectively is protected by law and practiced throughout the country. Wages and working conditions in Tunisia are set through the negotiation by the UGTT member federations and employer representatives of approximately 47 collective bargaining agreements which set standards applicable to entire industries in the private sector. The UGTT is by law the labor negotiator for these agreements, which cover 80 percent of the private sector work force, whether unionized or not. The Government's role in concluding these agreements is minimal. It has, however, lent its good offices if talks appear to be stalled. The Government must approve the collective bargaining agreements (although it cannot modify them) and publish them in the official journal before these agreements acquire legal validity. No agreement between a union and an individual firm may be concluded unless there already exists an agreement applicable to that firm's economic sector.

The UGTT also negotiates with the various ministries and 208 state-run enterprises in the public sector. In 1993 the UGTT concluded 3-year public and private sector collective bargaining agreements calling for an average 5 percent annual wage increase.

Antiunion discrimination by employers against union members and organizers is prohibited by law, and there are mechanisms for resolving such disputes. However, the UGTT has complained about what it claims are increasingly vigorous antiunion activities by private sector employers, particularly the firing of union activists and employers' use of temporary workers as a pretext to avoid unions, which in certain factories, especially in the textile sector, account for up to 80 percent of the work force. The Labor Code extends the same worker rights protection to temporary workers as to permanent workers, but its enforcement in the case of the former is much more difficult.

Two export processing zones, authorized by a 1992 law, have not yet begun operations. Workers in export firms have the same right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike as those in nonexport firms. The unionization rate is about the same, even though export firms are more likely to be antiunion. The State pays the employer contribution to the social security system if the firm produces primarily for export.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Compulsory labor is not specifically prohibited by Tunisian law, but there have been no reports of its practice in recent years.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

For manufacturing, the minimum age for employment is 15 years; in agriculture it is 13. Tunisian children are required to attend school until age 16. Inspectors from the Social Affairs Ministry check the records of employees to verify that the employer complies with the minimum age law. Despite this law, young children often perform agricultural work in rural areas and sell food and other items in urban areas. Small enterprises in the informal sector (which employs approximately 20 percent of the work force) reportedly violate the minimum age law frequently. The UGTT has expressed concern that child labor – frequently disguised as apprenticeship – still exists, principally in the traditional craft sectors such as ceramics and stone carving. Young girls from rural areas are sometimes placed as domestics in urban homes by their fathers, who collect the child's wages. Workers between the ages of 14 and 18 are prohibited from working from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Children over 14 may work a maximum of 4.5 hours a day. The combination of school and work may not exceed 7 hours.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Code provides for a range of administratively determined minimum wages. Two increases in both the agricultural and industrial minimum wage in 1993 followed the rise in the cost of living. Even supplemented by transportation and family allowances, the minimum wage is barely adequate to provide a decent living for a worker and his family. Effective in August 1993, the minimum monthly industrial wage is roughly $127 (127 Tunisian dinars) for a 40-hour workweek and $145 for a 48-hour week. The minimum agricultural wage was set at $4.36 per day.

Tunisia's Labor Code sets a standard 48-hour workweek for most sectors and requires one 24-hour rest period. The workweek is 40 hours for those employed in the energy, transportation, petrochemical, and metallurgy sectors.

Regional labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing standards. Most firms are inspected about once every 2 years. However, the Government often encounters difficulty in enforcing the minimum wage law, particularly in nonunionized sectors of the economy. Moreover, a considerable amount of labor takes place in the informal sector, which falls outside the purview of labor legislation.

The Social Affairs Ministry has an office with responsibility for improving health and safety standards in the workplace. There are special government regulations covering many hazardous jobs – e.g., mining, petroleum engineering, and construction. Although the Ministry maintains offices throughout the country, these regulations are enforced more strictly in Tunis than in other regions, where much work, especially in construction, is performed in the informal sector. Working conditions and standards tend to be better in firms that are export-oriented than in those producing for the domestic market. Industrial accidents rose 19 percent to an annual rate of 36,693 in 1992, despite an intensive public awareness campaign in the media. Workers are free to remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardizing their employment. Workers may take legal action against employers who retaliate for taking such action.

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