Rights body faults Tunisia for not protecting women against domestic abuse

In its latest report, Human Rights Watch points to several State-related obstacles to tackling abuse of women in Tunisia.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • HRW points to several State-related obstacles to tackling abuse of women.
  • Based on interviews with survivors, it established that lack of information blocked survivors from accessing legal aid.
  • It recommends that the Ministry of Justice provides redress via monetary compensation to survivors.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has faulted Tunisian authorities for failing to protect its women from domestic violence.

In its latest report, So What If He Hit You?: Addressing Domestic Violence in Tunisia informed by its findings following interviews with multiple stakeholders including survivors, HRW points to several State-related obstacles to tackling abuse of women.

In 2021 and 2022, the watchdog interviewed more than 100 people across Tunisia, including 30 survivors of domestic abuse, police officers, lawyers, judges, and service providers about the Tunisian authorities’ response to domestic violence.

It cites inadequate budgetary allocations to facilitate the effective implementation of  Law 2017-58( Law-58 ) on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which it describes as one of the most progressive legal frameworks seeking to eliminate physical, moral, sexual, economic, and political forms of violence against women in the Middle East and North Africa.

Legal aid

Prior to the adoption of the law in 2017, the country’s Penal Code offered a rapist immunity, in that the perpetrator escaped prosecution if he married his victim.

Now, Article 227 of the new law not only punishes a rapist but also protects women against domestic violence.

It awards a rapist a 20-year jail term or a lifetime sentence if the victim is below 16 years of age or if the perpetrator is related to or has authority over the victim. That extends to a spouse, ex-spouse, fiancé or ex-fiancé.

Despite the existence of anti-domestic violence law, the watchdog indicates that “problematic attitudes among the police and judiciary have led to inconsistencies and failures in the state’s response to domestic violence.”

“Ultimately, a woman’s ability to exercise the rights granted to her by Law-58 is contingent on the will of service providers addressing her complaint,” it indicates.

Based on interviews with survivors, it established that lack of information blocked survivors from accessing legal aid.

Stigma

Staff from organisations supporting survivors told the watchdog that survivors who sought free legal counsel from the court, were required to provide evidence of their financial status as per Law-52 of 2002, yet they were unaware of this provision.

It quotes Arbia Alahamar, a social worker at the National Union for Tunisian Women who noted that the requirement is problematic as documents that show proof of their financial needs such as social assistance cards can be with their abusers who may refuse to give them.

It calls on the Tunisian authorities to train security forces on international human rights standards and non-discrimination to end the stigma that contributes to abuse.

It also recommends that the Ministry of Justice provides redress via monetary compensation to survivors in proportion to the gravity of harm or loss suffered.


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