Tackling Multiple Forms of Discrimination in Tunisia (Points anti-discrimination)

Duration: February 2018 – July 2021

Country: Tunisia

Communities: Various

What was this programme about?

This project sought to address two types of discrimination in Tunisia as well as their intersection: discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity and nationality, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression and sexual characteristics (SOGIESC). It established several Anti-Discrimination Points (Points Anti-discrimination, PAD), which were facilities where cases of discrimination could be reported directly by victims, then analyzed and strategically litigated against, or referred to relevant civil society organizations when they fell outside of the focus on racial and sexual discrimination.

What were we aiming to achieve?

The objective of this project was to promote the fight against all forms of discrimination in Tunisia, with a focus on both racial and sexual discrimination. As per this focus on two types of discrimination, the project focused on supporting civil society organizations in identifying, reporting and litigating against discrimination cases based on race, ethnicity, nationality and/or sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, the project aimed to raise awareness about racial and sexual discrimination, targeting national/international stakeholders, the media and the Tunisian population, in order to push for the implementation and strengthening of anti-discrimination policies and practices.

What did we achieve?

During the first year of the project, we provided grants to nine civil society organizations (CSOs) to establish PAD centres in order to document monthly cases of discrimination and offer social and/or psychological support according to the specific needs of the victims. During the second year, six renewed their contracts and continued their work and two new organizations joined the PAD network. The staff of 10 organizations in the first year and eight in the second year benefited from trainings on how to deal with victims of discrimination and how to document the cases. At a later stage, during the third year, we launched a call for advocacy projects. Four coalitions of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were selected and benefited from an advocacy training to implement their projects.

Thanks to the work of our subgrantees, we could analyze cases of discrimination and publish the results or our research it in two reports in 2020 and 2021. The Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity referred to the 2021 PAD report in his preliminary observations during his country visit to Tunisia.

In partnership with the Tunisia Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, we organized three trainings for lawyers in Tunis, one in Sousse and one in Djerba on the national, regional and international legal frameworks fighting racial discrimination. 65 lawyers (from Nabeul, Tunis, Ariana, Ben Arous, Mannouba, Kef, Sousse, Monastir, Sfax and Medenine) who attended the training signed an agreement with MRG and started receiving cases of discrimination. Between January 2020 and July 2021, our lawyers’ network supported 46 cases of racial discrimination including the historic court decision on the ‘Atig case’ that was welcomed by national and international media, where a black Tunisian man was allowed to remove the patronym ‘Atig’ (‘freed by’, a clear reference to the legacy of slavery) from his surname. Today, most of this family members, as well as four other families got rid of this derogatory patronym.

Our legal clinic supported victims of other types of discrimination (44 SOGIESC, 11 disability-based and 7 religion-based). Considering the high numbers of legal cases of discrimination based on SOGIESC, we trained 55 lawyers on non-discrimination based on SOGIESC. The training included terminology and psychological support in addition to national and international legal frameworks.

As part of the project, MRG also organized an online course for journalists (February-March 2020) to better address questions of diversity and non-discrimination in the media. 10 participants graduated from the Arabic session and 10 graduated from the French session. Graduates participated in a competition and four videos were selected to be supported by MRG. The first one addresses the extinction of the Amazigh language whilst the second addresses the bitter reality of people living with HIV during the Covid-19 pandemic. Two more documentaries are currently being produced.

What was the context?

Unlike other Northern African countries, Tunisia appears to be a relatively homogenous society and has always identified as an Arab-Muslim country. This supposed homogeneity however conceals the diverse reality of the Tunisian society, within which many minority groups and communities remained on the fringe of society and were often highly affected by discriminatory practices and policies. Two of the most oppressed minority groups in the country are the LGBTQI+ community, who suffers from harsh repression and discrimination, and the black Tunisians, who represent about 10 to 15 per cent of the total population and often live in remote and isolated areas. Despite the 2011 revolution, the new 2014 Constitution and efforts from the civil society, Tunisia continues to be discriminatory towards minorities, both in policy and practice.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are very sensitive issues in Tunisia, with serious human rights violations perpetrated by the State such as arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment and torture against people suspected of being homosexual or transgender. This dire situation is in part due to Tunisian legislation, with article 230 of the Criminal Code criminalizing homosexuality with up to three years of jail (although this article is in theory anti-constitutional). In addition to this legal framework repressing LGBTQI+, strong common beliefs and hatred acts persist within the Tunisian society, further leading to the extreme exclusion and marginalization of the LGBTQI+ community and to violence within private contexts such as the family environment.

Regarding racial discrimination in Tunisia, there was very little data on the issue affecting ethnic minority groups in the country. This lack of data highlighted the level of negligence of such issues and the treatment of people from these minority groups, too often considered as ‘second-zone citizens.’ Despite the high participation of these minorities alongside majority groups to the 2011 revolution, they have not been included by the media in video, audio and photo documentaries about this period of national history. A law criminalizing racial discrimination has been passed by Tunisian Parliament in October 2018, thus representing a landmark moment in the fight against racial discrimination. However, when it comes to daily life, black Tunisians continue to be excluded from most public spheres: they are almost absent from the Parliament and most government/administrative institutions in general. This is in part due to their interlinked exclusion from education and employment.

Who were our partners?

Our partner was Damj, a Tunisian organization working towards justice and equality.

Who funded this programme?

This programme was funded by the European Union.

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