Tunisia's Human Rights
In 2011, Tunisia was embroiled in revolution, eventually leading to the resignation of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the formation of a new, free, republic. Although Tunisia’s new government may be free, there is no guarantee that it will have a stellar human rights record. Following the revolution, Tunisia’s human rights record has been imperfect, and its new government still has issues to work out.

According to Amnesty International’s annual report, the biggest threat to human rights in Tunisia is the current nationwide state of emergency, which has been in effect since November 2015. Through this state of emergency, the government military force has been granted an expansion of powers in order to deal with the threat of the Islamic State along Tunisia’s borders. Instead, the military has used its power to take away the human rights and freedom of Tunisian citizens. Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission, which was created to address Tunisia’s human rights violations, reported that it has received reports of more than 62,000 human rights violations.

Among said human rights violations include arbitrary arrests, intimidation and harassment, discrimination and the banning of assembly and free speech. Since the start of the state of emergency, there have been thousands of arrests and house searches, often without a warrant. Accompanying these arrests is a sense of intimidation and harassment, where law enforcement and military officials are threatening people in the name of counter-terrorism. Tunisian citizens are stereotyped, men in long beards and women in religious clothing are explicitly monitored and treated harshly and their homes are searched. These unlawful searches and arrests go against key human rights, including the right to work and freedom of movement – further injuring Tunisia’s human rights record.

The Human Rights Watch notes that Tunisia has been trying to prevent torture and ill treatment towards detainees in their prisons, with the National Constituent Assembly creating a High Authority for the Prevention of Torture, which elected 16 members in March 2016. Using unannounced inspections, torture in prisons and detention sites can be reduced. However, the Tunisian government is still unsure of how to preserve the human rights of citizens in police custody as reports of ill treatment by judges and police officers rise.

Addressing these reports, the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recommended, among other suggestions, that Tunisia should increase accountability amongst these police officers and judges by raising awareness of human rights. Thus, while the government continues to stabilize and search for ways to stem Tunisia’s human rights violations in the midst of the country’s ongoing state of emergency, there is hope that the treatment of its citizens will continue to improve.

Rachael Blandau

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Tunisia
Water quality in Tunisia has been a long-standing problem in the country located in the northernmost part of Africa. Data indicates that most water resources are polluted and that the majority of these pollutants stem from wastewater discharge, industrial effluents and agricultural activities. Although efforts have been made within the last decade to create wastewater facilities, overall the quality of the water remains poor and could continue to worsen if more is not done to reverse the increasing pollution.

There is a large demand for water that has not been polluted—per capita renewable water resources are 489 cubic meters per year for a population of 9.6 million people. The annual per capita water scarcity threshold is 1,000 cubic meters, making Tunisia’s 489 cubic meters far below what is accepted. In addition, 16% of withdrawn water goes to households, tourism and industrial uses, while a whopping 84% is used for agricultural irrigation. Water used for agricultural purposes has doubled in the past 15 years.

Various government strategies and activities have been implemented in regard to the water quality in Tunisia and how to better protect its water resources. Water quality management is dispersed among a few institutions. The Ministry of Agriculture’s role is planning and managing the water sector, while the Ministry of Environment controls water pollution sources, among other responsibilities.

Recently, efforts have been made to improve water quality in Tunisia by Japan, which has granted the country credit for construction of a seawater desalination plant in Sfax, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. This credit has been given more specifically to the National Water Supply and Distribution Company, also known as SONEDE. The amount of the grant is about 780 million dinars (MD) and will be paid back over 25 years with a seven-year grace period, at an interest rate of 1.7%.

This credit will reinforce the capacity and water quality in Tunisia that is used for drinking by helping SONEDE provide 100,000 tons of water to the region of Greater Sfax, which is the second-largest city in the country. This credit will come to the aid of one million people residing in Sfax.

Sabri Bachtobji, the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, stated that the grant given to construct a seawater desalination plant in Tunisia is the first Japanese commitment that is part of the promises given at the TUNISIA 2020 Conference on Investment that was held in November 2016.

Sara Venusti

Photo: Pixabay

Tunisia is a small, African nation located on the Mediterranean Sea and nestled between Algeria and Libya that transitioned to a democracy after the 2011 Arab Spring and adopted a progressive constitution in 2014. In the same year, it held elections to elect a president. Its location makes it a favorite point for refugees in Tunisia, but most see it as a transit country.

10 Facts About Refugees in Tunisia

  1. Before 2011, only 100 refugees arrived each year in Tunisia. These refugees came primarily from Algeria, other western African countries, and Palestine.
  2. During the height of the Arab Spring in Libya in 2011, some 990,900 people (10 percent of Tunisia’s population) crossed the border into Tunisia. However, 77 percent of the Libyans who became refugees in Tunisia later returned to Libya.
  3. Since 2011, there has been a steady decrease in the number of “persons of concern” — a designation of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for refugees, returnees, stateless people and asylum-seekers — in Tunisia. The number of Tunisian refugees in 2017 is close to 1,000.
  4. Libyans arriving in Tunisia have three months before they must apply for a work permit from the Ministries of Interior. An organization called International General Services was created in Tunisia to assist refugees in becoming more self-reliant. Refugees sign one-year contracts with the service organization for jobs in fields such as maintenance in electricity and air conditioning.
  5. Tunisian refugees often arrive after being rescued from sea trying to get to Europe. Of the 900 people rescued by this method in 2015, 147 people claimed asylum in Tunisia.
  6. At the beginning of 2015, 80 percent of those who boarded boats in Libya and arrived in Tunisia were economic migrants looking for a better life. The remaining 20 percent were Eritrean, Somalian and Syrian refugees. The UNHCR assists Tunisia in determining if the person is a migrant or a refugee.
  7. Tunisian refugees have access to French and English language classes and may enroll in Information Technology training in the towns of Medenine and Ben Guerdane.
  8. The UNHCR is assisting Tunisia in drafting a new asylum law. Until that time, UNHCR is the sole entity conducting refugee status determination.
  9. All elementary school-aged refugees are enrolled in primary school once they have reached Tunisia.
  10. All asylum seekers in Tunisia receive health care. UNHCR covers the cost of primary and emergency visits through their partner, Tunisian Red Crescent.

Tunisia has seen the number of refugees increase greatly since 2011, and then decrease to a much smaller number today. The country’s location attracts both migrants and refugees. It has promised to adopt a national asylum law soon, which will take the burden away from the UNHCR as the sole entity conducting refugee interviews.

Jene Cates

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Tunisia

In June 2016, the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) online magazine announced that the organization has approved a four-year, $2.9 billion loan program to help alleviate poverty in Tunisia.

Continued Struggles Post-Revolution

This news may come as a shock to some people. The IMF gave financial assistance in the form of a Stand-By Arrangement following the 2010 Tunisian Revolution, and the North African country is considered to be one of the few successes that emerged from the Arab Spring.

While Tunisia has come a long way both politically and economically, the country is still plagued by high unemployment and a lagging private sector.

According to IMF Survey, 15 percent of Tunisia’s population and 35 percent of its youth, are unemployed, contributing greatly to poverty in Tunisia. Civil society representatives, speaking with World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim during his visit in May, claimed that only 27 percent of the country has access to finance due to strict rules on foreign transactions.

Joblessness and lack of opportunities has produced lackluster economic growth and low government approval ratings. The World Bank reported that only twenty percent of young Tunisians in urban areas trust the government. The figure is ten percent for the countryside.

Regional disparities are also a problem; while the national unemployment rate is high, it is even higher in regions far from the coast. In southwest Tunisia, 26.1 percent of people were unemployed in 2015, according to Tunisia’s National Statistics Institute.

Where unemployment goes, poverty follows. A 2014 World Bank report revealed that the poverty rate in central Tunisia was four times higher than the national average; as high as 30 percent in certain areas.

All of these factors combine to produce a significant number of disgruntled youth that extremist groups seek to recruit.

IMF to Counter Terrorism

According to a Voice of America article published on June 6, 2016, over 7,000 people in the country have become fighters for the Islamic State and other jihadist groups. The reason, cited by many, is that the government has failed to integrate a youth population that is in a process of soul-searching, following the democratic uprising of 2010 that lasted into 2011.

In order curb this terrorist threat, which has major security implications for the region and the world at large, economic development and poverty reduction are key. The new IMF program aims to do exactly that.

In an interview with IMF Survey, IMF Mission Chief for Tunisia Amine Mati stated that by injecting more money, the $2.9 billion loan would help maintain the overall stability of the country’s economy.

As civil society representatives and young Tunisian entrepreneurs have made clear, labor market, private sector and structural reforms are also needed. According to Mati, the program will also assist government efforts in creating a more dynamic economy and ensuring growth is distributed across the country.

Tunisia has great potential. Its democratic government is committed to solving the country’s problems. Foreign aid will help accelerate the progress already made in reducing poverty in Tunisia.

Philip Katz

Photo: Pixabay

BeekeepingHoney continues to be a popular commodity across the globe, and poor rural farmers throughout Africa are beginning to take up the practice of beekeeping to earn money.

In Kenya, a large portion of those living in poverty reside in rural regions, as large cities such as Nairobi are beginning to prosper. Bees, and the delicious nectar that they produce, are starting to be viewed as a viable business enterprise for farmers living in the Kenyan countryside.

According to CapX, “More than 90 percent of honey in Kenyan supermarkets is imported,” which gives local farmers the opportunity to enter a practically untouched market.

However, the practice of beekeeping in Kenya has typically been popular among the elderly community, who yield small quantities of honey from hives made out of wooden logs.

To combat this trend, CapX reports, “Charities like Christian Aid are working to develop honey hubs in Kenya.” These hubs will provide education, training, modern equipment, storage and industry connections in an effort to promote the business of beekeeping and help prove that bees can end poverty for these farmers.

A similar strategy is taking hold in Tunisia, where the project TuniBee is beginning to empower local beekeepers. Students who attend the Mediterranean School of Business in Tunis, the capitol of Tunisia, began the initiative at the suggestion of Noomen Lahimer, their professor of economics and entrepreneurship.

According to BBC, “People who already keep bees to supplement the income they get from their day jobs are selected from deprived areas of the country” to work with TuniBee.

Beekeepers who participate in the program are given extra beehives that are purchased by the sponsors of TuniBee. On top of this, Khaled Bouchoucha, a beehive entrepreneur, and Hidhli Naoufel, a veterinarian, provide high-end beehives and expertise on the handling of bees to the participants.

The greatest upside to the promotion of beekeeping in Africa is the worldwide interest in the delicious golden syrup.

CapX reported, “Honey is a treasured substance among many Muslim communities.” Honey holds special significance in Islam, and countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are willing to spend a lot of money if the honey is of a high quality.

In Tunisia, TuniBee has intrigued large corporations such as Total, Shell and Microsoft, that they hope will eventually act as corporate sponsors. Additionally, TuniBee has already secured one U.S. company that would like to import their honey.

The ever-growing popularity of this up-and-coming industry has led many to believe that bees can help end poverty for rural farmers across Africa.

Liam Travers

Photo: Pixabay

John Kerry
Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.S. Senate remain embroiled in a billion dollar foreign aid battle that has been raging since 2011.

In 2014, the United States signed a $500 million loan agreement with Tunisia, which would allow the people of Tunisia to access international capital and other financing techniques to assist with their “democratic transition.”

According to the New York Times, the U.S. has extended $700 million in direct aid to Tunisia over the past four years and two rounds of loan guarantees totaling $1 billion since 2012, after designating Tunisia a major non-NATO ally in July 2015. This status brings up the promise of added military cooperation.

Being called “the Arab Spring’s only potential success story” by the Al-Monitor, Tunisia has been a central player in the Obama administration’s efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East. Secretary of State John Kerry has been working to increase the amount of USAID dollars sent to Tunisia and has been advocating for other programs of economic growth that may reinforce Tunisia’s march to democracy.

“The eyes of the world are on Tunisia, and America wants Tunisia to succeed,” said John Kerry in a news conference in 2015. “Tunisia is where the Arab Spring was born, and it is where it distinctly continues to bloom in ways that are defining possibilities for other countries in that region.”

The Tunisian government has so far been enthusiastic about transitioning to democracy, despite potential threats they may face from “regional rivals” such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Prime Minister Jomaa of Tunisia says, “We are very proud of our new constitution, of our shared values of democracy and rights […] we need to think about economic and social aspects, and also about teaching and learning because we are eager to develop our youth and to develop new technologies.”

However, not all members of the U.S. Senate are convinced that Tunisia is stable enough to promote Prime Minister Jomaa’s agenda. Senate members were wary of potential terrorist threats within Tunisia this past summer and blocked significant amounts of foreign assistance to the region that were proposed in a House Bill.

The alternative Senate appropriations bill was $10 million short of the foreign assistance demanded by the State Department. It also did increase military aid, although it cited “the terrorist threat Tunisia faces,” as a primary motivator for sending fewer dollars abroad.

The concerns of the Senate are not unfounded. The deteriorating situation in Syria has had profound effects on Tunisia, both with Syrian refugees pouring into the region and Tunisians themselves becoming involved in the civil war. According to Al-Jazeera, 5,500 Tunisians have joined groups like ISIL, al-Nursa Front and al-Qaeda in the neighboring nations of Syria, Iraq and Libya.

However, USAID has been working with Tunisia to create programs of entrepreneurship and economic opportunities that may halt the flow of young Tunisians toward radical groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya. Funds like the Tunisian-American Enterprise Fund, which allocates investments totaling $20 million into small and medium enterprises in Tunisia, is one attempt to jump-start Tunisia’s private sector despite political turmoil that may hinder it.

“Measurable economic progress can help bolster democratic reforms both in Tunisia and elsewhere in the region,” said Alina Romanowski, the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Middle East for USAID. “The Tunisian-American Enterprise Fund will help to address gaps in financing for entrepreneurs and small businesses that overwhelmingly drive Tunisian private sector growth.”

USAID and the budding Tunisian democracy are hoping that these economic reforms can be perfected in Tunisia and then transferred to other nations like Syria. Private sector growth, combined with financial support from the U.S. and USAID, could promote a new era of peace and prosperity for Tunisia while also creating a useful ally for the United States in the Middle East.

John Kerry has called Tunisia “a shining example to those who claim democracy is not possible in this part of the world.”

Emma Betuel

Sources: NY Times, Al-Monitor, USAID
Photo: Flickr

5 Facts About Education in Tunisia
Since the 1980s, Tunisia has experienced success in increasing its human development index score through investments in education and improving the quality of life. However, there are challenges to providing quality education in Tunisia due to unorthodox practices, such as private tutoring practiced by educators.

Here are five facts about education in Tunisia:

1. Tunisia ranks ninth in the world in private tutoring and 70 percent of students participate in tutoring services. About 54 percent of these students received private tutoring from their own teachers. Many of these private lessons include parts of the curriculum that are only available through payment.

2. In order to combat corruption in the education system, Tunisia has an external integrity analysis of education. This allows the country to take appropriate actions to reduce corruption. Recommendations to Tunisia’s government include implementing a new code of conduct for teachers and reforming the admission process for universities.

3. Tunisia ranks 69th in the world in access to basic knowledge. Basic knowledge includes literacy, primary school enrollment, secondary school enrollment and gender parity in secondary school enrollment.

4. About 82 percent of people over the age of 15 are considered to be literate, which ranks Tunisia 93rd in the world in literacy. In 2008, the World Bank reported that 96.79 percent of people between the ages of 15 and 24 were literate, which provides a strong foundation of hope for the future of literacy in Tunisia.

5. The mean years of schooling in Tunisia have increased 4.5 years since 1980 and Tunisia remains one of the top countries in Africa for access to information. Around 43.8 percent of the population has access to the Internet, which contributes to a better education for students.

Education in Tunisia is showing remarkable progress in enrollment numbers for higher education and access to primary education. It will remain important in Tunisia to engage students and their parents to ensure educational reform is successful.

Donald Gering

Sources: Open Society Foundation, Social Progress Imperative, Trading Economics, UN, UNDP
Photo: Tunisient Tunisia

World Social Forum
Despite the Bardo Museum attacks in Tunis, Tunisia, the World Social Forum proceeded to convene from March 24 to March 28, 2015. Not only did the forum continue, but also a march was held to demonstrate solidarity for peace in Tunisian society.

Approximately 80,000 people who make some of the world’s top leaders in social justice, economic reform, and poverty eradication came together for the World Social Forum. Some attendees include ActionAid and Oxfam International. They come together to discuss the alternative to capitalism and methods for creating a peaceful, fair, and green society.

WSF was founded in 2001 as the alternative to the World Economic Forum under the belief that another world is possible. The first forum was held in 2002 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. This conference primarily focuses on the one percent group that holds most of the global wealth and political power. In preparation for the event, ActionAid declares that “A more equal society that values everyone depends on citizens holding the powerful to account…We will together champion international cooperation to avoid a race to the bottom.”

The forum typically convenes in the global south to ensure inclusivity and diverse global leaders. The outcome of the initial global civil society meeting resulted in international attention—positive and negative. WSF has received critical attention primarily because some attendees have strong opinions that have resulted in distracting from the main concerns of the forum. In 2003, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan sent a humbling message that expressed a concern for building relations between governments, businesses, and non-profit non-governmental organizations.

This year’s forum is expected to focus particularly on wealth distribution and poverty. The forum has grown in popularity. Their efforts combined demonstrate a reluctance to remain silent on issues that affect a large portion of the global population. It is unclear what may come out of this gathering, but one must stay attuned to their voices. As a global force that challenges the status quo, their popularity demonstrates a positive global development that says peace and anti-poverty efforts should not be ideas, but rather actions.

– Courteney Leinonen

Sources: ActionAid, Al Jazeera, Global Policy, Thomson Reuters Foundation
Photo: SCN

The World Bank Board of Executive Directors approved a U.S. $300 million program that will focus on increasing efficiency within local governments. The campaign is the first project that will aim to prioritize decentralization within the Tunisian government. It is particularly interested in increasing municipalities’ ability to deliver services to urban populations.

The campaign is called Urban Development and Local Governance Program and will impact all 264 Tunisian municipalities. It will also act as an aid to support the Tunisian government’s own plan to decentralize authority, a plan that took effect this year and will run through 2019. Although the municipalities are not equal in size, historically they have all lacked the power to make decisions. Additionally, they hold weak authority, have almost no connection to the citizens and play a miniscule role in local development.

The program will attempt to reverse these trends. While financial stability and increased authority in decision-making positions are the main points, the program aims to increase community involvement, especially in regard to the youth and women. The program looks to have these groups involved in the decision making process.

As a part of the Arab Spring, Tunisia celebrated independence three years ago. In January of this year, the country drafted and adopted a new version of the constitution. The Tunisian Republic, as it is now called, fares well when compared to other products of the uprising such as the coup in Africa and the war in Syria. But freedom comes at a steep price and the republic is dealing with economic, security and political challenges.

The recent program seems to have come at an ideal time for the Tunisians. Previously, giving aid to the government was described as “a noose,” by one critic. The constitution that was ratified in January faced an incredible amount of setbacks, not the least of which included several assassinations.

In January, the United States State Department announced that Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia was a terrorist group. The State Department alleged that the AST had ties with al-Qaeda. The Tunisian government responded by banning the group, although there were many subsequent clashes. Included in these uprisings was Mohamed Brahmi, a founder of the People’s Movement in Tunisia.

But the World Bank has pledged its faith in Tunisia. In total, 1.2 billion USD will be given to the country in 2014. This number represents quadruple the amount given in the pre-revolution period and double what has been given in the wake of the uprising.

– Andrew Rywak

Sources: The World Bank, Wamda, Al Jazeera

The selfie took the world by storm, spreading like a virus across social media platforms. The term often carries a negative connotation in many contexts, reflecting a sense of heightened narcissism brought on by the digital age.

However, even viral trends like the selfie can be turned around and used for productive and positive reasons.

A new selfie phenomenon is catching on in Tunisia for a very unique reason. It involves citizens taking snapshots of themselves with piles of trash in the background with the fitting title, “trash selfie.”

About two months ago, Tunisians began taking the trash selfie and posting it to Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #SelfiePoubella (#trashselfie). The photos are aimed at raising awareness of the excessive garbage and pollution currently plaguing the country.

The revolution in Tunisia left much of the country destroyed and many areas have yet to see proper repair and reform. As the political system works to restore order, public services have fallen behind. People are simply throwing their trash on the streets on top of piles that remain untouched.

Many Tunisian neighborhoods are riddled with rubbish, raising several health concerns. Aside from the smell alone, mosquito infestations and unsanitary conditions raise the risk of disease. Pollution-related diseases, such as asthma, are also increasing in the area.

The government has failed to properly respond to the crisis up until now. Tunisians are taking the trash selfie to social media platforms as a way to galvanize government response. As a result, Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa is currently working up a plan and intends to increase funding to the most problematic areas.

The waste treatment crisis is not limited to Tunisia alone, however. Trash in public areas has become a facet of life in much of the Middle East and North Africa region as the result of the Arab Spring.

The Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia in 2010 as a result of Twitter advocacy. The platform was critical to revolutionary communication throughout the conflict, as the entire world tuned in to a live-tweeted revolution. Social websites and mobile devices served as an effective way to voice the concerns of a people and push for political change.

Countries like Tunisia show the true potential of the Internet for uniting people over a cause they believe in. Middle Easterners have taken up a public voice on social platforms for real and necessary reform, and it seems they will continue to use it this way.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Green Prophet, Global Voices Online, PRI
Photo: Global Voices Online