Tunisia’s call for economic help from the European Union may lead to the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
Tunisia’s Government has requested grants off the European Union, (EU) of some 20 billion Euros in order to help with the country’s economic and democratic transition. However, while expressing broad sympathy for Tunisia’s position, the EU has indicated that access to the funds, termed the Marshall Plan, will likely be contingent upon the country undertaking institutional reforms, including the repeal of Article 230 criminalizing sexual relations between members of the same sex, which the EU says are at odds with its principles of non-discrimination and protection of people’s private lives.
Further to the decriminalizing of sodomy, Tunisia will also have to undertake measures to prevent torture and ensure greater equality between the sexes.
Speaking at a press conference following the decision, President of the Association Tunisienne de Soutien des Minorités, (ATSM), Yamina Thabet who had initially presented the case for making safeguards over the rights of Tunisia’s LGBTI community a condition of the grant said, “Why are (presumed) homosexual people still jailed, based on evidence gathered in ways which violate the constitutional right to privacy? Why are invasive anal tests still commonplace, even though torture is expressly forbidden? How can a country in which there is now a constitutional right to freedom of expression and association ban the activities of a Non-Governmental Organisation [the LGBTI pressure group, Shams] which is working to enforce these rights? “
Speaking to Tunisia Live, the legal representative for Shams, Mounir Baatour said, “We welcome the position of the EU and we believe it’s a significant step towards equal rights in Tunisia and the end the stigma and discrimination against Tunisian homosexuals.
Echoing Baatour’s comments, Belhedi Bouhdid the association’s spokesperson said, “The association had previously presented a law to the Tunisian Parliament in order to abolish the Article 230 and it was rejected.” He added that, “we have been working hand in hand with international organisations such as the European Union, United Nations, Front Line Defenders, Amnesty International (France) and Rainbow Rose in order to have a positive impact on the Tunisian Government in order to change the law.”
Bouhdid says that “There should be a radical change in the Tunisian mentality. However, we will remain objective and optimistic about the future while we wait for the government’s reaction towards the EU’s call.”
Updated, 23 September 2016: This article has been updated to reflect the role of the ATSM in ensuring that conditions safeguarding Tunisia’s gay community were included within the EU’s Marshall Plan
Zaineb is a journalist in the Tunisia Live newsroom. She speaks Arabic, French and English.