Tu­nisia Crim­i­nal­izes Racism

The McGill Daily - - News - Nabeela Jivraj The Mcgill Daily

On Oc­to­ber 9, Tu­nisia ap­proved leg­is­la­tion crim­i­nal­iz­ing racist speech, in­cite­ment to ha­tred, and dis­crim­i­na­tion. The law passed al­most unan­i­mously, with 125 votes for, one against, and five ab­stain­ing. “This is a very im­por­tant turn­ing point in the his­tory of Tu­nisia, equiv­a­lent to the abo­li­tion of slav­ery,” said Mes­saoud Romd­hani, head of the Tu­nisian Fo­rum for Eco­nomic and So­cial Rights. Though ac­tivist groups have pres­sured the gov­ern­ment to put anti-racist leg­is­la­tion in place for years, po­lit­i­cal sup­port for this in­creased ex­po­nen­tially in 2016. On Christ­mas Day that year, three Con­golese stu­dents were stabbed on a train. The crime was likely mo­ti­vated by racism, and sparked ou­trage across the coun­try. Af­ter­wards, Prime Min­is­ter Youssef Cha­hed ex­pressed his sup­port for anti-racism leg­is­la­tion.

The law is be­ing con­sid­ered a his­toric step in pro­tect­ing mi­nor­ity rights for Black Tu­nisians and sub- sa­ha­ran Africans, who col­lec­tively make up 10-15 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion. Re­cent sur­vey data in­di­cated that Black Tu­nisians are so­cio- eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged com­pared to other Tu­nisians as a re­sult of sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion and ra­cial bi­ases.

Leg­is­la­tors have in­di­cated that putting the leg­is­la­tion into prac­tice to en­act a cul­ture shift is an im­por­tant step to elim­i­nate this gap. Un­der the newly passed leg­is­la­tion, use of racist lan­guage can re­sult in a 1,000 di­nar fine (ap­prox­i­mately $462 CAD), or of­fend­ers be­ing jailed for up to a month. In­cite­ment to ha­tred, mak­ing racist threats, spread­ing or ad­vo­cat­ing racism, and be­long­ing to a group which sup­ports dis­crim­i­na­tion, are each pun­ish­able by one to three years in pri­son and fines of up to 3,000 di­nars. To ful­fill its own man­date and ed­u­cate the pub­lic, a Na­tional Com­mis­sion Against Ra­cial Dis­crim­i­na­tion will be tasked with con­duct­ing aware­ness and train­ing cam­paigns.

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