The following information reports U.S. Government priorities and activities of the U.S. mission in Tunisia to promote democracy and human rights. For background on Tunisia's human rights conditions, please see the 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
and the International Religious Freedom Reports
Part 1: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives
A key U.S. Government objective in Tunisia is to promote democratic reform, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. To support the enactment of genuine democratic and human rights reforms, especially freedom of expression and freedom of association, the United States sustains a broad dialogue with the government, diplomatic interlocutors, and civil society. This dialogue encompasses the continued promotion of good governance and participatory democracy, with the goal of improving the functioning of the country's political parties and civil society organizations. The United States encourages the government to increase the pace and substance of critical political and human rights reforms and to allow civil society, including independent media, to address these issues freely. The U.S. Secretary of State highlighted Tunisia as a country of concern for Internet freedom, and on World Press Freedom Day the White House recognized Tunisia as a place where journalists are imprisoned.
Part 2: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance
The United States makes full use of exchange, cultural, and professional programs as well as dialogue to promote democratic values. The ambassador and other high-level U.S. officials consistently raise human rights, democracy, and good governance with the government. U.S. officials meet regularly with governing party and opposition party officials, prominent intellectuals, students, lawyers, journalists, and other civil society leaders to promote freedom of expression, cooperation, and the free exchange of ideas. They meet regularly with religious leaders to stress the importance of dialogue and religious tolerance. U.S. officials, including the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, recently visited the oldest and largest Jewish community in Tunisia to highlight the successful and long-standing example of Jews and Muslims living and working together peacefully. The United States has funded a series of workshops and an international conference that discussed democracy and Islam.
In 2009 the U.S. Government also sponsored the participation of 17 individuals in the International Visitor Leadership Program in the fields of government, rule of law, judicial reform, democracy, women's affairs, and the media. One local educator studied the potential role of women in political leadership and another, grassroots civic engagement. The embassy implements its civic values agenda for youth most effectively through the ACCESS micro-scholarship program by organizing two five-day retreats per year at remote sites in which high school students participate in workshops that focus on volunteerism for the community, among other subjects. Other supplemental activities for ACCESS and YES student participants and alumni also emphasize the same themes.
The embassy sponsors fora for civil society, including roundtables with journalists focused on freedom of the press. It brings speakers to the country to discuss freedom and democracy with officials at think tanks, within government, and with journalists and university groups. In speeches, media interviews, publications, and events, U.S. officials highlight U.S. commitments to human rights, freedom of expression, and government transparency. For example, U.S. officials met several times with groups of independent journalists and bloggers to discuss freedom of the press, association and freedom to access the Internet. The U.S. Government promotes media independence and professionalism through special programs for journalists and bloggers, exchange programs, and regular interaction with media professionals. U.S. projects in this area also focus on increasing opportunities for women, including trainings of counselors for domestic abuse victims, and business and entrepreneurship training programs. To increase understanding of U.S. objectives and international human rights norms, the embassy distributes materials in Arabic, French, and English, including U.S. Government reports on human rights, religious freedom, labor, and trafficking in persons; NGO reports on regional human rights issues; and electronic journals and articles on rule of law and transparency in government. For example, the embassy distributed copies of President Obama's Cairo address during engagements with government officials, civil society, and students as an opportunity to expand on the themes of democracy, freedom of speech and religious tolerance. The embassy also publishes a monthly newsletter, whose theme is often related to democracy. The newsletter is sent to approximately 1,500 people, including host government officials and the alumni of U.S. Government sponsored programs.
The United States conducts a variety of activities in the country to support good governance, judicial independence, independent media, and anticorruption efforts. During the 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections, the United States encouraged the invitation of an independent elections monitoring group and also the creation of elections observation group comprised of varied members from civil society; however, in the end, the Tunisian government did not allow credible independent observers to monitor the elections. The embassy conducted informal election observation and coordinated observation with other diplomatic interlocutors. The U.S. Government also includes rule of law issues in training and education it provides to the military. In 2009, 30 military personnel took part in U.S. training that included components on respect for human rights and rule of law.
The United States works to strengthen civil society and its ability to influence and communicate with the government, and urges the government to remove onerous NGO registration and funding restrictions. U.S. officials monitor political trials and encourage the government to respect freedom of assembly and association at every opportunity. They also meet with activists and NGOs that experience government harassment and restrictions, attend events such activists and NGOs host, and raise specific cases of concern with the government. The Secretary of State expressed the hope that the government will do more to promote independent media access, freedom of the Internet, and access to television for the opposition.
The United States works to strengthen civil society organizations by supporting media and political reform through small grants. In 2009-2010, humanitarian assistance programs supported the creation of an AIDS Prevention and Confidential Testing Center for the Tunisian Association for the Prevention of AIDS. This assistance is helping Tunisian civil society assume an important role in promoting AIDS awareness among youth and encouraging testing among high risk groups. During this period the embassy also continued its decade-long humanitarian assistance initiative to raise awareness of the rights of people with disabilities by supporting the Tunisian Association for Assistance to the Blind in the creation of an integration center for blind youth.