Tunisia Vows to Ban Forced Exams of Suspected Gay Men
Tunisian senior adviser to the president of the republic in charge of relations with the political parties Noureddine Ben Ticha (L) talks with the Minister for Relations with Constitutional Bodies and Civil Society, Mehdi Ben Gharbia(R), attend a meeting in the capital Tunis with all political parties to decide on the date of the next municipal elections on September 18, 2017.Fethi Belaid / AFP/Getty Images
"[We welcome] Tunisia’s acceptance of two recommendations to immediately cease the practice of forced anal examinations and ensure the protection of LGBTQI persons from all forms of stigmatization, discrimination and violence,” Amnesty International said in a statement.
The organization added, however, that it "deeply regrets Tunisia's rejection" of its other recommendations related to LGBTQ rights, including a request that the North African country repeal article 230 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes “sodomy” with up to three years in prison.
Regarding the invasive examinations, Mehdi Ben Gharbia, Tunisia's minister for human rights, told international news agency Agence-Press France (AFP) they "can no longer be imposed by force, physical or moral, or without the consent of the person concerned."
If a judge requests that an individual receive the exam, Ben Gharbia added, the person can still refuse it “without his refusal being held up as proof of homosexuality." However, Ben Gharbia did not give specifics on when this ban would take effect.
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The international and domestic push back against these invasive tests has been mounting for years.
In a report released last January, the United Nations Human Rights Council declared the practice "medically worthless" and said it "amounts to torture or ill-treatment."
And last May, the United Nations Committee Against Torture denounced the forced anal tests and urged Tunisia to "prohibit the intrusive medical examinations that have no medical justification and cannot be performed with the free and informed consent of the persons subjected to them." The committee also claimed that police have threatened people to agree to undergo the tests.
Medical professionals in Kenya, another country that utilizes forced anal examinations, have voiced their concerns as well. This week, Kenya's Medical Association released a statement that promised to "condemn and discourage any form of forced examinations of clients," although the Kenyan government has not made a commitment to ending this practice.
Human Rights Watch — a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that investigates international cases of human rights violations — has been essential to acquiring evidence of Tunisia’s and Kenya's abuses against LGBTQ individuals.
Neela Ghoshal, senior researcher on LGBTQ rights at Human Rights Watch, told NBC News Tunisia's ban “is a significant step forward for human rights.”
Ghoshal said Tunisians “deserve assurance that their government will not subject them to torture in order to guess at their sexual orientation.” She said anal exams should be banned in all cases, even if the exam’s subject has consented, and she urged Tunisia to reconsider other state policies that discriminate against LGBTQ individuals.
“Tunisia should respect the right to privacy and decriminalize consensual sexual conduct,” Ghoshal demanded. “It’s not the government’s business what two adults do in their bedroom.”