Samir Dilou, Minister of Human Rights and Transitional Justice

Tunisia has told the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that it will not decriminalise homosexuality because it is a Western concept and is contrary to Islam and Tunisian culture and tradition.

This was in reaction to recent recommendations by the UNHRC on how Tunisia can ensure that it abides by its human rights obligations. These include decriminalising homosexuality, which is currently illegal under laws enacted when the country was a French colony.

The country accepted most the 110 UNHRC recommendations, including those addressing judicial reform and equality for women, children and disabled people, but not the recommendations on LGBT rights.

At a press conference in the capital Tunis on Saturday, Samir Dilou, Tunisian Minister of Human Rights and Transitional Justice, explained his government’s stance on the issue.

Dilou told reporters that “sexual orientation is specific to the West” and that “Tunisia has its own identity as an Arab Muslim state.”

He insisted that the criminalisation of homosexuality is not in conflict with basic freedoms as “there is no absolute freedom. All freedoms are restricted by the law.”

In February, Dilou said on national television that homosexuality was not a human rights issue, but a condition in need of medical treatment, a statement criticised by Amnesty International.

“These comments are extremely disappointing, especially coming from the very person who should be ensuring that the human rights of all Tunisians are protected,” Amnesty International said at the time.

Penalties for gay sex in Tunisia include imprisonment of up to three years.

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