Hamden Dali, an 81-year-old Black Tunisian man, can now legally remove a part of his name that denoted he was a descendant of slaves, a court in the North African country declared in a ruling his lawyer described as historic.
According to Reuters, Black Tunisians, who are mainly descendants of slaves brought into the country from Sub-Saharan Africa during the slave trade, constitute between 10 and 15% of Tunisia’s population.
Though the North African nation abolished slavery in 1846, making it one of the first countries to do so, Black Tunisians have continued to be marginalized and discriminated against. Minority Rights Group International also says there is still a general nationwide reluctance to admit racism persists in the country.
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Campaigners who spoke to Reuters said the court ruling will pave the way for the many other Black Tunisian households who bear names denoting their slave ancestry – including “atig” or “liberated by” – to be able to drop them. Dali’s lawyer also said his client’s previously held slave name denigrated his human dignity, and his children had found it difficult to gain jobs due to the discrimination attached to the name.
“In ‘Atig Dali’, there is a certain humiliation because it is as if the person is not free – there is a discomfort for the family to live with this name,” his lawyer, Hanen Ben Hassena, said.
Dali’s son had initially filed a request to the Medenine Court of First Instance in 2017 to remove the name “Atig” from his official documents due to the stigma and humiliation attached to it, Minority Rights Group International reports.
He was, however, denied the request as there wasn’t any available special committee to sit on cases involving last names. A subsequent request that was made to a lawyer to the Ministry of Justice to remove the name was also rejected based on the same aforementioned reason. With the assistance of Ben Hassena, Dali’s family filed another request in August 2020.
“This decision is hugely significant,” Silvia Quattrini, MRG’s Middle East and North Africa Programmes Coordinator, said. “Bearing such a name is a truly constant reminder of the legacy of slavery. The ruling paves the way for other Black Tunisians to change their names and finally gain the right to choose their own identity.”
Jamila Ksiksi, a member of parliament who contributed to the passing of an anti-discrimination law known as law 50 also told Reuters the court’s judgment was “exceptional and extraordinary”.
“Civil society started this battle after the revolution (in 2011) and now we are seeing the fruits of this and of the law 50, which facilitated this achievement,” Ksiksi said.
Saadia Mosbah, the president of Mnemty, a local anti-racism association that has been advocating for Black Tunisians with slave names who want to drop it to be allowed to, also welcomed the ruling.