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Tunisia: “Words must become reality, excessive use of force must end” - UN human rights experts

GENEVA (14 January 2011) – A group of UN independent human rights experts* urged the Tunisian Government to control the use of force against peaceful demonstrators, after 21 deaths were officially confirmed over the weekend of 8-9 January. Credible human rights organizations have reported a much higher number of killings since the beginning of the protests in mid-December.

The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, warned that “the killing of innocent civilians is a clear violation of international law and is totally unacceptable in any society.”

The statement made by the President yesterday that security forces should not use live ammunitions against demonstrators is an important step, but these words must become reality. “Excessive use of force against demonstrators must end,” the human rights experts said. “We are deeply shocked by the excessive use of force, despite the largely peaceful nature of the demonstrations against price increases, unemployment, alleged corruption and restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms.”

“Security forces should scrupulously comply with international principles governing the use of force and firearms,” Mr. Heyns said. “They should, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force, and react in proportion to the seriousness of the situation.”

El Hadji Malick Sow, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, called for “an immediate cessation of all arbitrary arrests” and urged the Government “to follow through with its commitment to release all the persons arrested who have peacefully taken part in the demonstrations.”

The group of experts expressed particular concern that “journalists, bloggers, political activists and human rights defenders denouncing human rights violations in the country and advocating, in particular, for freedom of expression have been the subject of widespread arrest, intimidation and torture.”

“I deplore the measures taken by the Tunisian authorities to limit media coverage of the protests,” stated the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, including interferences by the Tunisian Internet Agency with websites. “Freedom of expression in Tunisia must be fully guaranteed”, he stressed.

Noting the dismissal of the Interior Minister and the Minister of Communications, the experts urged the Government to take all necessary measures to ensure that any person responsible for any violation relating to the protests is brought to justice. The experts suggested the establishment of a special commission to conduct transparent, independent and prompt investigations into the violence and killings.

Furthermore, the experts called on the Government to adopt all necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of these acts and to safeguard and guarantee full respect of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its citizens, in particular their right to physical and psychological integrity, their freedom of opinion and expression, and their right to peaceful assembly.

The experts are closely following the situation in Tunisia, where widespread demonstrations have been taking place on a daily basis since 17 December throughout the country. Over the last few days, violence has reportedly escalated since protests have expanded to criticize limitations on fundamental rights and freedoms.

The experts note the recent visit of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism and encourage the Government of Tunisia to continue to cooperate with the special procedures mechanisms of the Human Rights Council.

(*) Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Frank La Rue; Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Christof Heyns; Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms. Margaret Sekaggya; Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mr. El Hadji Malick Sow; Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Juan Méndez.

Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/opinion/index.htm

Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/executions/index.htm

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/defenders/index.htm

Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/detention/index.htm

Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/torture/rapporteur/index.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Tunisia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/TNIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Momoko Nomura (Tel.: +41 22 917 9304 / e-mail: mnomura@ohchr.org) or write to freedex@ohchr.org.