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Press briefing notes on Tunisia et Egypt

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 30 November 2012

1) Tunisia
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay is expressing alarm at the current violent unrest in the Tunisian town of Siliana and urging the Government to ensure that security forces stop using excessive force against demonstrators. The High Commissioner also stresses that demonstrators should at all times avoid resorting to violence.

The protests over unemployment and imbalances in development began on Tuesday and led to violent confrontations between demonstrators and the security forces. More than 220 people are believed to have been injured on Tuesday and Wednesday, and sporadic violence, house-to-house searches and arrests are reported to have taken place in Siliana yesterday. A team from our office in Tunisia arrived in the town earlier this morning.

Some of the demonstrators suffered serious injuries caused by the use of bird shot, reportedly fired without warning. On Thursday, our staff visited victims who had been taken to hospitals in the capital Tunis, and have documented cases of shotgun wounds to the head, back, and face, as well as eye injuries which could in some cases lead to blindness. Some demonstrators are also suffering from broken bones. We understand a number of police officers have also been injured and our staff in Tunis will be visiting them in hospital today.

The High Commissioner condemns the excessive and disproportionate use of force by members of the security forces against the protesters whose demonstration was announced in advance. In particular, she is urging the authorities to immediately halt the use of shotguns against protesters.

The rights to freedom of expression and opinion, and peaceful assembly are fundamental human rights which must be protected and respected.

She welcomes the announcement yesterday by the Government of an independent Commission of Inquiry into these events and urges them to take appropriate measures to guarantee accountability and prevent such abuses from occurring in future, in particular the need to be further efforts to ensure security forces abide by the UN Basic Principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials*

She is also calling on all parties to engage in a positive and constructive dialogue, and urging the government of Tunisia to take the necessary measures to ensure equitable development that will permit all Tunisians to enjoy their economic and social rights. The economy in the Siliana region has been in decline for years, and this appears to be the root cause of the unrest we have seen over the past few days.

*see http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/firearms.htm

2) Egypt

The High Commissioner has urged the President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, to reconsider the Constitutional Declaration issued last week, saying a number of measures contained in it are incompatible with international human rights law. She has also warned that approving a constitution in these circumstances could be a deeply divisive move.

The High Commissioner welcomes the efforts to reach out to the judiciary and political parties, but believes they are not yet sufficient to prevent Egypt reneging on binding principles laid down in the two overarching international human rights treaties – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights -- which Egypt ratified in 1982.

In a letter addressed to the Egyptian President she noted that “the three slogans of the Egyptian Revolution, were liberty, freedom and social justice.” She pointed out that these same principles underlie all international human rights law, including both Covenants. In order for them to be achieved, there need to be prompt, effective and impartial investigations, truth-seeking processes, judicial accountability mechanisms, and reparation programmes, as well as a strengthening of institutional reform and guaranteeing of non-recurrence of the violations that were rampant during the Mubarak era.

In her letter, she noted the efforts made so far, since the successful May-June elections, “in combatting human rights violations, countering impunity and ensuring transparency and accountability at all levels.”

She outlined the areas where the Constitutional Declaration opens the door to violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in particular the right to effective remedy, access to justice as well as the guarantees for the independence of the judiciary.*

The High Commissioner also commented on concerns about the composition of the Constituent Assembly, noting that “Any proper constitution-making process must include adequate representation of the full political spectrum, men and women, minorities, and civil society, which was not seen to be the case with this Constituent Assembly.”

She expressed concerns about the unfolding events in Egypt and warned against taking divisive measures such as adopting a Constitution that may lead to further escalation and tension.

In her letter to the President, the High Commissioner stressed that she fully understands the difficult challenges the Egyptian President is facing, but urged him to reconsider the Declaration so that the various problems it was designed to address can be confronted by measures that are “in conformity with international human rights principles.”

“It is within the legal prerogatives and political responsibility of President Morsi to address these concerns in conformity with international human rights principles,” she wrote.

*More details on the incompatibilities between the Constitutional Declaration and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights will be contained in a separate press release later today.

ENDS

For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 /rcolville@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+ 41 22 917 9310 /cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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