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UN human rights chief calls for investigations into deaths in Tunisia

GENEVA (12 January 2011) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Wednesday urged the government of Tunisia to ensure that its security forces cease using excessive force against demonstrators, and to launch transparent and credible investigations into the deaths that have taken place during recent protests against price increases, limited employment opportunities, alleged corruption and limitations on fundamental rights and freedoms.

The official government figure for the number killed over the weekend of 8-9 January stands at 21, with reputable human rights organizations reporting even higher numbers. While the situation escalated over the weekend, deaths were also reported in preceding weeks. The demonstrations, which began on 17 December, are continuing across the country.

“Whatever the precise total, I am extremely concerned about the very high number of people killed in Tunisia in recent weeks,” Pillay said. “It is essential that basic international human rights norms and guidelines governing the use of firearms are urgently and strictly adhered to.”

“Reports suggest that the majority of protests have been peaceful in nature, and that security forces reacted with excessive force in breach of international standards. It is imperative that the Government launch a transparent, credible and independent investigation into the violence and killings. If there is evidence that members of the security forces have used excessive force, or conducted extra-judicial killings, they must be arrested, tried and – if found guilty of offences – punished according to the law. It is essential that justice is done, and is seen to be done.”

Pillay also expressed concern about reports of widespread arrests, including of human rights defenders and bloggers advocating fundamental human rights principles such as freedom of expression, as well as reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in Tunisia. “While it is correct that people should be arrested if there is evidence they have committed crimes such as violence or arson, no one should be arrested or harassed for standing up for human rights,” she said. “Human rights defenders and bloggers, arrested solely for their peaceful activities, must be released immediately.”

She urged the government to respond to the underlying causes of the unrest and enact policies to ameliorate economic hardship and to lift severe limitations on freedoms of assembly, opinion and expression, as well as association.

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

Learn more about the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/HighCommissioner.aspx

For more information or interviews, please contact OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville (phone + 41 22 917 9767 / email: rcolville@ohchr.org)