Tunisia must immediately stop hate speech and violence against migrants from south of Sahara, UN Committee issues early warning
04 April 2023
GENEVA (4 April 2023) – The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) urged Tunisia’s highest authorities to publicly condemn and distance themselves from racist hate speech by politicians and public and private figures. It also called upon the State party to combat all forms of racial discrimination and racist violence against black Africans, especially migrants from the south of the Sahara and black Tunisian citizens.
In a statement issued today under its early warning and urgent action procedure, the Committee said it was alarmed by the remarks made by Tunisia’s Head of State in late February, alleging that “hordes of illegal migrants” arriving from African countries south of the Sahara were part of “a criminal plan to change the composition of the demographic landscape of Tunisia” and were the source “of violence, unacceptable crimes and practices”. The Committee found that such remarks were in contravention of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Faced with violence following the remarks made by Tunisia’s Head of State, hundreds of migrants from countries such as Ivory Coast, Mali, Guinea and Senegal decided to return to their home countries. Many other migrants and refugees from the south of the Sahara were forcibly evicted from their houses or have lost employment. They have thus sought protection and assistance from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The number of arbitrary detentions of migrants from south of the Sahara has also significantly increased throughout the country since the beginning of February. Many of them continue to be detained, including in Ouardia’s administrative detention facility, where some migrants have been in detention for more than 18 months.
In this context, the Committee is deeply concerned about reports of an increase of racial or xenophobic hate speech in Tunisia against migrants from African countries south of the Sahara, on social networks and some other media, including racist hate speech by private personalities and political party members, especially after the remarks made by the Head of State.
It is also gravely concerned that this wave of hate speech and stigmatisation has led to acts of violence against these migrants, including physical attacks and evictions from their homes and jobs.
The Committee is alarmed by reports of numerous arbitrary arrests of these migrants, including women, children and students, carried out by law enforcement officials in the campaign entitled “Strengthening the security fabric and reducing the phenomenon of illegal stay in Tunisia”, without all the procedural guarantees.
It urged the Tunisian authorities to refrain from making remarks contributing to racial hatred and racial discrimination against migrants from countries south of the Sahara and to proactively condemn anyone who did so.
The Committee requested that Tunisia immediately halt the arrests and collective detentions of these migrants, release those who are arbitrarily detained, especially women and children, and allow those who choose to apply for asylum to do so.
It also asked Tunisia to investigate cases of migrants being arbitrarily removed from their jobs or homes and take other measures to prevent and combat all forms of racial discrimination.
CERD’s early warning and urgent action procedure primarily aims to consider situations that might escalate into conflicts in order to take appropriate preventive actions to avoid full-scale violations of human rights under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.