Tunisia: Bullets against Social Protest

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The undersigned organizations express their deep concern over the excessive use of force by the Tunisian authorities in dealing with the unceasing protests that have erupted 13 days ago in the state of “Sidi Bouzid” in central Tunisia and spread to several cities, including “Safaqis”, “Kairouan”, ” Sousse “, ” Mednine ” and the capital.

Protests have erupted spontaneously when a young man burnt himself in protest to preventing him from selling vegetables and fruits; local officials refused to meet him to hear his complaint. Those protests have spread to various cities of the aforementioned state and assumed a social character, whereby the local population denounced the corruption, unemployment, exclusion and deteriorating social conditions which they are enduring.

The confrontations that erupted between the police and demonstrators were characterized by the excessive use of violence by the authorities, which resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets leaving behind at least one dead and several wounded as well as dozens of detainees. The confrontations developed to such an extent and magnitude that compelled the landing of army troops and the imposition of a curfew. Authorities also imposed a severe media blackout and denied accordingly all Tunisian and foreign journalists access to protest areas.

Those recent protests come under a series of similar protests that were witnessed in the country throughout the past three years, and were marked by violent security interference. The most remarkable of these incidents was the so-called uprising of Gafsa mining basin, which broke out spontaneously also in protest against the test results for a job offer in one of the major companies. The situation evolved into a protest against corruption and the scarcity of employment opportunities. These protests have continued for several months during which demonstrations, sit-ins and strikes were organized. The protests left behind two dead and an unspecified number of injured, in addition to tens of detainees who received unfair imprisonment sentences following trials that lacked the minimum standards of justice.

In August 2010 another outburst erupted, in the south-east this time, in protest against the closure of the «Ras al-Jadir» commercial crossing on the common border with Libya. Violent clashes occurred in “Bin Guerdane” during these protests causing the injury of many among the demonstrators; security forces have arrested more than 150 persons.

The undersigned human rights organizations emphasize their full condemnation of the repressive approach of the Tunisian authorities vis-à-vis social protests, and the ensuing flagrant violation of the right to life; arbitrary arrests; and restriction of the right of citizens to access, receive and impart information.  We stress that the frequency of these social protests and that some of them assumed violent manifestations represents the other side of the character of the police state in Tunisia. The systematic policy of this state confirmed the sealing of outlets of peaceful expression and the blockade and suppression of freedom of association both at the political and trade union levels, or at the level of civil society and human rights organizations. This has paved the way for widespread corruption and highly undermines the remnants of the foundations of the state of law.

The undersigned human rights organizations warn that the continued use of police repression and the prevalence of security treatments and solutions over political solutions would plunge the country into a spiral of violence and counter-violence which must be avoided.

We call upon the Tunisian authorities to immediately refrain from using violence to counter all forms of peaceful protest, release all the detainees, conduct impartial investigations leading to the accountability of those responsible for the excessive use of force in suppressing the protests. We further demand them to take the necessary measures to compensate those affected by such suppressive practices.

The undersigned human rights organizations also uphold that if the Tunisian state is to fulfill its responsibilities in achieving the minimum economic and social welfare to its people and ensuring stability and the requirements of human security for its citizens, it must adopt a genuine program of thorough political reforms upholding accountability and oversight of policies and government performance. However, this is contingent upon lifting the enormous restrictions on public freedoms, enhancing the independence of the judiciary, putting an end to the predominance of the executive branch to the legislature over the judiciary, and lifting restrictions imposed on the various mass media and civil society institutions so as to ensure that the performance of state institutions would be subject to public, social and communal scrutiny.

The undersigned organizations also call upon the EU institutions to suspend the ongoing negotiations with the Tunisian government regarding preferential treatment in commercial transactions within the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements, and to link the resumption of these negotiations with the positive response of the Tunisian authorities to the requirements of respect to human rights and securing democratic freedoms. We regrettably contend in this regard that the reluctance of EU institutions to promote partnership agreements in such a way as to ensure respect for human rights is tantamount to rewarding the Tunisian authorities for their continued crimes in the domain of human rights, and makes these institutions an associate – either by silence or collusion- in those crimes.

Finally, the undersigned human rights organizations affirm that the escalating social protests in a country characterized by a tighter police grip refutes the illusions promoted by the ruling authoritarian regimes in the Arab world and praised by some Western circles which turn a blind eye on violations committed by these regimes alleging that these regimes are still – despite their despotism and dictatorship – worthy of securing political stability within this region of the world.

Signatory Organizations:

1. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, Egypt
2. Arab Penal Reform Organization, Egypt
3. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Egypt
4. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, Egypt
5. Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights
6. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
7. Center for Trade Unions and Worker’s Services, Egypt
8. Committee for the Respect of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia
9. Committees for the Defense of Democracy Freedom and Human Rights, Syria
10. Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies
11. Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of the Status of Children
12. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
13. Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
14. Hesham Mubarak Law Center, Egypt
15. Human Rights First Society, Saudi Arabia
16.  Human Rights Organization in Syria – MAF
17. Kurdish Committee for Human Rights in Syria al-Rased
18. Kurdish organization for the defence of human rights and public freedoms in Syria – DAD
19. Land Center for Human Rights, Egypt
20. National Organization for Human Right in Syria
21. New Women Foundation, Egypt
22. The Arab Organization for Human Rights-Syria
23. The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
24. The Group for Human Rights Legal Aid, Egypt

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