On the same day that the United Nations world information summit opened in Tunisia, three UN human rights experts today urgently called on the North African county’s Government to take immediate steps to respect the fundamental freedom of expression in the face of reports of serious abuses.
They urged that the holding of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis serve as “an opportunity to reinforce freedom of opinion and expression in Tunisia so that human rights defenders, judges, lawyers and journalists can successfully carry out their activities in a secure, free and constructive climate.”
In a joint statement, they expressed their “profound concern” at the deterioration with regard to freedom of expression, assembly and association and the independence of judges and lawyers in Tunisia.
The three are Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative on human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Ambeyi Ligabo, and the Commission’s Special Rapporteur on the independence of judg's and lawyers, Leandro Despouy.
Special Rapporteurs are unpaid experts serving in an independent personal capacity who receive their mandate from the Commission and report back to it.
In their statement, the three stressed that they have received numerous reports of repeated attacks on human rights organizations and their members, as well as against judge's, lawyer's and journalist's associations.
“The Special Rapporteurs and the Special Representative express their deep concern in the face of numerous cases of fines, forced transfers, physical attacks, arrests, condemnations and imprisonment of civil society members and judges for having publicly raised human rights issues and expressing their opinion,” they said.
They also voiced their concern over reports of obstacles to the freedom of association encountered by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and labour unions, including systematic bans on meetings by human rights organizations and those of journalists, judges and lawyers, as well as police clampdowns on their offices and “physical violence” perpetrated by security forces.
“The Special Rapporteurs and the Special Representative urgently call on the Tunisian Government to take immediately all measures necessary to respect fundamental freedoms, in particular fundamental norms with regard to freedom of opinion and expression, association and gathering, as well as with respect to the independence of judges and lawyers,” the statement said.
“They call for the holding of the World Summit on the Information Society to serve as an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of freedom of opinion and expression in the world, in particular for the promotion and protection of human rights.”