A group of independent United Nations human rights experts today urged the Tunisian Government to control the use of force against peaceful demonstrators, after 21 deaths were officially confirmed over a two-day period between 8 and 9 January.
The call echoes the one made by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay on Wednesday amid the ongoing street protests in the North African country by civilians reportedly angered by rising prices of essential commodities, lack of employment opportunities, alleged corruption and limitations on fundamental rights and freedoms.
According to a news release issued today by the UN human rights office in Geneva, credible rights groups have reported “a much higher number of killings” than 21 since the beginning of the protests in mid-December.
The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, warned that “the killing of innocent civilians is a clear violation of international law and is totally unacceptable in any society.”
While the statement made by the country's President yesterday that security forces should not use live ammunitions against demonstrators is an important step, these words must become reality, the experts stated.
“Excessive use of force against demonstrators must end,” they stressed, adding they were “deeply shocked” by the excessive use of force, despite the largely peaceful nature of the demonstrations.
El Hadji Malick Sow, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, called for “an immediate cessation of all arbitrary arrests” and urged the Government “to follow through with its commitment to release all the persons arrested who have peacefully taken part in the demonstrations.”
The experts expressed particular concern that “journalists, bloggers, political activists and human rights defenders denouncing human rights violations in the country and advocating, in particular, for freedom of expression have been the subject of widespread arrest, intimidation and torture.”
They also suggested the establishment of a special commission to conduct transparent, independent and prompt investigations into the violence and killings.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said today that it is willing to support any investigation into what has happened in Tunisia.
Also adding their voices to today's call are the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Méndez.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, for his part, said he is closely monitoring events in Tunisia and called for full respect for freedom of expression and association.
In a statement released by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban urged all concerned parties to seek to resolve issues peacefully and lawfully with the aim of addressing grievances and work towards a democratic outcome that responds to the aspirations of the Tunisian people.