25 November 2005
His Excellency Kofi A. Annan Secretary-General
Room 3800, United Nations Headquarters
New York, NY 10017
Dear Mr. Secretary-General,
This week in Tunis, at the World Summit on the Information Society, both inside and outside the official Summit, we have witnessed serious attacks on human rights and the right to freedom of expression. These attacks have included harassment of delegates, assaults on Tunisian and international journalists and human rights defenders, denial of entry to the country, the blocking of websites, the censorship of documents and speeches, and the prevention and disruption of meetings.
In advance of the Tunis Summit, civil society organisations expressed to you, in a joint letter of 1 October 2005, very serious concerns about the suitability of Tunisia as a host country. You kindly replied on 27 October 2005, when you indicated that you shared those concerns. You also outlined the measures the United Nations was taking to persuade Tunisia to comply with its international commitments on human rights.
The events this week in Tunis are the culmination of a preparatory process, commencing in Hammamet in June 2004, in which civil society participation and modus operandi have been severely disrupted as a result of the invasive presence of Tunisian government officials and their spokespeople throughout civil society meetings and structures. The holding of the Summit in Tunisia, under the auspices of the Tunisian government has not only put the spotlight on the host country’s poor human rights record, it has also brought into question the adequacy of United Nation’s mechanisms for civil society participation.
We believe it is essential that lessons are learnt from what has taken place here this week and we therefore call upon you, the Secretary General of the United Nations, to launch a full investigation into the attacks on human rights and freedom of expression that we have witnessed in Tunisia both in the run-up to and during the World Summit on the Information Society. We ask you to closely monitor the follow-up period in Tunisia.
We also ask you to undertake a thorough-going review of procedures leading up to the choice of host country, the protocols for host country agreements with UN agencies and the commitments required of the host country. We further ask you to revise the UN rules for civil society accreditation to ECOSOC and to UN conferences in order to end the exclusion of civil society organisations where the basis for that exclusion is a decision of an individual government with no right of appeal to any independent commission.
This week has reminded us of the importance of being constantly vigilant and of the courage of those who speak out in the face of repression and censorship. We know you share many of our concerns and we sincerely hope you will act swiftly on our requests.