Is Tunisia calm, now that the storm is gone?
By Rikke Frank Jorgensen for APCNews
NAIROBI, KENYA, 29 January 2007
In the white tent of the African Forum, I run into Souhayr Belhassen. Souhayr is vice-president for the Tunisian Human Rights League, and also serves as vice-president of the FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights).
During the preparations leading up to the World Summit of the Information Society (Source: APC ICT Policy Handbook and APC Annual Report 2005.">WSIS) held in Tunis in November 2005, and at the Summit itself, the Tunisian "state" in this glossary). As a general rule, "government" should not be capitalised.
Source: Wikipedia">governmenttargeted non-governmental organisations (NGOs) time and again.
In a press release dated January 23 2007, the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEXs) monitoring group on Tunisia, which was set up during the WSIS process, states that things have not improved in the past year. The group is asking the new UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to remind the Tunisian government of its international human rights obligations. Not least the obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Tunisia is a party.
“The situation has gotten worse and worse, since the Summit. I think we are being punished for WSIS. It’s hardly possible for us to work anymore. A large number of sites are being blocked, Style information: Do not use e-mail with a hyphen.
Source: Wikipedia">emailis not working, phones are cut off, NGOs are harassed, and meetings are prevented from taking place. How can you work under these circumstances?” asks Souhayr.
“The Tunisian Human Rights League tried to hold its Annual General Assembly a few weeks back, but it was not possible. When we arrived for the meeting, there was police all over. They blocked the office and forced us away. They are basically destroying all our means of communication, and neither national nor local offices are able to carry out basic tasks anymore,” explains the outspoken human rights advocate.
Souhayr is loosing hope that change will ever happen in Tunisia. And the fact that hope is dying is actually the worst part, she stresses. “I don’t believe much in change anymore, and much of the NGO activity and critical opposition, which was vocal during the WSIS process, is now silent.”
I ask whether she thinks that the international NGOs (and the international community more generally) have failed to follow up on post-WSIS Tunisia.
”I understand that there are many human rights issues to address around the world, and Tunisia is just one country. I would like to have more cooperation with the many friends and organisations we worked with during WSIS, but at this moment, it will have to be outside Tunisia. It’s not possible to work there now. Not on human rights issues,” Souhayr concludes.
In April of this year, Souhayr is running for the FIDH presidency against a Columbian candidate. If she wins, it will be the first time the FIDH has a female president.