Civil society cancel events, protesting human rights violations in Tunisia
In reaction to the human rights violations yesterday in Tunis, many civil society organisations decided to cancel their long-prepared panels at WSIS in solidarity with the Tunisian civil society. Yesterday, two private civil society meetings in Tunis have been prevented or hindered by the police. Human rights activists and journalists have been harassed, and websites, including the one of the Citizens Summit on the Information Society (CSIS), have been blocked inside of Tunisia. The first event affected by this solidarity action was – ironically – the panel on Human Rights in the Information Society. This event, organised by the Danish Human Rights Institute, was to launch a book on Human Rights in the Global Information Society, but instead they read out a statement and cancelled the meeting.
The statement was written last night by members of the Citizens Summit on the Information Society coordinating group. It condemned the ongoing human rights violations in Tunisia and announced the cancelling of side events at WSIS. The signatories express their solidarity with Tunisian civil society organisations and individuals and encourage all delegates at WSIS to raise human rights issues openly. The statement reminds that the very goal of WSIS, to create an inclusive information society for all, can not be achieved without the respect of human rights. Finally it demands that the United Nations should reassess their choice of the conference venue, since Tunis is obviously not the place where people can meet and work together peacefully. The civil society activists clarify that the partial draw-back from the summit “was not planned in advance and is a direct response to the abnormal circumstances in which the Tunis Summit is taking place”.
“Abnormal circumstances” seems to be a suitable description for the experiences that many civil society activists faced. Especially those from northern and western NGOs were for the first time openly restricted in their freedom of assembly and expression. But taking a broader view, the absence of basic human rights as the right to assemble, freedom of expression and opinion, are a constant condition of political life in Tunisia. It is by no means abnormal in the sense of sporadic. That they are now taking place in the streets of Tunis while inside the conference halls of WSIS actors negotiate these very issues sheds a spotlight on these unfair and repressive conditions.
As of now, civil society organisations have not agreed on a strategy on how to deal with the alarming human rights situation in the WSIS host country. It is unclear whether more or all civil society events will be called off. But the cancellation of events today and the common statement is a clear and open rejection of human rights violations as they are taking place in Tunisia right now.