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13 May 2005

Tunisia and the World Summit on Information Society

Three international Human rights NGOs release a joint report on the information society in Tunisia and on the operational conditions for the preparation of the World Summit on Information society to be held in Tunis in Novembre 2005.

Mission internationale d'enquête : le Sommet mondial de la société de l'information et la Tunisie
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Rights and Democracy, and the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT) express their « grave preoccupation at the capacity or the willingness of the Tunisian authorities to respect their obligations under international law », both as regards the organisation of the participation of civil society to the Novembre 2005 Summit, as well as in the setting up of the information society in Tunisia. The report was published in Tunis on May 6th, at a seminar organised by the Tunisian League for Human Rights (Ligue tunisienne des droits de l’Homme -LTDH) and the National Centre for Freedoms in Tunisia (Centre national pour les libertés en Tunisie -CNLT) on the occasion of the international Press Freedom Day.

The report sheds a light on the numerous practices of arbitrary detention, manhandling, judicial harassment against Human rights defenders and their organisations, the systematic repression of freedom of expression and association, the censorship and the control over the Internet, which constitute as many obstacles to the realisation of an information society respectful of Human Rights in Tunisia.

President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali committed during the presidential electoral campaign, to set the development of communication technologies as a priority for the country. The members of the international fact-finding mission have measured the importance of this challenge for Tunisia. They nevertheless are preoccupied by the negative impact the control and censorship of the media and the Internet have on the confidence of the users and the information society’s economics in the country.

Moreover, obstacles remain to the full participation of the Tunisian civil society to the Novembre 2005 summit. They concern both the accreditation of non-recognized NGOs, as well as the capacity for civil society to express itself freely.

The three NGOs therefore call upon the Tunisian authorities to take all necessary steps, between now and the Summit, to ensure that Human Rights are respected and protected, during and after the Summit, and in particular:

1.To give legal recognition to all Human Rights NGOs that are not yet recognised, to drop all legal proceedings against them or against their members, and so to establish freedom of association in Tunisia on a lasting and permanent basis;

2.To release the persons arbitrarily convicted in the "Zarzis" and "Ariana" Internet users cases;

3.To allow free circulation of information, in particular accessibility to websites with a political or Human Rights content;

4.To release the prisoners subjected to arbitrary judgement following the Ennadha trial;

5.To issue a standing invitation to all the mechanisms of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and to allow an official visit of the Rapporteurs on torture, on the independence of judges and lawyers, and of the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations for Human Rights Defenders, in accordance with their own terms of reference;

6.To implement the recommendations made by the United Nations Human Rights mechanisms;

7.To allow all Human Rights organisations wishing to visit Tunisia in order to carry out independent and impartial enquiries, to do so.

8.To initiate a reform of the Press Code in order to suspend the "receipt" procedures concerning the publication of periodicals, books or other printed or audiovisual material;

9.To revise the calls for tenders for opening up the Tunisian audiovisual environment, in compliance with the Tunisian Telecommunications Code, in particular the provisions on the transparency of calls for tenders, and to allow the representation of media reflecting political diversity;

10.To carry out a study on the impact of the legislation, regulations and ICT practices on respect for Human Rights;

11.To assess the consequences of the monitoring and censorship of electronic exchanges of information in terms of the social appropriation of ICTs and the economic development of information services;

12.To attach to all financial aid to ICT projects a section on respect for Human Rights and democracy. This applies particularly to the "Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Sector Development Project", for which Tunisia has been awarded a 10.8 million euro loan from the World Bank.

Background

On the occasion of the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), several independent Tunisian human rights NGOs requested the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (ICHRDD - Rights and Democracy), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), with the support of the Human Rights Caucus, to mandate a team of experts in the new information technologies, the media and human rights, to undertake an investigation and dialogue mission, in preparation of this Summit.

The mission took place in Tunis, from 25 to 28 January 2005. It was composed of:

Jean-Louis Roy, President of Rights and Democracy. A former director of the Montreal daily newspaper, Le Devoir, Mr Roy was, from 1990 to 1998, Secretary General of the intergovernmental agency for the francophone world (l’Agence intergouvernementale de la francophonie - AIF) in Paris.

Deborah Hurley, former director of Harvard University’s Information Infrastructure Project. From 1988 to 1996, she was responsible in OECD for legal, economic, social and technical matters linked with information and communications technologies, and, in particular, was responsible for research relating to the protection of personal data and privacy and to the security of information systems.

Younes M’jahed, a journalist and Secretary General of the Moroccan Union of the press (Syndicat national de la presse marocaine), is a member of the executive committee of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Vice President of the Commission for Freedoms of the Arab Federation of Journalists.
Last Update 13 May 2005

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Antoine Madelin (Secretary for the mission): [+33] (0)6 68 22 65 72

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