UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] on Thursday urged [press release] the Tunisian government to investigate the recent deaths of public protestors [NYT report] and called on government security forces to admit use of excessive force against them. According to government statistics, at least 21 civilians have been killed since the protests over unemployment and rising food costs began on December 17. According to Pillay, however, the number of deaths is most likely even higher. Pillay expressed her "concern" over the violence and killings and called for a "transparent, credible and independent" investigation into the oppression of demonstrators. She encouraged the government to find those officials responsible for the violence stating, "If there is evidence that members of the security forces have used excessive force, or conducted extra-judicial killings, they must be arrested, tried and - if found guilty of offences - punished according to the law. It is essential that justice is done, and is seen to be done." Pillay also urged Tunisian officials to work towards adopting better policies to help alleviate the economic strife of its civilians and to "lift severe limitations on freedoms of assembly, opinion and expression, as well as association." President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Thursday promised [CNN report] to cut prices on basic food supplies and order security forces not to use live ammunition except in cases of self-defense.
Tunisia has been accused of numerous human rights violations over the past few years. In 2009, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] released a report [JURIST report] alleging Tunisia was continuing to commit hundreds of human rights abuses despite previous vows to cease. The report detailed the arrest, torture, and detention of prisoners in the name of national security, and even the kidnapping and forced return of Tunisians living abroad. In June 2008, AI released a report [text] accusing Tunisia of committing widespread human rights abuses under overly-broad anti-terrorism legislation. AI also criticized the US, as well as European and other Arab countries, for turning over terror suspects to Tunisian authorities [JURIST report] despite allegations of torture and other abuses. In February, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the deportation of a former Tunisian terrorism suspect, finding he would likely be subjected to torture [JURIST report] in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights [PDF text] if returned to Tunisia. In September 2007, Human Rights Watch released a report [text] accusing Tunisian officials of mistreating two former Guantanamo detainees [JURIST report] after they were returned to the country.