Five years after the tragedy that sparked an uprising, human rights remain at risk in Tunisia and beyond

Five years since fruit-seller Mohamed Bouazizi sparked wide-ranging protests in Tunisia and the wider region after setting himself alight in protest at police harassment in the town of Sidi Bouzid, ongoing human rights violations across the region are increasingly reminiscent of repressive and abusive measures of the past, Amnesty International warned today.

In a fact sheet published today Amnesty International gives a brief overview of human rights developments in the countries where there were uprisings five years ago.

Many dared to hope that the ‘Arab Spring’, as it became known, would augur real change in the relationship between the rulers and those they ruled.
Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme

“Many dared to hope that the ‘Arab Spring’, as it became known, would augur real change in the relationship between the rulers and those they ruled – greater power-sharing, social justice, transparency, accountability, and greater respect for human rights. The reality is that across the region, conflict and harsh repression remain the order of the day,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme.

The country overviews include: Tunisia: The only relative “success story” to emerge from the “Arab Spring”, but human rights violations persist, and reforms are urgently needed to avoid a relapse into the repression of the past.

  • Egypt: Harsh repression remains the order of the day, where peaceful activists and critics of the government, supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood leaders remain in detention. Hundreds have been sentenced to death.
  • Bahrain: The authorities continue to crackdown on dissent with the use of excessive force and the arrest, detention and imprisonment of protesters along with the torture and other ill-treatment of detainees.
  • Libya: The country is deeply divided, with multiple armed conflicts across the country in which all sides have committed war crimes and serious human rights abuses with impunity.
  • Syria: The region’s bloodiest armed conflict, which emerged in response to the brutal suppression of mass protests by the government of Bashar al-Assad. Atrocious crimes are being committed on a mass scale and half the population has been displaced.
  • Yemen: The Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s air strikes and shelling by Huthi forces of civilian areas have killed hundreds of civilians. Some of the attacks amount to war crimes.

Since the 2011 uprising Tunisia has been widely viewed as the only success story of the “Arab Spring” protests, having taken a number of major steps towards respect for human rights. In October 2015 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet for its “decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy” in Tunisia in the wake of the uprising.

However, there has been little accountability for past violations, and assaults by the authorities on demonstrators and journalists have not been effectively investigated. Despite positive reforms, arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression continue. Following the deadly attacks claimed by the armed group calling itself Islamic State, hundreds of individuals have been arrested and placed under house arrest, while human rights activists have been increasingly criticized for defending basic human rights.

Reforms of the security sector have been too limited, and the continued violations, including reports of torture and other ill-treatment, often in the name of fighting terrorism, raise the spectre of a return to the repressive measures of the past.
Philip Luther

“Reforms of the security sector have been too limited, and the continued violations, including reports of torture and other ill-treatment, often in the name of fighting terrorism, raise the spectre of a return to the repressive measures of the past,” said Philip Luther.

“The Tunisian authorities must ensure that security measures in the name of countering terrorism respect human rights and they should refrain from vilifying human rights defenders for their legitimate work.”