Unemployed youth activism set stage for new economic policies in Tunisia
Le Forum Tunsien pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux (FTDES) urged the Tunisian government to adopt a comprehensive development plan in the Gafsa region that respects the economic, social, cultural and environmental rights of its people.
This call-to-action is gaining traction after nearly two months of unemployed youth leading a protest movement in reaction to austerity-focused economic policies in the Gafsa mining region. Coming to age in an environment burdened with poor health, unemployment, lack of access to basic services, and the criminalization of protests, these young people are reacting to the poverty and pollution that have affected this mining region for decades.
According to FTDES, the Gafsa region’s administrative decisions have destabilized economic conditions and endangered the realization of human rights. Most significantly at risk is the human right to dignified work.
In a statement issued this week, FTDES enumerated the following reasons for the destabilized economy in the Gafsa region:
- Regional public corporations lack transparency—specifically, the Company of Phosphate Gafsa (CPG) has kept resource management decisions from the public, which has led to tense relations with the surrounding society and environment
- State, regional, municipal and other local institutions exclude citizen participation, misuse resources, and operate through nepotism
- A complete absence of a comprehensive and sustainable regional development plans to overcome the current situation and reestablish trust in state institutions
- In the absence of functioning participatory democratic institutions, state authorities exploit tribal divisions and reignite tribal conflict
In light of the situation in Gafsa, FTDES is demanding that authorities stop criminalizing and persecuting protesters—and release those who have been unjustly detained— to start a constructive dialogue with civil society actors. In return, FTDES is urging activists to stop obstructing economic activities as their primary means of activism.
FTDES expressed concern that state authorities have delayed fulfilling pledges to advance infrastructure, health and education projects in response to these protests. It considers such delays a form of collective punishment that harms the human rights of the most vulnerable citizens and further inflames tensions between the government and the people it serves.