World Environment Day -A neglected and criminalized right- in Tunisia

June 15th 2019

On the occasion of the World Environment Day organized by the United Nations on June, the 5th, about the fight against air pollution, the Tunisian Forum of Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) denounced the degradation of air quality in Tunisia as a result of industrial pollution, production and use of various sources of energy. In a statement (in Arabic or French), the FTDES mentioned in particular "the industrial activities related to phosphate with the Tunisian Chemical Group in Gabes and Mdhila (Gafsa), the pollution generated by the phosphoric acid plant of SIAPE in Sfax and the Compagnie de Phosphate de Gafsa (CPG) in the mining basin, the brick factory of Kalâa Sghira (Sousse), or the transport of petroleum coal in Bizerte and Kasserine, as well as chlorine pollution by the National Society of cellulose and Alfa paper (SNCPA).

The FTDES recalls that the right to a healthy environment is yet guaranteed by the Constitution (Article 45), a right which is denied as shown by the many protest movements and environmental claims. According to the Tunisian Social Observatory, 371 movements were recorded in 2018. In 2019, the FTDES has already recorded 69 environmental movements between January and April (movements "Yezzi" in Sfax, "Menash msab" in Aguerb, "Sakker lemsab" and "Stop Pollution" in Gabes, or the inhabitants of Kalâa Sghira).

The FTDES denounces a lack of political will, which is accompanied by a serious lack of resources and a criminalisation of the environmental and social rights defenders. On June, the 8th, three days after World Environment Day, Khayreddine Debaya, a Gabès activist, was arrested for protesting against the unloading of "petcoke", a polluting fuel derived from oil and intended for cement plants. The unloading is refused by civil society and the local authorities. This event adds to the remarkable list of citizens prosecuted by the authorities following peaceful demonstrations to protect their environment, such as the citizens of Kalâa Sghira against the brickyard, Sidi Mathkour against pollution from tomato plants, Jbel Fadhloun against a stone quarry in a natural environment, or Bouficha against uncontrolled landfills. The FTDES calls for an application of environmental constitutional law, including the halt of the criminalisation of socio-environmental movements.