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Rights and Politics: Human Rights Action and Socio-economic Struggles in Tunisia

Research Papers
Rights and Politics Human Rights Action and Socioeconomic Struggles in TunisiaDownload Publication

The interaction between Tunisian human rights organizations and movements struggling for economic and social rights present the former with hard questions and important challenges. Human rights actors need to scrutinize their role and tactics to decide whether they would remain in the fast eroding mediation level (between the movements and the state) or they could explore other avenues that can address the complex issues of representation and brokerage between human rights defenders and the bearers of these very rights who are busy developing new ways of defending themselves. 


This paper is the second in a series about the dynamics of the relationship between human rights organizations and protest movements struggling for economic and social rights in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.

In this paper, Hatem Chakroun analyzes how this relationship changed in the few years before and after 14 January 2011, the day Tunisia’s long-serving dictator and former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali lost power and fled the country. The paper deals mainly with protest movements advocating for better employment policies and opportunities and social movements working to secure economic development rights.

The author focuses on three major movements in three different regions of Tunisia in order to shed light on the nature of relations between civil society activists and other civil society components, especially protest movements, and how human rights actors attempted to mediate between movements often lacking a political structure and a ruling regime lacking stable negotiation and conflict resolution mechanisms in disputes over the distribution of wealth and power.

The paper also examines the extent to which human rights actors were able to play a useful role as brokers or defenders of these rights and to represent them and their bearers in political and economic contention. Together, the three examples seek to reflect the complexity of relations within civil society itself, and between it and the State in the economic and social spheres.

Photo: Tunisians demanding jobs and shouting slogans during the celebration to mark the sixth anniversary of the uprising Tunis January 2017 | © EPA