TUNIS/GENEVA (20 April 2015) – At the end of a brief visit to Tunisia on Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein applauded the resolve of the Tunisian people to stand firmly behind the human rights aspirations that sparked the 2011 transition in the country – in spite of many challenges and potential roadblocks.
“There have been several attempts to derail Tunisia’s course to a stable, sustainable democracy, but every time, those attempts have been thwarted by the simple willingness of people from different parts of the political spectrum to talk to each other, to reach compromises – and by the inclusion of civil society in the process,” Zeid said. “How different would the region have been today if other countries in the region had taken a similar approach, rather than violently suppressing dissent and pushing society into extreme confrontation?”
Zeid hailed the critical role of Tunisian civil society in ensuring the transition remained on track, in launching a national dialogue process and in facilitating progressive reform, notably in the areas of human rights, rule of law and transitional justice.
“The insistence on inclusive participation, tolerance, restraint and compromise, and – crucially – the prominent place given to human rights in the Tunisian transition have led to its success, including the promulgation of a good constitution and the conduct of free and fair elections,” Zeid said, adding though that the work is far from complete, as important challenges remain including in the areas of socio-economic disparities, accountability, justice, the treatment of detainees, pending legal reforms and the difficult economic situation in the country.
The High Commissioner underlined the continued support of the UN Human Rights Office to Tunisia in addressing these challenges. He also encouraged swift establishment of an independent national human rights institution and operationalization of an independent oversight mechanism on torture prevention.
“It is essential now to take steps to consolidate the human rights gains of the past four years and to strengthen independent institutions that will act as checks and balances against backsliding,” the High Commissioner said.
During his one-day visit to Tunis, the High Commissioner met with President Beji Caid Essebsi, Prime Minister Habib Essid as well as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Constitutional Institutions and Civil Society, and the President of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People. He also met with civil society representatives and the heads of the Truth and Dignity Commission, the High Independent Authority for Audio-Visual Communication, and the National Anti-Corruption Commission.
High Commissioner Zeid also laid a floral wreath at the Bardo Museum.
“When the Bardo museum in Tunis was attacked on 18 March, 23 lives were senselessly lost and Tunisia’s young democracy faced a major test. Would it succumb to the temptation to risk its hard-won human rights gain and respond, blinded by rage, with a brash war on terror? Or would it respond with maturity and respect for the victims, a renewed commitment to uphold the values of human rights and justice, and a strong condemnation of the poisonous, revolting rhetoric of the terrorists?” the High Commissioner said.
“Tunisians have chosen the second path by coming together in a show of national unity, condemning all forms of extremism and violence. In doing so, they have once again set an example for the region and beyond.”
The UN Human Rights Office in Tunisia was established in July 2011 and has been working closely with Tunisian authorities, civil society and other relevant actors in the building of an effective national human rights protection system, including through training, advice, advocacy and monitoring.
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