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Tunisia can again be Arab Spring pioneer with upcoming polls – UN rights chief

Geneva, October 21, 2011

The United Nations human rights chief today called on Tunisia, the first country to free itself from entrenched regimes during the Arab Spring movement, to once again pioneer the path forward to full democracy when it holds elections for a constituent assembly this Sunday.

“Free and fair elections are just the first step. The new constituent assembly will assume the difficult task of translating demands for freedom, dignity and human rights into a new constitution,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement.

“The new authorities will face multiple political, institutional, economic and social challenges, and the new State that is emerging will need a crystal clear and solid human rights foundation in order to tackle them,” she added, noting that human rights were at the root of the revolution – the first of many across North Africa and the Middle East calling for democratic reforms – that removed the long-standing regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January.

“It is now crucial for Tunisians to ensure that human rights remain at the core of the new Tunisia,” she said, stressing that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948, must permeate the new order in Tunisia with principles that enshrine the rule of law, accountability, non-discrimination and gender equality, freedom of expression and freedom of religion and belief.

Ms. Pillay noted that the UN human rights office in Tunisia is working on the ground to support the people and Government towards this national transformation into an open and democratic society, embracing an independent judiciary, institutional, legal and security sector reforms, reparation for victims, the establishment of an independent national human rights institution and the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights.

“We are at a critical juncture and successful elections will be key to keeping the momentum going. For the first time in Tunisia’s history, an election is being supervised by an independent authority rather than by the Ministry of Interior,” she said.

“Many millions of people around the world, including myself, will be watching Sunday’s vote with goodwill and optimism – but also some trepidation. Our greatest hope is that Tunisia will once again act as an inspirational role model for other countries in the region, and elsewhere in the world, in the conduct of these elections and in the new social and political landscape they can help to shape.”

UN News Centre.

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