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Statement by Ms. Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissionr for Human Rights on the occasion of the Signature of the Agreement Establishing a country office in Tunisia

Tunis, 13 July 2011

Mr. Minister,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

         I am pleased to be here today for the signing of our agreement which underpins our future partnership to make human rights the yardstick and the guiding light for Tunisia.

         You are embarking on a difficult, but rewarding path leading to the full establishment of the rule of law, human rights, and equality.  The Tunisian people, who took to the streets demanding freedom from fear and want, as well as good governance, expect and deserve nothing less.  

         To heed these legitimate aspirations, a series of painstaking but necessary steps need to be taken. First, the Government should shine a full, bright light over past crimes and bring the perpetrators of gross human rights violations to justice, including activating transitional justice mechanisms.  Moreover, an inclusive national dialogue should identify measures and methods for ensuring reparations for victims of abuses. Ultimately, the aim of transitional justice is to protect and restore the dignity of large numbers of individuals whose rights have been trampled upon.  

         Second, wide public participation in shaping the reforms and policies in Tunisia must be ensured, so that all institutions of governance, including the security and justice sectors become truly respectful and responsive to the rights of all Tunisians. Building democratic institutions and widening the space for public debate and scrutiny are the indispensible elements that make national reconciliation both possible and sustainable.  These processes are not amenable to quick fixes.  Rather, they entail comprehensive discussions and a willingness to listen and accommodate diverse perspectives and points of view in order to achieve national consensus.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

         The protest movement in Tunisia unequivocally showed how violations of rights—economic, social, cultural, political and civil rights—are intrinsically linked and produce chain reactions.  The demonstrators asserted that a denial of peoples’ participation in shaping the destiny of their nation, and the unfair allocation of its wealth, are violations of human rights that concomitantly fuel discontent and that cannot be tolerated indefinitely.

         I strongly caution against any attempts to give preference to one set of rights over the other. Ultimately, transitions will be successful only if economic progress is accompanied by social equity, if economic growth spurs a fairer distribution of wealth, and if the space to speak freely and to participate in the political life of the country is accompanied by tolerance for diversity.

         Tunisia is rightly proud of its indigenous culture, of its vibrant intellectual life steeped in the formidable tradition of Ibn Khaldūn, of its experience of decolonization, as well as its struggle against slavery, and for the self-determination of peoples.  The lessons imparted by this rich and indomitable past form the identity and the resilience of today’s Tunisia, a Tunisia that is now moving resolutely towards a freer and more-democratic society.

Excellencies,

         My Office will collaborate with civil society organizations and draw from the existing expertise of many distinguished Tunisians in order to help their Government promote and protect human rights.
         I wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge the many human rights experts who have come from this country, some of whom are working with the various UN human rights mechanisms, including Professor Abd el-Fattah Amor of the UN Human Rights Committee, Ms Emma Aouijj who serves as an Expert on the new Working Group on the Issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, Hatem Kotrane, former special rapporteur and current member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and Mr. Lofti Ben Lallahom, who serves as a member of the new Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
         I must also acknowledge the important steps that the Government has already taken, such as the creation of the three national Commissions to examine violations of human rights; corruption; and political reform.  Equally commendable are the Government’s recent ratifications of major international instruments, including the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court, the Convention against Enforced Disappearances and the Optional Protocols to the Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Moreover, measures have been adopted to better protect freedom of association and assembly.  

         I also take note of the establishment of the first independent Electoral Commission in Tunisia and applaud the recent decision to enshrine gender parity in the electoral rolls for the upcoming elections. Tunisia will be the first country in the Arab world to do so. This only reinforces Tunisia’s progressive place in the region in terms of protecting the rights of women.

         Finally, let me say that the hospitality of Tunisia towards refugees from Libya has been exemplary.  It is a reflection of the generosity of this great country and its people.  

         With the wisdom, patience and perseverance that are Tunisia’s hallmarks, your transition will be successful.  My staff stands ready to assist you.  I look forward to our cooperation now and in the future to help all Tunisians prosper in dignity, freedom and rights.

Thank you.