Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pillay opens UN Human Rights Office in Tunisia: OHCHR-Geneva

French, Arabic version:

It is a great pleasure and honour to be opening a UN human rights office for the first time in history in Tunisia.  

It is the first UN human rights office in any of the five North African countries bordering the Mediterranean. 

I would therefore like to thank the people and government of Tunisia for pioneering human rights in this region.

High Commissioners for Human Rights have been trying to set up an office in this region for years. Most countries were careful not to say an outright “No.” But none of them was remotely close to an outright “Yes,” until the people of Tunisia decided to radically alter the priorities.

All that changed in December and January, when the people of Tunisia said, in effect: “Enough. We deserve our rights, we want our rights and we are going to have our rights.”

The whole world watched with amazement and growing respect as Tunisians kept demanding your rights, refusing to be cowed by the repression, the arrests, the torture and all the injuries and tragic loss of life that occurred as Ben Ali’s regime fought unsuccessfully for its survival.

In the past three weeks, Tunisia has ratified no fewer than four extremely important treaties, including three in a single day: 

The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which make those two key human rights treaties much easier to monitor and enforce; and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances. All three of these were ratified on 29 June.

A week earlier, on 24 June, Tunisia became the 116th state to ratify the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court, and the first in North Africa. 

This represents a powerful commitment by the new authorities that no future serious violations of human rights will take place with impunity. Ratifying the Rome Statute is one of the best deterrents to serious crimes.

Tunisia is the first country in the Arab world to legally enshrine gender parity in the electoral rolls for the upcoming election.

Tunisia has become a common reference for all human rights defenders, as human dignity and human rights form the heart of the lesson delivered through Tunisia’s revolution. No clearer expression of that can be found than in the essential message of the Tunisian poet, Abū al-Qāsim al-Shābi:

“If, one day, a people desires to live, surely fate shall heed their call.  And their night will then begin to fade, and their chains break and fall.”

Olive trees are a potent symbol in all Mediterranean countries. They symbolize peace, and are renowned for their endurance. They can take as many as 20 years to bear fruit, but once established, they thrive in both fertile and stony ground. 

They survive hot summers and cold winters. Like human rights, they are virtually indestructible. Even when they are cut down, or burned, new shoots sprout from the roots. They can live for thousands of years. 

I therefore hope that the olive tree I am going to plant here today will reflect the advent of a new era of human rights and democracy in Tunisia. And that, 2,000 years from now both this tree and Tunisia can look back on 2011 as the magical year when it all began.

Thank you.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Navi Pillay

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