Thursday, 20 January 2011, New York, Jan 19 2011: The UN’s human rights chief will send a team to Tunisia next week to assess the country’s human rights situation amidst recent political unrest, which her office says has so far led to more than 100 deaths.
“I have been asking myself what my office, and what the international community in general, can do to help the people of Tunisia to take advantage of the opportunity that now exists,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said at a press conference in Geneva today. “While it is still very early days, it is important that the seeds of change are sown wisely and sown now, before former entrenched interests start to reassert themselves, or new threats emerge.”
Tunisia’s president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country last week amid growing protests and violence by protesters reportedly angered by rising prices of essential commodities, lack of employment opportunities, alleged corruption and limitations on fundamental rights and freedoms. Recent attempts to stabilize the political situation have been unsuccessful. On Tuesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced renewed concern at the growing violence in Tunisia, and urged that all efforts be taken to restore peace and stability. In her remarks to the press conference, Ms. Pillay said that while the situation on the ground is evolving and fragile, the Tunisian people have a tremendous opportunity to carve out a better future, based on laws that are fully in line with international standards, and are scrupulously observed by the authorities.
The human rights chief said her office has received information concerning more than 100 deaths over the last five weeks, as a result of live fire, protest suicides and deadly prison riots over the weekend. Along with colleagues, she has been conferring with key human rights players inside Tunisia.
Earlier this week, she met with a group of seven non-governmental organizations and listened to their concerns and proposals; while on Wednesday morning, Ms. Pillay spoke by telephone with Tunisia’s new Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radhouane Nouicer. The pair discussed her intention to send a team to Tunisia to carry out an assessment of priorities on the human rights front – Ms. Pillay said the deputy foreign minister welcomed the mission in principle.