Emerging from decades of “denial of dignity”, Tunisians have high expectations that the country’s institutions will dramatically transform, and that their rights will be protected and respected – aspirations that will require transparent governance to avoid them from turning to frustration, a UN expert mission has concluded.
In a report issued on Thursday, following the mission to Tunisia by four top experts from the UN Human Rights Office that ended on 2 February, the team stressed that human rights will be integral for the construction of Tunisia’s future. A new legal framework creating a clear separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches was essential, it stated.
In response to calls for OHCHR to install a permanent presence in Tunisia, including by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has requested that an office be set up in the country, and to support the ongoing transformation, the High Commissioner for Human Rights will shortly deploy an advance team to Tunisia. The team is charged with supporting Tunisians in ensuring that human rights remain at the core of the transitional phase.
“The phrase that resonated throughout the visit as the underlying cause of the uprising was ‘the denial of dignity’,” the report noted.
“At the core of restoring that dignity will be redefining the relationship between the state and its people. The relationship must now be built on the rule of law and respect for human rights and it must place the state at the service of all its people. The quest for dignity, the attainment of human rights, and the pursuit of justice are all interlinked”
The mission also noted the challenges of this difficult period in the country’s history. Victims of human rights violations and their families expect immediate remedy and those suffering social exclusion expect immediate inclusion. Citizens expect their state to work for the benefit of all - not only a few. They expect public and inclusive debates and a responsible and accountable government that delivers on human rights and social justice.
“All this emphasizes the need for the Transitional Government to communicate transparent processes for channelling concerns and setting out realistic strategies for addressing issues,” the report states.
“We witnessed the beginning of a remarkable new era in Tunisia. There are clear indications of a willingness to put in place the necessary mechanisms to ensure a clear break with past injustices and to elaborate a vision for the new Tunisia,” the team noted.
“Moves in this direction need to be reinforced and enshrined in law to ensure they become a permanent feature of Tunisian society.”
    The report, which was shared with the Transitional Government for comment, sets out 10 areas requiring the attention of national and international actors, in particular the Tunisian authorities, in the run-up to the elections and beyond. These areas respond to the principal demands of Tunisians today for inclusive participation in public affairs, accountability and justice, and equity and social justice.
    “During our mission, we heard loud and clear the desire for human rights to remain at the foundation of Tunisia’s rebirth. We are at a critical juncture and we have got to keep the momentum going. The work has only just begun,” the expert team concluded.