17 January 2013 The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has condemned the recent desecration and arson attack against a mausoleum in Tunisia devoted to the Sufi saint Sidi Bou Said.
The attack against the Sidi Bou Said mausoleum, located in the village bearing the same name, took place during the night of 12 January, the Paris-based UNESCO said in a news release.
“The torching of this symbolic 13th century site, that gave rise to the village of Sidi Bou Said, marks yet another step in the campaign of destruction against Tunisia’s cultural heritage and history,” the agency’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, said.
“This tragic act not only strikes at the spiritual and historical heritage of Tunisia, but also at Tunisian society’s values of tolerance and respect for different beliefs and cultural diversity,” she added.
Ms. Bokova called on Tunisian authorities to take urgent measures to protect all sites representative of the cultural and historic wealth of the country, and stressed the importance of coordinating such action with civil society organizations to ensure its protection for and by future generations.
She also said that UNESCO remained ready to provide any necessary assistance for the rehabilitation and restoration of damaged sites.
The UN agency seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.
14 January 2013 A United Nations expert group today called on Tunisia to adopt stronger measures in its new constitution to combat gender inequality and discrimination and accelerate the participation of women in all aspects of society.
“We are concerned at the persistence of loopholes and ambiguities in the current draft of the constitution which, if not removed, might undermine the protection of women’s rights and the principle of gender equality,” said the head of the UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice, Kamala Chandrakirana.
Tunisia’s new constitution is seen as a vehicle to further advance justice, democracy and human rights, including the rights of women. However, the Working Group warned that the current draft fails to refer to the international human rights obligations to which Tunisia is bound.
“While equality between men and women is recognized, the prohibition of discrimination, including on the ground of sex, is not articulated in the second draft constitution, and there is a lack of provision on the right to remedy,” Ms. Chandrakirana said.
The Working Group, which just finished a five-day visit to the country, said it was also concerned that the draft does not specify the spheres of life – public and private – in which the right to equality is guaranteed. It also fails to specify women’s civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
They called for the constitution to provide temporary special measures to accelerate women’s participation in all aspects of society and to create a mechanism to monitor compliance with women’s equality and non-discrimination.
In that regard, it recommended the adoption of explicit requirements of gender balance and gender responsiveness in every constitutional authority, as well as establishing a specialized constitutional authority on gender equality.
In particular, the Working Group urged Tunisian authorities as well as civil society organizations to reach out to rural women to improve their capacities as equal citizens entitled to fully participate in the public and political life of their country. “Rural women need to be an integral part of the historic reforms the country is undergoing,” the Group said.
During their visit to the country, Ms. Chandrakirana and Eleonora Zielinska, who represented the Working Group, met in Tunis and Jendouba with Government officials and local authorities, the national human rights institution, civil society organizations, religious institutions, academics and representatives of UN agencies.
The Working Group is scheduled to present its final conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in June.
The clear separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches in Tunisia after the ouster of its long-time ruler is vital for the North African country’s future, with human rights and dignity at its core, a United Nations mission reported today.
“We witnessed the beginning of a remarkable new era in Tunisia,” four top experts from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a report on their week-long mission that ended earlier this month. “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.
“Moves in this direction need to be reinforced and enshrined in law to ensure they become a permanent feature of Tunisian society,” they added, stressing the need for a fully participatory political system, freedom of speech, an end to impunity for abuses, and a bridging of the gulf between rich and poor, including in jobs, health care and education, for which technical, political and financial support from the international community is needed.
The experts, who were dispatched by High Commissioner Navi Pillay after president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country amid mass protests over rising prices of essential commodities, lack of jobs, corruption and curbs on fundamental rights, highlighted “the denial of dignity” as the key phrase that they heard throughout their visit as the underlying cause of the uprising.
“At the core of restoring that dignity will be redefining the relationship between the state and its people,” they said. “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 Tunisian authorities have asked OHCHR to set up an office in the country to support the transformation, and an advance team will soon be on the ground to ensure that human rights remain at the core of the transitional phase.
“During our mission, we heard loud and clear the desire for human rights to remain at the foundation of Tunisia’s rebirth,” the team noted. “We are at a critical juncture and we have got to keep the momentum going. The work has only just begun.”
In their recommendations, the experts highlighted 10 areas that “require the attention of national and international actors,” including the establishment of governing structures and decision-making processes that are fully representative of the whole political spectrum and all segments of society, including youth and women.
Other fields include ensuring that all institutions are in line with international human rights standards; guaranteeing freedom of expression and association; accountability for all human rights violations with immediate judicial investigations into all credible allegations; and immediate steps to redress disparities in living standards and access to quality health care, education, jobs and social support for women, children, youth and marginalized communities.