The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Tunisia pledged to promote and encourage respect of human rights in the country. It also vowed to help Tunisia premise a real democracy on solid and sustainable foundations, OHCHR representative in Tunisia Elodie Cantier-Aristide said in an interview with TAP. Cantier-Aristide was reacting to recent unrest in different regions of the country which reportedly saw police use “violent methods” to suppress “peaceful” and “legitimate” demonstrations.
1- Civil society accuses police of “excessive use of force” during demonstrations. Can you comment on this?
Indeed, the information we collected show “massive violations” of international human rights standards on the ground. This includes breaches related to trials, police custody procedures and access to justice as well as violence against individuals. As the main United Nations human rights entity, the OHCHR is committed to assisting the Tunisian government to improve response to demonstrators. Young people who took to the streets did not make structured demands. In fact, the situation is difficult and their demands “legitimate.” I believe the latest protests have multiple motives deeply rooted in the country’s recent history and in connection to its huge potential and real opportunities.
2- To what extent is the OHCHR committed to young people and the Tunisian government?
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been present in Tunisia for almost ten years now. On July 13, we will celebrate our 10th anniversary. The OHCHR continues to support national institutions and civil society partners to improve and strengthen the framework for the promotion and protection of human rights. The 2014 Constitution is very emblematic as it contains many provisions related to human rights. Our mission is to support the process of bringing the legislative framework and practices in line with the Tunisian Constitution and international conventions ratified by Tunisia. We need to beef up the role of civil society to defend and further promote the human rights culture in Tunisia. Young people have for years been one of the focus groups of our activities. They deserve continued support. We will work to promote their creativity and support them with the help of other relevant UN agencies. We have worked with successive governments on human, civic, economic, political, social and cultural rights.
In fact, OHCHR plays a crucial role in safeguarding the integrity of the three interconnected pillars of the United Nations: Peace and security, human rights and development. In Tunisia, there is a very wide range of human rights issues that are still topical. This includes the rule of law, accountability, discrimination and the work of police, the judiciary and State institutions.
3- Several international organisations advocate the cancellation of Tunisia’s debt. Can the OHCHR help in this regard?
In 2017, the UN Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and Human Rights visited Tunisia and produced a report. A number of recommendations were outlined to this end. For the OHCHR, projects aimed at reducing State debts should be based on a human rights approach. The OHCHR is ready to contribute to a relevant dialogue. The objective is to ensure that investments to be made to reduce long-term debt will benefit all Tunisians and that development programmes are also adequately geared towards supporting the most vulnerable groups.