[JURIST] Tunisia conducted its first free elections Sunday, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] emphasizing the importance of adherence to the rule of law as the country moves forward. The election for the new constituent assembly was a success with a turnout rate of over 90 percent, according to the official results [official website, in Arabic]. The elected constituent assembly, consisting of 217 members, will be responsible for drafting a new constitution, choosing an interim government and setting the dates for parliamentary and presidential elections. As Pillay stressed in her statement [text] on Friday, the constituent assembly will face the difficult task of addressing the demands of freedom and human rights within the new constitution:
The principles of rule of law, of accountability, of non-discrimination and gender equality, the principles of freedom of expression and freedom of religion and belief—these rights are also laid down in the Universal Declaration and the desire to see them realized was a driving force behind the Tunisian revolution. These rights, and all the others laid down in this visionary document, and subsequently enshrined in a wide range of international treaties, must permeate any legal or policy response to the challenges Tunisia is facing. A successful rights-based revolution must be followed by a new rights-based social, legal, political and economic order.
Pillay further stated that the election is only the first step toward democracy and that the new legal framework has to ensure the “clear separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.”
The UN human rights office in Tunisia [official website], which was first opened in July, is currently assisting and offering advice as Tunisia continues to transform into an independent and open democratic system. The constituent assembly is considered to be the first of its kind in any North African or Middle Eastern country affected by the Arab Spring reform movement [UN News Centre backgrounder] after a 10-month preparation. Earlier this year, Tunisia was able to free itself [JURIST report] from the regime of its president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled Tunisia to Saudi Arabia in January during protests against his 23-year autocratic rule. Ben Ali was sentenced in absentia in July to 15 years in prison, following a 35-year sentence [JURIST reports] issued in June.