UN opens first north Africa rights office in Tunis

Pillay: It's historic

TUNIS - The head of the United Nations human rights bureau opened the organisation's first-ever office in north Africa on Thursday, hailing an end to the era of dictatorship that blocked the group's work in the region.
"It's historic," said Navi Pillay, the UN's high commissioner for human rights, at the opening in Tunis, where a popular uprising against an entrenched authoritarian regime sparked similar protests across the Arab world.
"Because of dictatorship, we weren't able to open an office in this country (...) This region was not covered," she added.
Former Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country on January 14, ending a 23-year rule.
Following Tunisia's example, pro-democracy movements erupted in Egypt, Libya and Morocco, and around the Middle East.
Tunisia's interim government has promised elections, a new constitution and an end to the rampant human rights violations that plagued the Ben Ali era.
Pillay said the new UN office was set up not only to monitor the human rights situation in the country, but also to help Tunisia's new government meets its obligation to uphold fundamental freedoms.
Part of the organisation's mandate is "to provide a system to government so that the laws and policies follow the treaties they signed", Pillay said, adding that boosting the role of non-government rights groups is also crucial.
Pillay, a South African who previously served as a judge on the Hague-based International Criminal Court, applauded the interim government's efforts to prosecute crimes committed by top officials from the previous regime.
She however urged a strict adherence to fair trials, with qualified, independent judges and encouraged civilian trials, "because military tribunals are secret and not transparent".