An independent United Nations expert today urged the Tunisian Government to ensure that human rights, especially the right to education, are kept at the heart of the historic reforms taking place in the North African nation.
“Tunisia is at a turning point in its history,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh, stressed at the end of his first fact-finding mission to the country.
“If it fails to secure in its new Constitution and its new laws the highest standards of protection of human rights, particularly the right to education, Tunisia will miss a historic opportunity,” he added.
It was the people of Tunisia that inspired the region last year when they stood up to demand democracy and freedom, sparking a wave of popular uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East, that became known collectively as the Arab Spring. These movements have led to changes in government in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and to uprisings in Bahrain and Syria, among other countries.
Mr. Singh, in a statement to the press, stressed the need for the Tunisian authorities to preserve the gains and “arm themselves to face the challenges of the future.”
He reminded the Government of its obligation to guarantee and protect academic freedom in a country where violence perpetrated by extremist religious groups has recently taken place in universities, and pointed to the disparities between urban and rural areas with regard to access to education.
The expert welcomed Tunisia’s progress in the field of education since its independence in 1956, noting in particular the country’s national laws on education and the level of access to primary education shown by “remarkable” school enrolment rates.
He also commended the important level of funding assigned to education, and was pleased to note that females account for almost two-thirds of students enrolled in secondary education.
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, like Mr. Singh, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. They work in an independent and unpaid capacity.
Mr. Singh will present his final conclusions and recommendations of his 10-day visit to Tunisia to a forthcoming session of the Council.