Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to Tunisian Civil Society
Human Rights First welcomes the award of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet. The Quartet, which is comprised of the Tunisian General Labor Union, the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Human Rights League, and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers, was given the prize for its work in establishing a government “guaranteeing fundamental rights for the entire population, irrespective of gender, political conviction or religious belief.”
“Tunisia’s transition to democracy is still threatened by economic difficulties, security threats, and the resurgent influence of authoritarian regional powers,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks. “Nonetheless, this award is a powerful reminder of the importance of ensuring that independent civil society organizations, including human rights organizations, are able to function free from intrusive government control and restrictions. Independent civil society promotes social peace, facilitates the peaceful, negotiated settlement of disputes, and serves as a counterweight to conflict, instability and the social and political conditions in which violent extremism thrives.”
The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was formed in the summer of 2013 as Tunisia faced a political crisis and the collapse of its mostly-peaceful transition to democracy. The division between Islamist and secular political forces was degenerating into violence, including the assassination of leading political figures like Mohamed Brahmi.
The leadership of these four civil society organizations facilitated political negotiations leading to the peaceful departure from office of an elected coalition government led by the Islamist An-Nahda Party. They also facilitated the Constituent Assembly’s drafting of a new constitution, which includes important safeguards for basic rights and freedoms. The painstaking transition process resulted in the adoption of the new Constitution and the election of a new parliament and a new president in 2014. The An-Nahda Party now serves in a coalition government led by the Nidaa Tunis Party, which was the largest party in parliament after the elections.
Many of Tunisia’s neighbors have taken steps to restrict the vital, legitimate activities of human rights organizations and other independent civil society organizations in the name of upholding national security and combatting terrorism. Such steps are fundamentally misguided and counterproductive. Regional governments should learn from Tunisia’s transition to democracy and embrace the vital role played by the civil society organizations being honored today.
Human Rights First urges the international community and the U.S. government to redouble their efforts to ensure that Tunisia’s hopeful, but fragile transition receives the support it needs to succeed.
“If given support, the Tunisian model can, over time, serve as a positive example for a region racked by conflict and political turmoil,” said Hicks. “Protecting civil society can facilitate conflict resolution and an inclusive political progress.”