February 24, 2011 / 3:34 PM / 7 years ago

Tunisia on track to democracy, risks remain: UN

GENEVA (Reuters) - Tunisia’s interim government is on the right track towards democracy but the former ruling party, security apparatus or corrupt elite could reverse precarious gains, the United Nations warned on Thursday.

Senior U.N. human rights officials called for extensive reforms in the North African country ahead of free and fair elections which they said should be held in several months and be open to all political parties.

At least 147 people were killed and 510 injured in unrest which ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali last month after 23 years of rule marked by repression and corruption, they said.

“Destabilising forces must not be allowed to reverse the situation,” U.N. human rights officials said in a report on their January 26-February 2 mission to Tunisia.

“Some elements in society, suspected to be loyal to former President Ben Ali, have sought to sow instability, to create chaos, and to discredit the peaceful demonstrations and calls for reform. Their activities continue to jeopardise the gains.”

Tunisia’s Interior Ministry on Monday filed for the dissolution of Ben Ali’s Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) after accusations its members sought to destabilise the country, state media reported.

The powerful security services, blamed for many abuses, and a corrupt elite that still controls much of the country’s economic life also pose risks, according to Mona Rishmawi, chief of the rule of law branch of the U.N. human rights office.

“The point we want to emphasize is Tunisia is on the right track. The government is listening and I think that’s very important,” Rishmawi, part of the U.N. team, told a briefing.

“We would like it to be stabilised and we are not naive to think in this process there will not be hiccups because the powers out there are huge,” she added.

Transitional authorities are holding wide consultations, political parties are registering and the constitution has to be amended to allow a proper multi-party system, she said.

“It is very important that there will be a clear signal elections are taking place soon,” Rishmawi said.

“What we’d like to see is a clear roadmap, a clear process that leads to elections and a representative and responsible government to be put in place,” she said.

The U.N. officials also called on Tunisian authorities to open judicial investigations into allegations of human rights violations, prosecute perpetrators and compensate victims.

“Immediate steps need to be taken to ensure that no evidence of human rights abuses is tampered with or destroyed. While on the ground, the delegation heard rumours that some archives had already been burnt or looted,” the 18-page report said.

Tunisian migrant workers fleeing violence in neighbouring Libya are returning to their homeland in droves.

“The return of thousands of Tunisians will constitute a big challenge in terms of stability, in terms of the social and economic situation in Tunisia,” said Frej Fenniche, chief of the Middle East and North Africa section of the U.N. rights office.

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