Remarks to Meeting of Civil Society Groups
by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Tunis (Tunisia), 22 March 2011
Distinguished representatives of Tunisia civil society,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me begin by saying what an honor it is to be here with you today.
Profound and dramatic changes are sweeping the Arab world.
And you, the brave people of Tunisia, have led the way.
You are the vanguard of the most epic events of the new century -- the revolutions of 2011.
The history of human progress is a history of struggle.
That struggle may be moral. It may be physical. It may be both, as it was here.
No change, great or small, comes without demand -- the voice of the people speaking as one.
Your demand for freedom, dignity and social justice has echoed throughout the world.
Earlier today, I had a chance to visit the Qasbah – the streets where you gathered by the thousands ... the streets where you chanted the words of the poet Abu al-Qasim al-Shabi:
“If, one day, a people desire to live,
Then fate will answer their call.”
Ladies and gentlemen,
Fate has answered your call.
The chains of injustice have been broken.
And yet we know: the way ahead will be hard.
That is why I have come.
I wanted to be here ... with you, where it all began ... to express my solidarity and to offer help.
For decades, the United Nations has been your partner.
Today ... in a new Tunisia ... I hope we can prove ourselves an even better partner.
And so I have instructed our entire UN team to engage not only with the new government but also the whole of civil society.
That includes you.
Let us remember: the victory of the Tunisian people -- a testament to the power of the many – began with the courage of one:
The lone act of self-sacrifice by an ordinary young man put in motion an extraordinary chain of events.
Mohamed Bouazizi's story is as tragic as it is inspiring.
He died in despair ... not for lack of a job or livelihood, however modest.
No, the real violation was the affront to Mohamed Bouazizi's sense of human dignity.
That was the real crime, against him and so many others: the daily indignities ... the crushing of a people's potential ... his own aspirations and spirit.
“No more,” he said.
His cry resonated so widely that Tunisia ... and the rest of the Arab world ... will never be the same.
We must not forget the essential meaning of Mohamed Bouazizi's death.
It reminds us of something essential -- a moral absolute: individuals matter.
Individual choices ... individual commitment ... individual worth ... individual leadership.
And that is why we have gathered this afternoon.
Because your leadership matters -- each and every one of you, working together in common cause for a better future for all.
And you are showing a new way of leadership -- a leadership based not on personalities but values and high principle.
You have shown that the role of government is to work for the people, not exploit them.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Your campaign for change has only begun.
There are grave risks, as we see elsewhere.
As you chart the future, however, you enjoy important advantages.
Tunisia has long been a crossroads for trade, culture and ideas.
You draw strength and wisdom from many traditions, over many centuries.
You embrace universal values, live in harmony and a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect.
Already, you have a map for the way forward.
Most important, you have chosen this path through peaceful consensus.
A democratic transition is well under way -- toward a nation of the people, by the people and for the people.
In July, you will elect a constitutional assembly charged with drafting a new constitution founded on universal human rights, the rule of law, and political and social pluralism.
You are putting in place other essential building blocks of a free and prosperous society:
Representative political parties and guarantees of free and fair elections ...
A reformed security sector and independent judiciary that will guarantee human rights and not infringe on them ...
A free and open media ...
Social justice and equal opportunity – for women and men, in cities and the countryside, on the coast and in the south.
Keeping Tunisia on this progressive path requires an active and engaged civil society.
Governments can only be held accountable by a vigilant people.
Through decades of repression, you kept a dream alive: the fundamental principle that freedom of association, freedom of speech and freedom of opportunity are inalienable human rights.
Now, your day has come.
Now, you will help to promote civic education.
You will speak out against corruption and abuse of power.
You will press for good governance and reform that is concrete, not cosmetic.
You will fight for women's rights and full participation in your country's politics and society.
You are the voice of the people.
That is your role.
That is your sacred duty, hallowed by all you have fought for and those whose blood was shed.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The United Nations stands ready to help.
Our expertise covers the spectrum of challenges before you:
Supporting elections. Building transparent and trustworthy institutions. Reducing inequality. Advancing inclusive development and creating jobs.
We have helped many countries through difficult transitions.
Your own countryman, Hedi Annabi -- the head of our UN mission in Haiti, who died in last year's earthquake -- dedicated his life to helping Haitians find the dignity and freedoms that you seek today.
Our people, our lessons learned, our best practices, our technical assistance – all this is at your disposal, should you wish.
Let me close by saying that your future is yours alone.
In the evolution of democratic transition, there is no single way, no one set of rules.
That said, successful transitions share common aspects.
In my discussions today with ministers of the interim government, I stressed the importance of compromise, accommodation and consensus-building.
I welcomed the steps being taken to prepare for elections to a constitutional assembly and others that will follow.
In tandem, it will be essential to hold open and inclusive discussions with the widest range of social organizations -- a national dialogue that includes political parties and civil society groups.
It is also essential that election authorities have the public's confidence ... that political candidates compete on equal footing ... that all eligible voters are enfranchised ... and that there are credible mechanisms for fairly and quickly resolving disputes.
At the request of the interim authorities, the United Nations will soon deploy a team of experts to advise on these issues.
I urge you to fully engage in the election process. By mobilizing volunteers and sending election observers throughout the country, you can enhance the transparency and legitimacy of the vote and ensure the election of an inclusive Constituent Assembly.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Your leadership ... your commitment ... can make Tunisia a model for the Arab world and all those who seek a new beginning.
The region needs a prosperous, democratic Tunisia.
And the world needs a prosperous, democratic region -- a region whose rulers listen to their people ... where human rights are respected and justice is served ... where national wealth and human capital are invested in education, science and better living standards for all ... where girls can dream ... where conflict gives way to peace.
This history is yours to write.
You sang its opening verses in the streets, resounding around the world:
Show us how to turn the dark of night into a guiding light;
Show us how to grow a jasmine from a wounded heart;
Show us how to turn our hearts into flowers for our homeland,
And a healing kiss for every wound.