The top United Nations human rights official today condemned the assassination of Tunisian activist Chokri Belaid and urged authorities to provide better protection to people who are political targets.
"I was extremely saddened to hear the shocking news of Mr. Belaid's murder," High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a news release.
"He was a prominent defender of human rights and democratic values, and a firm opponent of political violence, which just yesterday he publicly condemned as 'a blow against the democratic process in the country'."
Mr. Belaid was the Secretary General of the Democratic Patriots Movement and one of the leaders of the Popular Front in Tunisia. He was shot Wednesday morning while leaving his home in the capital, Tunis.
According to media reports, the killing sparked protests around the country, with police firing tear gas to disperse angry crowds. Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki has condemned the killing and is cutting short an overseas visit.
In her statement, Ms. Pillay warned that the assassination comes in an "environment of increasing political violence," which includes attacks on political parties' premises and gatherings, and other political killings.
She called on the authorities to take serious measures to investigate Mr. Belaid's killing and other apparently politically-motivated crimes, as well as to provide better protection to people who, like Mr. Belaid, have received threats and are clearly at risk.
It was the people of Tunisia that inspired the region in 2011 when they stood up to demand democracy and freedom, leading to the removal of the long-standing regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Their actions sparked a wave of popular uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East, known as the Arab Spring, which also led to the toppling of regimes in Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
"I strongly condemn such acts, which - as Mr. Belaid himself said so clearly - threatens to seriously undermine the democratic transition in post-revolution Tunisia," Ms. Pillay said.
"I call on all actors in government and civil society to unite strongly behind Mr. Belaid's campaign against political violence. That would, at least, provide him with a fitting memorial for his invaluable work as a human rights defender and opponent of violence."