The president of Tunisia’s Higher Authority for Realisation of the Objectives of the Revolution, Political Reform and Democratic Transition is, after Václav Havel and Shirin Ebadi, the third recipient of the prize.
"With that we honor his outstanding role in the transition from dictatorship to democratic elections," said Erik Bettermann, Director General of Deutsche Welle and chairman of the prize association, at the award ceremony in Bonn. Professor Yadh Ben Achour (67) had made an outstanding contribution to democratization and human rights in his country, Bettermann said. "His work is driven by the conviction that lasting peace and a free society in Tunisia can only be based on the rule of law. The prize aims to support his political commitment into the future and through Professor Ben Achour to honor all democratic forces in Tunisia."
Professor Ben Achour said in his acceptance speech that he dedicates the prize "to those without whom we would not have come to enjoy freedom: the martyrs and wounded of the revolution". He said the award encourages him and his compatriots "to continue the struggle to support our democratic, civil revolution, for its universal human values, based on individual and social rights and the foundations of a modern state based on the rule of law. It gives us that courage in a climate of lacking recognition in our own country and a revolution that seems to be going wrong.” He said the Tunisian revolution had taken place with the understanding that "democracy is not the monopoly of a certain people or culture but a fundamental element of human thought and sentiment". Ben Anchour said it was regrettable that currently the Koran was being interpreted "superficially and literally". Some "use it to justify political violence and terrorism under the name of jihad the way they interpret it, and the discrimination of women under the designation of alleged male superiority". He continued: "We now see the followers of this destructive current trying to destroy the revolution by intimidation and violence. But the Tunisian people are sufficiently alert and were patient long enough to stand up to these forces."
In his congratulatory speech, Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz, State Secretary of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, emphasized that Ben Achour had been among those who had triggered "the storm of liberty" in the Arab world. He had always "stood up for democratic values" in his academic and political work, Beerfeltz said. With his resignation from the Tunisian constitutional council in 1992 in protest against decisions by President Ben Ali he had decided "against his position and for freedom", he added. Beerfeltz recalled that even before the Tunisian Revolution, Ben Achour had taken the stance that "a law-governed state founded on the basic pillars of democracy and human rights does not in any way contradict the spirit of the Koran".
In a personal letter to the prize winner that was read out at the gathering, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that as the first president of Tunisia’s Higher Authority for Realisation of the Objectives of the Revolution, Political Reform and Democratic Transition, Ben Achour had "worked tirelessly for the respect of human rights and the inclusion of sometimes contradictory expectations and views of the population in the democratic process".
The prize of 10,000 euros aims to connect the successful experiences of Germany and international democratic developments. The first recipient was the former Czech president, Václav Havel, in 2009, followed in 2010 by the Iranian lawyer, human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Shirin Ebadi.
The International Democracy Prize is awarded at least every two years to an individual or a legal entity for outstanding service to democratization and human rights in their country.
Bonn, September 6, 2012