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Tunisia: Parliament should not obstruct the extension of the Truth Commission’s mandate

On 24 March, the Tunisian parliament will hold a controversial vote on the extension of the mandate of the Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD) until the end of 2018.  The law establishing the IVD granted it the power to extend its mandate by up to one year. But despite this, parliamentarians insisted on putting the decision to a vote, in an apparent attempt to block the extension.

The work of the IVD has been impeded by the refusal of the Ministries of Interior and Defense to cooperate with demands for information, including access to state archives, and to respond to summons.

“It will be virtually impossible for the Truth and Dignity Commission to finalize its work in the next two months, which is why the commissioners decided they needed more time. Parliamentarians are bound by law to respect the Commission’s independent decision to extend its mandate” said Heba Morayef, MENA Regional Director at Amnesty International.

“Tens of thousands of victims of human rights violations have put their trust in the IVD to pursue their right to truth and justice for crimes that have remained unpunished for decades. Instead of attempting to block the IVD’s work, parliamentarians should be focusing on how to enable and support the full achievement of the IVD’s mandate, including by ensuring the cooperation of government bodies in the investigations.”  

On 6 March Sihem Bensedrine, the IVD’s president, announced that the Commission had decided to extend its work for seven months beyond its initial mandate that ends on 31 May. The Organic Law on Establishing and Organizing Transitional Justice, which establishes the Commission, clearly states in Article 18 that its mandate can be extended once for one year through a “justified decision from the Commission to be submitted to the parliament”.

However, some parliamentarians challenged the extension saying that it required a vote in parliament and on 8 March the parliament’s secretariat decided to hold a vote on 24 March.

One of the reasons that the Commission invoked in its decision to extend its mandate was the lack of cooperation by government agencies such as the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense.

“State agencies, in particular the interior and defense ministries, are impeding the work of  the Truth and Dignity Commission by failing to respond to queries made by the Commission or to grant it access to state archives, including military trial files and secret police records. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure these agencies’ comply fully with requests for information and any summons of officials.”

The IVD has the right to refer cases it has investigated directly to criminal courts. On 2 March, the IVD referred the first case of enforced disappearance to the specialized judicial chambers. However, the IVD’s investigative unit has been investigating hundreds of other cases of victims of violations including deaths in custody, torture and secret and arbitrary detention, and requires more time to refer them to the court, in addition to finishing the work on its final report.

“The real test of Tunisia’s transitional justice process is whether it can fulfill the right to a remedy for victims who have waited decades for truth and justice and whether these trials will be conducted in an impartial, transparent and inclusive manner.”

Background:

Since beginning its operations in 2014, a Truth and Dignity Commission has held hearings across Tunisia and received more than 62,000 cases of human rights abuses. The commission was created by the Organic Law on Establishing and Organizing Transitional Justice of December 2013. The mandate of the Commission is to uncover the truth about crimes under international law and human rights violations between 1955 and 2013. Its mandate also includes arbitrating cases of economic crimes, setting up and administering a programme of individual and collective reparations, formulating recommendations to guarantee the non-repetition of past crimes and reforming state institutions involved in the commission of human rights violations, including by proposing the vetting of members of state institutions.