Tunisia: Fate of Truth Commission unclear as it refers two historic cases to trial

Thousands of victims of historical human rights violations may never obtain justice if the Tunisian authorities shut down the country’s Truth Commission (IVD), Amnesty International said as two of the IVD’s prominent cases were referred to trial.

Over the past four years the Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD) has been investigated more than 60,000 cases of human rights violations in Tunisia, many dating back decades. However, a request for an extension to its mandate beyond May 2018 has been denied by a vote in parliament.

“This is a shameless attempt to prevent accountability for past human rights violations and abort a hard-won justice mechanism Tunisians had long awaited,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s North Africa campaigns director.

“Tens of thousands of victims have put their trust in this vital body to investigate human rights violations and crimes that have remained unpunished for decades. To prevent the IVD from completing its work is to sound a death knell for justice in Tunisia.”

The IVD was established in 2014 with a four-year mandate to ensure accountability for violations committed prior to the 2011 revolution. The IVD has started referring cases to court at the end of March.

This week it referred two prominent cases of death under torture to specialized criminal chambers, but it faces being shut down by the Tunisian authorities before completing the final stage of its work.

The two cases - that of Nabil Barakati and Faysal Baraket - have become emblematic of the widespread torture and human rights violations in Tunisia’s past.

The family of Nabil Barakati, who was killed by security forces in 1987, say their decades of suffering cannot begin to be alleviated without a meaningful judicial process.

“Our wound cannot be healed without achieving justice for Nabil. We need to see all those responsible for Nabil’s death, including those involved in the cover-up, given a fair trial that will bring Nabil real justice. We want the practice of torture to end in Tunisia,” Nabil’s brother Ridha told Amnesty International.

Since Faysal Baraket’s death in 1991, no one suspected of responsibility for his death has been brought to justice, despite a judicial investigation reopening the case in 2009. Today the IVD referred Faisal Barakat’s case to criminal chambers offering new hope for his family.

“So far, the IVD has referred four cases to court, but it has been investigating hundreds of cases of human rights violations, including deaths in custody, torture and enforced disappearance, and requires more time to refer other eligible cases,” said Najia Bounaim.

“One troubling reason the IVD provided for its request to extend its mandate was the lack of cooperation by government agencies such as the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense, which has further slowed down investigations.”

The Ministry of Interior has refused the IVD’s requests to access secret police records, while the Ministry of Defence still refuses to provide military court trial records related to IVD investigations. 

“Attempts to block the IVD’s work at this crucial point are symptomatic of the environment of impunity for human rights violations in Tunisia, and a lack of political will to combat that impunity by the authorities,” said Najia Bounaim.  

“Tunisia’s parliament must support the important work of the IVD rather than trying to cut it short, including by ensuring the full cooperation of government bodies. Anything less is an insult to the enormous pain and suffering of the victims who have waited decades for justice.”

Background

For further information on Amnesty International’s work on transitional justice in Tunisia, click here.