Tunisian authorities must sustain progress on transitional justice
As Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD) nears the end of its mandate, the government must commit to implementing its recommendations in order to ensure that perpetrators of historic human rights violations are brought to justice, victims receive reparation and measures are taken to stop such crimes being repeated, said Amnesty International.
On 14 and 15 December, after four and a half years, the IVD - which has investigated more than 62,000 cases of human rights violations dating back six decades - is due to deliver its main findings and recommendations at a conference with key stakeholders from government and civil society. Its final report will be delivered by the end of the year. A final IVD public hearing about propaganda and media manipulation before Tunisia’s 2011 uprising is also scheduled for 14 December.
Tunisia’s authorities must now show they are serious about breaking the pattern of impunity that has perpetually haunted the country by committing to fully implement the IVD’s recommendations
“The conclusion of years of IVD investigations is a crucial turning point that will determine the fate of tens of thousands of victims of human rights violations. Tunisia’s authorities must now show they are serious about breaking the pattern of impunity that has perpetually haunted the country by committing to fully implement the IVD’s recommendations, in particular those addressing reform of the security and justice sectors,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“It is essential that the progress towards justice does not stall with the end of the IVD’s mandate. Tunisia’s authorities must follow through with the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes that have remained unpunished for decades.”
Amnesty International is calling on the authorities to provide guarantees that the trials of suspected perpetrators will continue and be conducted in an impartial and transparent manner, that witnesses and victims are protected from reprisals and intimidation and that security sector reforms are taken particularly seriously.
The IVD was set up in May 2014 to ensure justice for past violations as part of the transitional process following the end of President Zine El Abidine’ Ben Ali’s repressive rule. Its mandate includes ensuring accountability and revealing the truth about decades of systematic human rights violations committed between 1955 and 2013.
It is the first truth commission in the Middle East and North Africa that has had the power to refer cases relating to gross violations of human rights directly to court. Since March 2018 the commission has referred 30 cases to trial, a historic move in Tunisia where courts hardly ever hold security officers to account.
These include cases of enforced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, death under torture, excessive use of force against peaceful protestors and killings of peaceful protestors during the 2010-2011 uprising.
So far at least 20 trials have begun. One of them relates to the death under torture of Faysal Baraket in 1991, which has become an emblematic case of the widespread, systematic use of torture in Tunisia’s past. Amnesty International is observing the trial.
However, very few alleged perpetrators have appeared in court and judges have thus far failed to issue travel bans in all cases to insist on them attending.
“The fact that we are finally starting to see trials holding suspected perpetrators of human rights violations to account is historic given that seven years after the Tunisian revolution, the judiciary hardly ever successfully prosecutes security officials,” said Fida Hammami, Tunisia Researcher at Amnesty International.
The fact that we are finally starting to see trials holding suspected perpetrators of human rights violations to account is historic given that seven years after the Tunisian revolution, the judiciary hardly ever successfully prosecutes security officials
The IVD’s recommendations are expected to include institutional and legislative reforms and measures such as vetting state institutions to ensure individuals suspected of corruption and human rights violations are suspended and no longer in a position to repeat their crimes.
The IVD has also initiated a national reparation plan to financially compensate victims of violations that submitted their cases.
The Tunisian authorities’ failure to demonstrate true political will to achieve accountability has seen almost absolute impunity for violations such as torture that continue to be committed in Tunisia today.
Since it was established the IVD has faced numerous obstacles to its work from the authorities. IVD investigations have been hampered by the refusal of the Ministries of Interior and Defence to cooperate with demands for information, including access to state archives, and to respond to summons for questioning.
The Ministry of Interior repeatedly failed to comply with the IVD’s requests to access secret police records. The military court system also refused to transfer to the IVD records of military trials related to human rights violations.
In addition, in March 2018 parliament voted against an extension of IVD’s mandate even though it had not completed its work and its founding law granted it the right to extend its mandate by one year.
“Tunisia’s authorities must not shirk their responsibility to implement the institutional and legislative reforms needed to ensure these crimes are not repeated and that victims, who have waited decades for truth and justice, receive full reparation,” said Heba Morayef.
The IVD will submit its final report to the President, President of the parliament and Prime Minister by 31 December. The report will include the commission’s full findings and is expected to identify suspected perpetrators, give an analysis of the reasons underlying grave human rights violations and offer recommendations on how to ensure these crimes are not repeated.