Tunisia’s authorities must not squander the opportunity to ensure justice for thousands of victims of historic human rights violations, said Amnesty International, ahead of the publication of a crucial report by the country’s Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD) tomorrow, 26 March.
The IVD has investigated more than 62,000 cases of human rights violations in Tunisia dating back decades. A report containing its findings and recommendations will be handed over to the Tunisian civil society in a short ceremony tomorrow afternoon.
“This is a watershed moment for Tunisia – how the government responds to the report findings will be a crucial test of its genuine commitment to human rights. Tunisia’s authorities must take concrete steps to implement the Truth Commission’s recommendations and finally break the pattern of impunity that has marred human rights progress for decades,” said Fida Hammami, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Tunisia.
“The publication of the Truth Commission’s report and recommendations is a vital opportunity to bring to light the truth about the long-lasting patterns of grave human rights violations and bring to justice perpetrators who have remained unpunished for decades. It is also a step towards ensuring that victims receive reparation and that appalling crimes are not repeated in future.”
This is a watershed moment for Tunisia – how the government responds to the report findings will be a crucial test of its genuine commitment to human rights.Fida Hammami, Amnesty International Researcher on Tunisia
The IVD was set up in May 2014, in the wake of Tunisia’s 2011 uprising, to investigate past human rights violations as part of the transitional process following the end of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali’s rule. Its mandate was to reveal the truth about, and ensure accountability for, human rights violations committed between 1955 and 2013.
It investigated violations including enforced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, torture, death due to torture, excessive use of force against peaceful protesters and killings of peaceful protesters during the 2010-2011 uprising.
It is the first commission of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa that has the power to refer cases relating to human rights directly to court. The establishment of the commission was a historic development for Tunisia where security officials accused of human rights violations are hardly ever prosecuted. The commission has so far referred at least 173 cases to court following their investigations.
At least 30 trials before criminal chambers specialized in transitional justice have started. However, very few alleged perpetrators have appeared in court and the pace of the transitional justice trials is too slow. For example, the trial in the emblematic case of Faysal Barakat, a 25-year-old student tortured to death in police custody in 1991, has yet to make any progress. The trial began on 6 July 2018 and was recently postponed for the fourth time from 1 March 2019 until 14 June 2019.
Many of these trials face strong resistance from the security sector as the main security forces union in Tunisia has refused to cooperate with the trials claiming in various statements that these trials are vindictive and aim to weaken the security forces calling for a legislative reform to stop them. The ministry of interior has also been reluctant to implement requests by courts to summon alleged perpetrators to the transitional justice trials.
“Tunisia’s authorities must demonstrate a clear political will to tackle impunity by protecting and enabling the specialized chambers dealing with transitional justice to carry out their work. The government must ensure that security sector members cooperate with transitional justice trials and that judges, victims and witnesses are protected from any act of intimidation or reprisal,” said Fida Hammami.
“Tunisia’s authorities must demonstrate a clear political will to tackle impunity by protecting and enabling the specialized chambers dealing with transitional justice to carry out their workFida Hammami, Amnesty International's Tunisia Researcher
Since December 2018, the IVD has repeatedly requested a meeting with Prime Minister Youssef Chahed to submit its report to him personally but has yet to receive a response. Since its inception, the IVD has faced several attempts by the authorities to undermine its work and restrict its mandate. Government agencies such as the ministries of interior and defence did not cooperate fully with its investigations.
“The Prime Minister’s apparent unwillingness to receive the Truth Commission’s report is deeply worrying and raises concerns over the government’s commitment to the transitional justice process,” said Fida Hammami.
Amnesty International is also calling for Tunisia’s authorities to put in place guarantees to protect the Truth Commission’s archives, which include the testimonies of thousands of people, as they can put victims and witnesses at risk of reprisal if they are not properly secured.