Historical Justice
Case Study 1: Tunisia

From 1987 to 2011, Tunisia was under the rule of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, whose government maintained power through oppressive security policies designed to quell opposition. Reports indicate that, under the regime, there were several thousand cases of detention based often on persecution of political and religious views and abuse and torture of prisoners while in detention, along with systemic corruption and economic marginalization.60 Years of authoritarianism. Mass killings, forced disappearances, torture and oppression.
Democracy and Human Rights can only be established when societies start facing history and the acknowledging historical wrong-doings. Much of the chaos gripping the Middle East currently is the result of mistrust between communities over historical wrongdoings that no one is willing to confront.
Tunisia is a case where the transitional government and civil society recognized the importance of transitional justice early on. Civil society organizations had been laying the groundwork for transitional justice years before the protests that gripped the country and ultimately unseated President Ben Ali in January 2011. They did so because they saw a link between the transitional justice process and political reform in Morocco, and believed that it was the best strategy to win political concessions and improve the human rights situation without an all-out confrontation with the government.


Tunis, December 17, 2013 –In a nearly unanimous vote on Sunday, 125 of 126 deputies present voted in favour of the law. The law represents an important development in Tunisia’s transition to democracy.
Tunisia has just started the process of Reconciliation of its historical past. Tunisia set up a Truth and Dignity Commission.
The transitional justice law sets out a comprehensive approach to addressing past human rights abuses. It creates a Truth and Dignity Commission and addresses reparations, accountability, institutional reform, vetting, and national reconciliation. It also creates a Fund for the Dignity and Rehabilitation of Victims of Tyranny” (article 41) and special chambers with trained judges to deal with cases of human rights violations. Violations against women and children are at the core of issues to be addressed by the Truth and Dignity Commission.
The main aims of the Commission-to uncover the truth of human rights abuses, preserve the memory for the nation and help reform the system. The Truth and Dignity Commission has learnt much from the South African experience-namely in the area of transitional justice. Drawing on the experiences in transitional justice from Latin America, Poland and other places, the Commission decided against bringing victims face to face with their former torturers. Instead 100 of the most egregious or symbolic cases of 65,000 cases lodged.
At the beginning Tunisians have faced a Pandora, box of mixed emotions
The Commission will gather evidence over eight hearings to be held over five months.
Former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali is keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings from exile in Saudi Arabia.
This event marks a somewhat bright spot in the region where the promise of the Arab Spring- for democracy and accountability has deteriorated.
Throughout the region there has been greater authoritarianism in Egypt, civil war in Syria, chaos in Libya and the continuance of ISIS.
Like in other parts of the region, thousands of young people have left to join Islamic State.
The path towards reconciliation is a difficult task. However Tunisia’s truth-telling Commission is a step in the right direction to both confront past horrors and bring about some historical accountability and justice.
A major problem of the processes is that the critics correctly claim that the hearings are one-sided and have given voice only to the victims. This gives the idea of injustice and lack of transparency. The road towards historical truth is never easy.
Tunisia has been an inspiration to people everywhere who are yearning for greater freedom and dignity. The transitional justice process is no exception, and has the promise to serve as a model through its historic inclusion of corruption and economic abuses. As parliament prepares to debate the controversial economic reconciliation law in the coming weeks, the world waits once again to see whether Tunisia will be able to reach a compromise that continues to move Tunisia forward, while preserving the transition’s hard-won gains to increase transparency and hold perpetrators of political and financial crimes accountable.

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