20/12/2016

What about transitional justice in Tunisia ?

By Chloé de Radzitzky

The hearings of Truth and Dignity Commission (TDC) started again on Saturday, December 17th. It occurred exactly six years after Mohamed Bouazizi’s immolation which launched the protest movement in Tunisia. Its purpose it to highlight the various human rights violations committed under Bourguiba and Ben Ali (1955-2013). This Commission covers cases of rape, torture… as well as corruption cases and economic crime. The first hearings had already started in November. It indicated the relaunching of a process of transitional justice subjected to controversy. Indeed, if the purpose of the Commission is to promote the national reconciliation, its work is regularly damaged by internal and external dynamics which come to question its range.

Nida Tounes’ victory in 2014 brought a first shock to the transitional justice’s process. This party includes vestiges from the old regimes which feel threatens by the work of the TDC. Some members declared that the process of justice had already been fulfilled in 2011 and in 2012. Consequently, they believe that Tunisia now need to move toward future[1]. This idea was also present in Essebsi’s rhetoric during his campaign. He declared “We must smile and be hopeful again and not talk of the past. »[2]. Moreover, An-Nahda has taken some distance from the process since its alliance with Nida Tounes. The party is afraid to be ejected from power as it happens with Islamist in Egypt. The partisans of the transitional justice process were frightened that this new political configuration would hinder the work the Commission by limiting its budget, reports Al Jazeera. If such a measure has not been denounced, the direction of the TDC has already declared that certain state employees made it difficult the access to presidential archives[3].

In addition to the unfriendly political context, the harsh economic situation in Tunisia also affects the work of the Commission. The State considers that the TDC’s competences regarding corruption hinder the economic revival of the country. In 2015, the government tried to limit this privilege by promoting economic reconciliation bill[4]. Its purpose is to improve the economic climate by allowing the Tunisians who have money to reinvest in their country[5]. It would allow individuals found guilty of these crimes to be totally forgiven for past mistakes in exchange for an economic compensation to the State. The detractors of this resolution believe that its adoption would betray the revolutionary expectations, and would imply that democracy protects thieves[6].

Internal problems also came to slow down and to discredit the work of the authority of the Truth and Dignity Commission. The first one concerns its low efficiency. Indeed, the newspaper Le Monde reported that on the 62 300 files, about twenty settled[7]. It is partially due to the multiple internal tensions in the TDC. Its Chair, Sihem Bensedrine is often criticized for her temperament, and on 15 initial members, six members resigned[8]. Sheis also accused of favoring files of Islamists. This controversy contributed to enhence polarization between Seculars and Islamists[9]. Nevertheless Kora Andrieu, a political philosopher specialized on transitional justice issues, recently declared that it was normal that there is a selection of certain symbolic cases. Furthermore, she adds:

Besides, it is simply false to say that in the first audiences of the TDC there were only Islamists: we have heard and seen left activists, Islamists, or mothers of wounded persons and martyrs of the trade union revolution. Insisting on the ascendancy of the Islamists equals to revive the propaganda of past[10]

According to the International Crisis Group, the IVD works in an unfavorable context. The harsh economic environment coupled with the security issues and the come back of old regimes seriously affected the public support. However, Tunisia is not the only country having met those kind of issues and nothing says that the process will fail. Furthermore, if compromises between the representatives of the State and the IVD are necessary, the preservation of the process of transitional justice remains essential for the future of the democracy in Tunisia. The shock which followed the first hearings demonstrates of the importance of the process. As declared it Sihem Bensedrine  »  » today, we hear a lot that under the Ancien Regime everything was good, that there was no terrorism, no unemployment (…) We are there to restore the truth. The majority of the Tunisians do not know what took place. « [11].The exposure of the crimes committed under Bourguiba and Ben Ali is thus essential to restore the truth; and to avoid the spreading of the hatred of the victims who can lead to the radicalism[12].

[1] International Crisis Group, 2016, Tunisie : Justice transitionnelle et lutte contre la corruption, Rapport Moyen-Orient et Afrique du Nord de Crisis Group N°168, p. 12

[2] Reidy, E., “Tunisia transitional justice faces obstacles”, Aljazeera, 1 janvier 2015, Consulté le 19/12/2016 sur http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/12/tunisia-transitional-justice-face-obstacles-20141228112518476386.html

[3] Galtier M., « Tunisie la torture des années Ben ali au grand jour », Libération, 16 Novembre 2016, Consulté le 19/12/2016 sur http://www.liberation.fr/planete/2016/11/16/tunisie-la-torture-des-annees-ben-ali-au-grand-jour_1528882

[4] Jamaoui, A., « Tunisia : the dispute over the economic reconciliationbill », Nawaat, 1er novembre 2015,   Consulté le 19/12/2016 sur https://nawaat.org/portail/2015/11/01/tunisia-the-dispute-over-the-economic-reconciliation-bill/

[5] Pour plus d’information, voir rapport p22 du  rapport : International Crisis Group, 2016, Tunisie : Justice transitionnelle et lutte contre la corruption, Rapport Moyen-Orient et Afrique du Nord de Crisis Group N°168

[6]   Lynch, M., 2016, “Tunisia May Be Lost in Transition”, Carnegie, consulté le 19/12/2016 sur  http://carnegie-mec.org/diwan/64510

[7] Bobin, F.,  « La Tunisie confrontée à la mémoire de la dictature », Le Monde, 17 décembre 2016, consulté le 19/12/2016 sur http://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2016/11/17/la-tunisie-confrontee-a-la-memoire-de-la-dictature_5032722_3212.html#8PRqmIwUQqlJGjAa.99 http://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2016/11/17/la-tunisie-confrontee-a-la-memoire-de-la-dictature_5032722_3212.html#LM1qUjB1o7AtFCEQ.99

[8] Galtier M., « Tunisie la torture des années Ben ali au grand jour », Libération, 16 Novembre 2016, Consulté le 19/12/2016 sur http://www.liberation.fr/planete/2016/11/16/tunisie-la-torture-des-annees-ben-ali-au-grand-jour_1528882

[9] Interview Andrieu K., 2016, disponible sur  http://www.ivd.tn/fr/?p=923

[10] Interview Andrieu K., 2016, disponible sur  http://www.ivd.tn/fr/?p=923

[11] Galtier M., « Tunisie la torture des années Ben ali au grand jour », Libération, 16 Novembre 2016, Consulté le 19/12/2016 sur http://www.liberation.fr/planete/2016/11/16/tunisie-la-torture-des-annees-ben-ali-au-grand-jour_1528882

[12] International Crisis Group, 2016, Tunisie : Justice transitionnelle et lutte contre la corruption, Rapport Moyen-Orient et Afrique du Nord de Crisis Group N°168.