Tunisia

Tunisia’s January 2011 revolution opened the door to initiatives and debates on how to address a past of widespread political repression and human rights violations. As the country begins to implement its Transitional Justice Law, ICTJ provides Tunisian policymakers and civil society groups with advice and resources.

A resident of central Tunisia during a demonstration in front of the Government Palace, Jan 2011 (FETHI BELAID/Getty Images)

Background:

As the birthplace of the Arab Spring, Tunisians have demonstrated a strong commitment to transitional justice as the country works to establish the rule of law and respect human rights of its citizens.

Before its revolution in 2011, Tunisia was under the control of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who took power in 1987. His government kept power through oppressive security policies designed to quell opposition. According to information to date, over 10,000 people were arbitrarily detained during his rule. Tunisia’s 2003 Anti-terrorism Law allowed security forces to arrest and try civilians who had allegedly committed acts of terrorism. Many cases were heard in a military court, where proceedings were closed to outside observation, and where defendants claimed convictions were often based on confessions obtained through the use of torture.

Several weeks of protests starting in December 2010 ended with Ben Ali’s overthrow in January 2011, and eventually the dissolution of his party, the Democratic Constitutional Rally.

Soon after the revolution, an interim government established three commissions to investigate constitutional reforms, corruption, and human rights violations that occurred during the uprising. In February 2011, the government adopted a law providing amnesty to former political prisoners of the Ben Ali Regime.

Tunisia’s first democratic and transparent elections were held on October 23, 2011, which resulted in the establishment of the National Constituent Assembly, charged with drafting a constitution for the Second Republic. The new constitution was adopted in January 2014.

In December 2013, the National Constituent Assembly passed a Transitional Justice law, which outlines a holistic approach for truth and justice, and deals with prosecutions, reparations, and institutional reform. Importantly, the law gives particular attention to women and the needs of other marginalized groups. The Transitional Justice Law also established the Truth and Dignity Commission, a body created to investigate gross human rights violations that occurred in the country since 1955.

ICTJ's Role:

ICTJ’s Tunisia program works to provide information and advice to local actors on transitional justice options and strengthen their capacity to respond to the many challenges of the current context, in areas such as criminal justice, truth-seeking, vetting, and reparations.

  • Providing Technical Assistance- Together with our international and local partners, ICTJ participated in the launch of the national consultation on transitional justice, and provided support to the technical committee responsible for gathering the results of the national dialogue and drafting the transitional justice law. We offer targeted technical advice to official bodies— including the National Constituent Assembly, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Human Rights and Transitional Justice—on the different draft laws related to avenues of transitional justice including vetting, reparations, and truth-seeking.

  • Working with Civil Society- ICTJ maintains close relations with civil society organizations and victims groups in Tunisia. ICTJ conducts trainings and workshops to ensure that these groups have a strong understanding of the transitional justice issues that are being defined in the country and can better participate in decision making on them. Our work has focused on truth seeking and reparations, seeking to bridge across organizations with different perspectives.

  • Ensuring Women’s Participation- Since 2012, ICTJ has initiated several dialogues on the role of women in Tunisia’s transition, collaborating frequently with local partners and the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR). We’ve held trainings for women’s associations and civil society groups as well as with policymakers on how gender plays a part in transitions and the role women can play in transitional justice processes. In 2013, ICTJ’s Tunisia program hosted women leaders from four other countries in the Arab region for a dialogue on gender justice in the Tunisian context.