Transitional justice process helps Tunisians move forward


Tunisian women providing tearful testimonies during the regional consultations

When former president Ben Ali fled Tunisia on 14 January 2011 under the tremendous pressure of popular demonstrations, he only closed the first chapter of the story of the new Tunisia.

Highlights

  • More than 120 members were selected for the regional committees out of 418 candidates
  • 24 regional consultations held thus far engaging more than 4000 victims and community members.
  • Overall budget of the project totals over USD 2.55 million, funded by the governments of Norway, Belgium and Romania in addition to UNDP’s financial contribution

Tunisians moved on confidently along the route of democratic transition, selecting a new president, electing a constituent assembly and drafting a new constitution to shape their future.

Yet breaking with the past required not allowing the old despotic regime to escape accountability for the crimes it committed against the Tunisian people.

Ibtihal Abdellatif, 43, a high school history professor is one of more than 4,000 women and 11,000 men living in Tunisia who came forth with grievances against the old regime. Ibtihal is also the president of Tunisian Women Association.

“I deeply suffered and most of the people around me are victims of the old regime, whether directly or indirectly,” remarked Ibtihal sadly. “Reinstituting justice is a first step to address the past and build the future,” she asserted.

In line with Government’s prioritization of responding effectively to that need, UNDP placed “transitional justice” high in its response strategy to support the transition in Tunisia.

“Pursuing transitional justice involves inquiry, reconciliation, and warranting accountability.” said Samir Dilou, Spokesman of the Government and Minister of Human Rights and Transitional Justice. “It will not be simple to achieve. It may be painful. But, we are determined to make it work.”

The approach entailed articulating operative processes and procedures of transitional justice into on-going comprehensive efforts of judiciary reform, to ensure concrete and sustainable results.

According to Najet Ben Salah, Justice Reform and Transitional Justice officer in UNDP Tunisia, integrating the perspective of victims with international standards for transitional justice requires working on both sides: the demand side, engaging victims themselves and civil society organizations representing their interests, and the supply side, strengthening capacities of independent commissions and specialized legal services.

“Only a genuinely participatory and competent process of transitional justice can pave the way to a durable national reconciliation,” asserts Najet.

Tunisians were unfamiliar with the concept of transitional justice and public opinion was torn between two emerging stances: one calling for accountability and reconciliation, and another calling for accountability and maximal prosecution of perpetrators.

To sensitize the public about the ends and means of transitional justice, including truth, accountability, asset recovery and reparations, institutional reform to prevent recurrence and national reconciliation, UNDP collaborated with the Tunisian Ministry of Human Rights and Transitional Justice, International Centre for Transitional Justice and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to launch an intensive outreach campaign

UNDP launched an intensive public information campaign through television, radio and social media to set the stage for a national dialogue on transitional justice, engaging victims and civil society organizations representing them, through nationwide local consultations. The campaign included six informational TV spots explaining different aspect of transitional justice that aired with high frequency, in prime time over a one month period, and reached more than 4.7 million viewers. Audio versions of the spots aired on national and regional radios across the country and several leading bloggers launched their own social media initiatives based on the spots.

"To allow Tunisians to turn the page of the past with minimal cost, we decided to hold community consultations to allow people to directly articulate their needs, hopes and expectations of the new independent body that will be created to oversee the investigation of grievances and establish the truth concerning them” explains Minister Dilou.

Over a short period of a few weeks UNDP helped organize 24 consultations in all the governorates, involving over 4000 people from all over Tunisia.

A national commission selected regional committees comprising over 120 judges, lawyers, law professors, notaries, and bailiffs, alongside journalists, sociologists, psychologists, and representatives of the martyrs and wounded of the Revolution to lead the consultations with the victims.

Regional consultations gathered recommendations on the nature and mandate of the anticipated independent investigation body and conducted surveys to build consensus around articles a new transitional justice law, which UNDP helped the national committee and to elaborate the first draft of. The draft law has been submitted to the national assembly for promulgation.

“I believe that we are on the right path to know the truth and heal our wounds,” said Ibtihal. “Only then will we be able to reclaim our dignity and respect as citizens and go in with our lives.”