Tensions remain high in Tunisia after a March 26th vote by the Tunisian Parliament determining that the mandate of the country’s human rights and truth commission would not be extended, according to the Al-Monitor news agency. This decision has been controversial, going against the advice of groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as Tunisian victims’ advocacy organizations.
The Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD) was created in 2013 and launched in 2014 to be an independent, objective tribunal to investigate human rights violations and to both compensate and rehabilitate the victims who were under Presidents Bourguiba’s and Ben Ali’s Tunisian rule since the 1955 independence. From 2014 the IVD has assembled over 62 000 cases, aiming to uncover the truth and spur reconciliation rather than punish perpetrators, although it has the right to refer cases to criminal courts, according to Der Spiegel.
This commission was created in the wake of the Tunisian (or Jasmine) Revolution, which, after it began in late 2010 and early 2011, served as the spark that created the Arab Spring. This movement, which swept the Middle East and North Africa beginning in 2011, saw the overthrow of Ben Ali in Tunisia, Gaddafi in Libya, Mubarak in Egypt and Saleh in Yemen, serving as the trigger for the ongoing chaos in Syria. While many of these states have plunged into conflict in the wake of their Arab Spring revolutionary experiences, Tunisia has been seen as the success story of the movement, emerging from the revolution and moving towards further democratization. However in recent months, Tunisia has once again been plagued by popular protests and government intransigency.
The IVD, though generally popular, has been hampered by a lack of government support. The 2017 budget was delayed by the Parliament, and the Ministries of the Interior and Defense have refused to cooperate with certain commission requests for information and access to archives, as stated by Amnesty International. The Truth and Dignity Commission protested against such obstruction and requested an extension of its mandate in order to better serve the people of Tunisia and complete its investigation into the state’s past crimes.
The March 26th decision was made even more controversial by the fact that the vote was carried out without the one-third quorum generally required in parliament (only 70 out of 217 members were present). The Tunisian Victims’ Coalition for Dignity and Rehabilitation, an organization that includes more than 59 human rights groups, has called upon President Essebsi and other politicians to protect the commission and ensure that transitional justice is properly carried out in Tunisia.
The Truth and Dignity Commission has been seen as a signal of Tunisia’s success after its Arab Spring experience. The decision not to extend the IVD’s mandate may signal troubled political times for the North African state as it remains to be seen how transitional justice will operate once the IVD’s work has stopped.
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