Thursday, July 17, 2014

Transitional Justice in Tunisia

Carlotta Gall reports on the controversy in Tunisia surrounding how to deal with crimes of the Ben Ali regime:
Of the approximately 20 former senior officials detained in the aftermath of the uprising, almost all are now free. Only Mr. Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia with his wife and son on Jan. 14, 2011, and his family still face stern punishment. The president has been sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia, and arrest warrants have been issued for his wife, Leila Trabelsi, and other relatives. A nephew of the former president, Imed Trabelsi, is in prison, convicted of drug possession and check kiting, and faces further charges of embezzlement.
Lower-ranking police officers and soldiers have also faced charges for shootings during the uprising, when at least 320 protesters were killed and over 2,000 wounded in the weeks of unrest. But they have invariably received lenient or suspended sentences or been acquitted by the military tribunals, victims’ relatives and human rights organizations say.
Gall links this to policies of the Ennahda party government by which former regime officials are also allowed to continue to seek office.  Ennahda leaders apparently decided it was better to let them into the political arena where they will almost certainly lose than exclude them and face potentially destabilizing opposition from their supporters, particularly in the security services.  The party did, however, pass a transitional justice law:
Under the law, a 15-member commission was inaugurated on June 9 and will work for the next four or five years to expose the repression of citizens since Tunisia gained independence in 1956. The commissioners will hold hearings and will have the power to search government archives and detain or fine people who obstruct their work. Special chambers will be set up to hear the most grievous cases...
Sihem Bensedrine, a human rights activist and former journalist who heads the Truth and Dignity Commission, said the tens of thousands of cases of torture, rape and murders over 50 years of dictatorship would be investigated. Those of the martyrs of the revolution, however, will be a priority because of the symbolism of the uprising against tyranny...
Her main aim is to prevent any return to dictatorship. “To have a Seriati in prison is not sufficient for me,” she said. “We want to show all the pieces of the machine, and show this is how you construct a dictatorship and this is how you deconstruct it. We do not want it anymore."
This sounds like what happened successfully with South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and perhaps closer to home the Equity and Reconciliation Commission set up in 2004 to investigate the human rights violations of Morocco's "Years of Lead" under King Hassan II.  The latter, which was in part an effort simply to boost the popularity of the new King Muhammad VI by contrasting him with his predecessor, has been found inadequate by Amnesty International.



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