Thursday, 24 February 2011


I've spent the last couple of days in Tunis, participating in a seminar on truth commissions and transitional justice organised by the Kawakibi Democracy Transition Centre. The seminar was focussed on the new National Investigation Commission into Violations Committed since 17 December 2010. This is the date when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in a gesture of outrage, frustration and rebellion, and it launched the events that Tunisians call a revolution and that have shaken the entire Arab world, and perhaps even further afield.
Mohsen Marsouk, left, Taoufik Bouderbala, and Amine Ghali.
Many countries wait years before undertaking transitional justice measures. In Sierra Leone, where I was involved with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and about which I spoke today, the institution was called for in the 1999 Lomé Peace Agreement but it took three years to begin operations. In Tunisia, the Commission is already at work. In fact, there are three commissions. Another one, headed by Abdulfattah Amor or the UN Human Rights Committee, is charged with investigating corruption in the old regime.
Today, the star of the show as Taoufik Bouderbala, who is president of the new Commission. He was accompanied by several members of the Commission. We also heard from Mohsen Marzouk, the eloquent and dynamic secretary general of the Arab Democracy Foundation and President of the Kawakibi Centre.
When I arrived in Tunis yesterday, there were big crowds at the airport. These were Tunisians returning from neighbouring Libya. We drove past the Libyan embassy on our way to the hotel. I'm told the Libyan ambassador has resigned. There were crowds outside the Libyan embassy.
At today's session we spoke at length about truth commissions and their relationship with the existing justice system. Tunisia has a very functional and professional justice system - unlike countries like Sierra Leone - but obviously it remains tainted by the regime with which it was associated. The new commissions seem an exciting way to help push along the democratisation process in Tunisia.
I've been to Tunisia several times in the past. The atmosphere was always stifling because while foreigners could of course say what they wanted about human rights, we knew that terrible abuses were going on too, and from time to time we would hear that our Tunisian colleagues had been imprisoned. We would write letters to embassies, that sort of thing.
How thrilling it was yesterday to get off the plane and breathe the fresh air of freedom. Now, I think the Tunisians also want to breathe the fresh air of justice.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Professor Schabas, since you raise Libya in your post, I wonder if you have any comment on questions that have been raised as to what is occurring in Libya and whether they can properly described as genocide?

And of course thanks very much for the bringing us news on this development in Tunisia. It is incredible to see how fast a pace change can occur!