Transitional Justice and Democratic Transition in Arab Countries: Volume II – The Case of Tunisia

As part of the Democratic Transition Studies series, the ACRPS has published Transitional Justice and Democratic Transition in Arab Countries: Volume II – The Case of Tunisia) by multiple authors and edited by Mahdi Mabrouk. The book is 680 pages long and includes bibliographical references and a general index.

The transitional justice process is considered one of the pillars of democratic transition experiences, in that several actors take part in shaping it such as elites, civil society, the media, as well as the victims of state abuses. It aims to strengthen the foundations of democratic transition by way of many mechanisms seeking to disassemble and disassociate from the authoritarian regime to construct a democratic system wherein those violations cannot recur. Despite the good intentions of transitional justice processes, especially their role in uncovering the truth, they constantly face disapproval and rejection even if only for limited periods of time. To understand the particularities of the Tunisian experience in this matter, the ACRPS has devoted this second volume to analysing the emergence of transitional justice in Tunisia, the role of various actors therein, and its consequences that still raise many questions. Across 12 chapters, this book examines the domestic and international legal codes that have framed and shaped the transitional justice approach, seeking to analyse this approach as well as to evaluate the efficacy of the Truth and Justice Commission’s duties as well as its focus on the role of civil society, elites, the media, and the victims of human rights violations in this process.

The book begins with a survey of anti-corruption policies within the framework of transitional justice, the path to which is regarded as the sole realm by which to cleanse Tunisian public and political life of corruption. Although the democratic experiment presented the opportunity to redress pre-revolution acts of corruption, the book argues that it has not been successful in reviewing the theoretical foundations of transitional justice in service of shifting from revolutionary solutions toward reform. It is for this reason that the redress of corruption has vacillated between the flexible requirements of transitional justice and the strict conditions of traditional justice, especially regarding economic reconciliation. Businessmen implicated in the corruption of the ancien régime, now facing political extortion, have begun to seek protection and immunity by financing politicians amenable to their interests.

Next, the authors turn to civil society and elites, noting that the Truth and Dignity Commission has met with support from foreign actors, parties, and organisations of an Islamist character. Yet it has faced critique from the political left on an ideological basis, as well as in the form of accusations against the commission’s top official, Sihem Bensedrine, of being a ‘Zionist agent’ and an ‘extremist infiltrator’ due to her ties with Ennahda and other Islamist parties. The 2014 constitution stipulates in its 148th article ‘that the state vow to carry out the system of transitional justice’ by way of this commission, tasked with investigating human rights abuses as well as election fraud, financial corruption, and misappropriation of public funds.

Concluding with an evaluation of the Tunisian case and a look toward the future, the volume considers the Truth and Dignity Commission’s release of its final report and submission of its archives to the National Archive on 9 May 2019. Although frequent infighting, numerous friendships with international organisations, and legal inefficiency all negatively impacted the commission’s performance and were accompanied by critical assessments that far outweighed supportive ones, the authors argue that one must also appreciate what the body has managed to achieve in service of strengthening democracy and consecrating the human rights system, to say nothing of growing calls to resume or complete the transitional justice project. The massive bank of testimonies and other data collected by the commission from the victims of abuses are also a credit to its accomplishments in terms of transparency and confronting the horrors of the past, but transitional justice must transcend monopolisation by any civil body or social stratum: it belongs fundamentally to all Tunisian society, and to the universal society of all those who believe in the rights and dignity of the human person.

Read Also