Tunisia: adopt clear and fair procedures for the Specialized Criminal Chambers

The ICJ today called on the Tunisian authorities to adopt and apply procedures for the Specialized Criminal Chambers (SCC) that are clear and comply with international human rights law and standards.

The statement came following a high-level mission to Tunisia from 12 to 15 July 2017 in which the ICJ engaged with senior judicial officials, including the President of the Cassation Court, members of the High Judicial Council, SCC judges, and other stakeholders.

An ICJ analysis, Procedures of the Specialized Criminal Chambers in light of international standards, was published at the end of the mission.

“While the Specialized Criminal Chambers have the potential to contribute to addressing impunity and deliver justice for victims in Tunisia, ambiguity about the procedures to be followed by these Chambers risks undermining their effectiveness,” warned Said Benarbia, Director of the ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme.

As detailed in the ICJ analysis, the lack of clarity comes in part from the 2013 transitional justice Law, which is seen by many stakeholders as setting up a special regime, separate from the existing criminal justice system.

There is fear that the SCC may decide not to apply the existing ordinary criminal procedures, while at the same time no detailed procedures specific to the SCC have yet been adopted.

The creation of such a gap would risk serious breaches of international standards of fairness and justice.

For example, the 2013 Law seems to give the Truth and Dignity Commission (Instance Vérité et Dignité, IVD) exclusive power to refer cases to the SCC.

However, no procedures specific to the SCC implement the rights of an accused to examine witnesses interviewed by the IVD or to access all documents and evidence collected by the IVD in order to prepare his or her defence, as required by international standards and the ordinary code of criminal procedure.

The 2013 Law also fails to clarify the role of prosecutors and investigating judges in addressing such cases, including by making their own determination in relation to charges, standard of proof, and whether these cases should be brought before the SCC.

“Clarifying the procedures to be applied by the Specialized Criminal Chambers and ensuring their full compliance with international standards, including those relating to fair trial, are a prerequisite to fully establish the truth about human rights violations, hold those responsible to account, and ensure that the proceedings are fair to the victims and accused,” added Benarbia.

The ICJ set out a list of recommendations with a view to assisting the Tunisian authorities in their efforts in achieving these objectives, including by:

  • Amending article 42 of the 2013 Law and related provisions to clearly provide victims of gross human rights violations with direct access to the SCC, including when victims did not submit a file to the IVD;
  • Amending provisions of the IVD Guides to ensure that the review process and the possibility to challenge IVD’s decisions will apply to decisions not to transfer a case to the SCC and that such review be based on objective criteria for considering gross human rights violations in line with international standards;
  • Establishing specialized prosecution services, investigating judges, and judicial police in line with international standards and with adequate resources to work in coordination with the SCC;
  • Clarifying the relationship between the SCC and other ordinary criminal chambers and civil and other courts;
  • Amending the legal framework to clearly provide that cases investigated by the IVD are to be transferred to specialized prosecutors who are to carry out their functions as defined in the CCP and in line with international standards;
  • Ensuring that the IVD’s investigative function complements the role of the specialized judicial institutions in charge of the investigation and prosecution; and
  • Amending the CCP and ensuring that any related provision of any other procedures adopted for the SCC fully respect fair trial guarantees.


Theo Boutruche, Legal Adviser of the ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, tel: +33 642837354, e-mail: theo.boutruche(a)icj.org

Tunisia-Memo on SCC Procedures-Advocacy-Analysis Brief-2017-ENG (full memo in English, PDF)

Tunisia-SCC procedures memo-News-2017-ARA (full story in Arabic, PDF)

Tunisia-Memo on SCC Procedures-Advocacy-Analysis Brief-2017-ARA (full memo in Arabic, PDF)

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