Tunisia: ensure the new criminal chambers can deliver justice to victims of human rights violations

The ICJ has called on the Tunisian authorities to adopt effective measures to ensure that the newly established Specialized Criminal Chambers (SCC) deliver meaningful justice for victims of human rights violations.

In a memorandum published today the ICJ stressed that the SCC had been given a critical role in holding all those responsible for such violations to account in line with international law and standards.

However, the ability for the SCCs to effectively fulfil that role would depend on the willingness of the Tunisian authorities to adopt a number of measures, as set out in recommendations contained in the memorandum.

The memorandum analyses the guarantees for the selection and appointment of the SCC judges; the SCC’s jurisdiction over gross human rights violations; and the legal and practical obstacles that may hinder the SCC’s capacity to deliver justice effectively.

The ICJ has recognized the importance of State initiatives to establish mechanisms and measures to address past human rights violations under the framework of “transitional justice”, such as the Instance Vérité et Dignité (IVD) in Tunisia.

“But mechanisms of this kind and particularly the SCC must not undermine justice and accountability and must be complementary to the ordinary justice system rather than a substitute for it,” said Said Benarbia, Director of the ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme.

The ICJ stressed that for the SCC to be effective, the authorities need to act to clearly set out the procedures before the SCC; ensure that such procedures are consistent with international fair trial rights; establish specialized investigation and prosecution services; and provide for witness and victims protection units in line with international standards.

Obstacles potentially impeding accountability efforts in Tunisia include flawed definitions of crimes and of superior responsibility in the Criminal Code; the application of limitation periods in cases of serious human violations, and uncertainty over whether victims have direct access to lodge complaints before the SCC.

The ICJ identified measures for adoption by the Tunisian authorities to eliminate these obstacles and to ensure the effective functioning of the SCC. These steps include:

  • introducing a clear framework regulating the mandate of the SCC and their relation with the ordinary justice system institutions and the IVD;
  • ensuring that all alleged human rights violations are investigated and prosecuted, including allegations that are not transferred by or submitted to the IVD;
  • ensuring that impunity for gross human rights violations is not facilitated by the application of limitation periods;
  • ensuring that Tunisian laws are not construed to allow an individual responsible for a gross human rights violation to rely on an order received from a superior officer or public authority to escape criminal responsibility; and
  • ensuring that the SCC contribute to the full realization of the victims’ right to effective, prompt remedy and reparation in all its forms recognized under international law.


Theo Boutruche, Legal Adviser of the ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, tel: +96 170 888 961, e-mail: theo.boutruche(a)icj.org

tunisia-scc-memo-news-press-releases-2016-ara (full story in Arabic, PDF)

tunisia-memo-on-scc-advocacy-analysis-brief-2016-eng (full memo in English, PDF)

tunisia-memo-on-scc-advocacy-analysis-brief-2016-ara (full memo in Arabic, PDF)



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