Tunisia: prosecutors are failing victims of serious human rights violations

Prosecutors must perform an active role in proceedings before Tunisia’s Specialized Criminal Chambers (SCC), including by prosecuting the cases referred by the Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD) without indictment, and by ensuring the effective and timely execution of court decisions, such as judicial summons and other orders to compel the presence of the accused in court, the ICJ said today. 

هذا البيان الصحفي متوفر باللغة العربية أيضاً

To date, prosecutors have automatically transferred around 200 cases, to the SCC pursuant to the Law on Transitional Justice. Beyond this, however, they have played little or no part in the conduct of trials thus far.

“Prosecutors are abdicating their primary responsibility to uphold the rule of law and the rights of victims, and, in so doing, they are contributing to perpetuate decades of impunity in Tunisia,” said Said Benarbia, ICJ MENA Director.  

Accused are absent in most of the SCC trials. Measures ordered by the courts to compel their presence have remained mere ink on paper.

“The systematic absence of the accused defeats the very purpose of setting up the SCC as transitional justice mechanisms, including their role in establishing the truth about past abuses, and in granting victims their long overdue day in court,” added Benarbia.

Tunisian prosecutors and law enforcement officers acting under their authority must ensure that court summons and related orders be implemented in a timely manner.

Prosecutors should also ensure that effective investigations be conducted, evidence collected, and prosecutions instituted, when warranted, in those cases that the IVD referred to the SCC without indictment.

“The automatic transfer of cases to the SCC does not absolve prosecutors from their obligations under Tunisian and international law, including in respect of their duties as public interest representatives,” Benarbia added. “It’s high time for the prosecutorial authorities to live up to these obligations and uphold the rights of victims to truth, justice and effective remedies.” 

Background information

The Specialized Criminal Chambers were established in 2014 to adjudicate cases involving alleged “gross human rights violations” perpetrated between 1955 and 2013 and referred by the Truth and Dignity Commission (Instance Verité et Dignité, IVD) to the SCC.

The 2013 Transitional Justice Law empowered the IVD to investigate crimes, collect evidence and refer cases to the SCC for prosecution.

At the end of its mandate in December 2018, the IVD’s referred to the SCC 200 cases of arbitrary deprivations of life, arbitrary deprivations of liberty, torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearance, rape and sexual assault and crimes against humanity committed by the past regime.

For more information see the ICJ Practical Guide Series on Accountability Through the Specialized Criminal Chambersand findings on the role of international law and standards in proceedings before the SCC (Practical Guide 1), the investigation and prosecution of gross human rights violations under Tunisian and international law (Practical Guide 2), and the application of principles and best practices on evidence in the administration of justice before the SCC (Practical Guide 3).

Download this press release in PDF form here


Said Benarbia, Director, ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, t: +41-22-979-3817; e: said.benarbia(a)icj.org

Valentina Cadelo, Legal Adviser, ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, e: valentina.cadelo(a)icj.org

Asser Khattab, Research and Communications’ Officer, ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, e: asser.khattab(a)icj.org


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