Tunisia: the role of international law and standards in proceedings before the Specialized Criminal Chambers

Today, the ICJ released Practical Guide 1 on the adjudication of crimes under Tunisian and international law, the first guide in a four-part series on accountability for crimes under international law and the Tunisian Specialized Criminal Chambers (SCC).

Practical Guide 1 addresses the application of Tunisian law governing the penalization of crimes and modes of liability, in relation to international law and standards.

The SCC were established in 2014 to adjudicate cases involving alleged “gross human rights violations” between 1955 and 2013 referred by the Truth and Dignity Commission.

“Tunisia has obligations under international law to ensure justice for victims and combat impunity for the egregious human rights violations that were committed in the past,” said Saïd Benarbia, ICJ MENA Programme Director.

“International law is directly relevant to the work of the SCC, particularly since the gross human rights violations over which the SCC have jurisdiction are either not defined in domestic law or are defined inconsistently with the definitions under international law binding Tunisia,” he added.

The Practical Guide sets out relevant international law and correlates it to related provisions of Tunisian law.

The Guide examines the principles of legality and non-retroactivity under international law and their application in the domestic system, and conducts an analysis of the definition of crimes under domestic law vis-à-vis international law for arbitrary deprivations of life, arbitrary deprivations of liberty, torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearance, rape and sexual assault and crimes against humanity.

Although the transitional justice framework governing the SCC gives judges some tools to remedy the gaps and inconsistencies in domestic law, legislative reform is needed to ensure Tunisia is in compliance with its obligation to penalize crimes under international law and investigate, prosecute and remedy them whenever they are committed, whether pre- or post-2011.

“Tunisian legislators gave the SCC the mandate to adjudicate gross human rights violations but haven’t remedied all the gaps and inconsistencies in the domestic law the SCC were tasked with applying,” said Valentina Cadelo, ICJ MENA Programme Associate Legal Adviser.

“Tunisian authorities must now take steps to reform the law to guarantee that all perpetrators of gross human rights violations can be held criminally responsible in any Tunisian court,” she added.

Practical Guide 1 aims to:

  • Explain international law relevant to the SCC, including the application of the principles of legality and non-retroactivity, statutory limitations and crimes under international law, to guarantee justice for victims of gross human rights violations and hold perpetrators accountable, while meeting international fair trial standards.
  • Correlate domestic definitions of crimes with the definitions of crimes under international law applicable at the time the alleged conduct occurred.
  • Describe the requirement that penalties applied upon conviction be based in law and correspond to the gravity of the crimes.


Saïd Benarbia, Director of the ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, t: +41.22.979.3817, e: said.benarbia(a)icj.org

Valentina Cadelo, ICJ Associate Legal Adviser, t: +21671962287, e: valentina.cadelo(a)icj.org , twitter: @ValentinaCadelo


Tunisia-Accountability series-Publications-Reports-Thematic reports-2019-ENG (full report in English, PDF)

Tunisia-Accountability series-News-2019-ARA (full story in Arabic, PDF)

Tunisia-Accountability series-Publications-Reports-Thematic reports-2019-ARA (full report in Arabic, PDF)



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