The “eyes” of the Tunisian justice system

TunisiaNewsTransitional justice

Kasserine – Two years after the events that unravelled with the Tunisian revolution, transitional justice is a work in progress. The stakes are enormous: how can citizens learn to trust the justice system? To identify the necessary reforms, the “Réseau d’Observation de la Justice tunisienne en transition, (ROJ)” (The Observation Network of Transitional Tunisian Justice), supported by Avocats sans Frontières (ASF) is launching a recruitment campaign in different regions of the country. The objective is to mobilise lawyers and other legal professionals to observe trials and report failures in the justice system.

Situated 270 kilometres southwest of the capital, Tunis, Kasserine was the first to experience protests for improving the socio-economic situation. For many Tunisians, the town has become symbolic: it is here where the revolution started in December 2010. Today it is one of the eight stops in the national recruitment campaign for justice observers. The campaign is led by ROJ, created in August 2012 by Avocats Sans Frontières, The National Organization of Tunisian Lawyers and The Tunisian League of Human Rights.

ROJ recruiters raise awareness of the project amongst lawyers
ROJ recruiters raise awareness of the project amongst lawyers

Set up for the day in the town’s court, ROJ recruiters raise awareness of the project amongst lawyers, court clerks, and legal secretaries. Previously contacted by text message, the majority are openly ready to communicate the failures with which they are confronted in their daily practice. “Our penal procedures have a lot of faults”, one female lawyer affirmed. “Often, the presumption of innocence does not exist. For the judge, the accused is already guilty”.

Two hundred and fifty lawyers and legal professionals have already taken part in the initiative, such as Lasad Fatahi, lawyer in Gafsa, situated further south. “Our justice system lacks magistrates. As a result, almost half of the 22,000 people in Tunisian prisons are in preventative detention,” he informed. “A prisoner on average will wait between eight to twelve months before going before a judge”.  That is three times longer than the advised waiting period imposed by international rules.

The trials which are subject to being observed by the ROJ concern the risks of condemnation of the death penalty, minorities and the martyrs of the revolution and the liberty of expression. The aim is to have 420 observers across all of Tunisia. It is the first time that such a network that is “100% Tunisian” has existed in the country.

“We are providing basic training to all recruits” assured Deissem Trimeche who coordinates the project (financed by The Open Society Institute, along with the German and Dutch Ministries of Foreign Affairs). “Afterwards, we check all the relevant information from cases that have been passed onto us. The pooling of data will allow us to identify and document the main failures of the system. In the months to come we will send several precise reports to Parliament, which will activate the process of improving the Tunisian justice system.”

Picture: Courthouse of Kasserine © ASF/G.Van Moortel