Tunisia: ASF supports recognition of Human Rights violations

TunisiaNewsTransitional justice

Tunis/Brussels – April 12, 2012. Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) is starting its activities in support of justice in Tunisia, cradle of the “Arab Spring” of 2011. The NGO is helping eight Tunisian associations to archive and to categorize several thousand case files on human rights violations. ASF’s action will allow better utilization of the data collected in these case files and, thus, support  the Tunisian society’s transition in terms of justice.

One year after the revolution, the feeling of impunity remains present in Tunisia. The population is demanding that justice be done, and the victims or their families are seeking compensation for the crimes they were subjected to: offenses against rights and fundamental liberties, repression of opponents, brutal oppression of the demonstrations before and during the 2011 revolution, mainly by the authorities.

The challenge today in Tunisia is to put in place mechanisms of transitional justice adapted to the situation: how to judge the perpetrators of violations? How to officialize the status of victims? How to indemnify them? “In this context, the needs of the victims and the expectations of the population must be taken into account while at the same time guaranteeing equitable judgment of the perpetrators of the violations,” explains Solène Rougeaux, head of the ASF mission in Tunis. “The objective is to reach a genuine reconciliation of the different elements of the society.”

© A. du Boistesselin
© A. du Boistesselin

One important factor in this process is the existence of reliable data on human rights violations committed in the past. Yet, while the Tunisian associations were very active in denouncing human rights violations and in assisting the victims under the regime of President Ben Ali, they were unable to systematically archive their case files. In fact, the political opponents and human rights activists suffered repression from the regime, and the work of the NGOs took place in an oppressive and often dangerous climate. The number of case files varies from one organization to another from hundreds to several million.

Financed by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the ASF’s project began in March of this year with a training organized in partnership with the NGO Swisspeace on the basic principles of archive management. The next stage of the project will consist of sorting the case files and encoding the data contained therein. This phase is starting in April and will last for two months.

“We are not only helping the associations to physically organize their archives but also to enter the relevant data in a database,” adds Solène Rougeaux. This database will focus on the types of violations suffered by the victims and committed by the State as well as by individuals. The goal is to have a general overview of the types of abuses that took place under the dictatorship as well as the expectations of the victims in terms of compensation, support, and justice. Moreover, this database will allow for a summary of the victims of violations based on geographic, gender and age data. “This will allow the local associations to make up their lost time under the former regime and to be more efficient in their advocacy in favor of transitional justice mechanisms in Tunisia,” concludes the head of the ASF mission.