In Tunisia, Appointing Strong Commissioners Is the Next Step in Uncovering Truth


TUNIS, February 4, 2014 – As the Tunisian government takes firm steps to investigate human rights abuses committed since 1955, including under the Ben-Ali regime, the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) calls for care and attention in appointing members to the upcoming Truth and Dignity Commission.

The Tunisian Parliament included a strong mandate on truth seeking in the historic law it adopted late last year on Establishing and Organizing Transitional Justice. According to the law, “Revealing the truth about violations is a right guaranteed to every citizen.”

ICTJ and its partners, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP ) and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), have supported the drafting of the law since its inception.

One of the main challenges in implementing the new law will be the Legislative Council’s selection of 15 commissioners to lead the Truth and Dignity Commission and serve as its public face. As a starting point, the law sets out clear criteria for members on competence and integrity.

Yet, some truth commissions, like Kenya’s and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s, have been crippled by controversies surrounding the aptness of individual members and appointment schemes that seemed to prioritize politics over victims’ rights.

“The selection process can be very complex and delicate in practice. It requires that those who select the commissioners fully understand how their choices will impact the future work of the commission,” said David Tolbert, president of ICTJ.

“At this early stage, ensuring that commissioners are selected in a transparent way, guided by the principles of independence, integrity, and competence, is fundamental to building public confidence in the larger truth-seeking process.”

Commissioners play a vital role in the life and success of a truth commission. They are responsible for outlining a strategic vision, managing the commission’s day-to-day activities, designing investigations, and producing a final report.

“What could help ensure strong appointments would be extending the deadline for applications beyond the 15-day period now set,” said Tolbert. “This would give qualified applicants from outlying areas more time to answer the call for commissioners.”

ICTJ experts have provided a memo to the Constituent Assembly with technical advice on procedures for selecting members of the Truth and Dignity Commission, along with technical comments on the organic law for future members of the commission.


Tunis: Rim El Gantri, ICTJ’s Head of Office in Tunisia E-mail: Phone: +216 55350154 (mobile); +216 71905190 (office)

New York: Refik Hodzic, ICTJ Communications Director E-mail: Phone: +1 917 975 2286

Photo: Tunisians demonstrate for peace, freedom of speech and for a secular state. 2011 (Flickr/European Parliament)