No True Democracy without Justice: Tunis Conference on Transitional Justice


TUNIS, Apr. 14, 2011—The international conference on transitional justice, Addressing the Past, Building the Future, opened this morning in Tunis with more than 150 participants from Tunisia and other countries of the Middle East and North Africa.

In sessions dealing with transitional justice mechanisms including criminal justice and the reform of security sector, international experts and their regional counterparts agreed on the importance of justice as the foundation of democracy.

Abdelbasset Ben Hassen, president of the Arab Institute for Human Rights, opened the conference by saying that the political transition to democracy in Tunisia will be incomplete if justice is not one of its main elements.

“We are going through the period we dreamt of for years but should not forget the darkness of the past, and forget people who suffered,” said Ben Hassen.

David Tolbert, president of the International Center for Transitional Justice, made clear that transitional justice should not be seen as substituting for accountability.

“Transitional justice is not about turning our backs to the past, but on the contrary—it is about the reckoning with the past so that perpetrators of abuses can be held accountable, that truth can be exposed, victims recognized and mechanisms implemented to prevent violations from recurring,” stated Tolbert.

His statement was echoed by Mokhtar Trifi, president of the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights.

“It is necessary to achieve accountability and all who committed violations must be held before the law. At the same time, we need comprehensive justice that includes reparations for the victims and communities who were particularly oppressed,” asserted Trifi.

Dina El Khawaga, director of the Arab Regional Office of the Open Society Foundations stressed the importance of Tunisian revolution in the regional context.

“What happened on 14 January is not a revolution for Tunisia only but for the entire Arab world. This revolution is not only designed to substitute one regime for another, but to strengthen the rule of law, new democratic institutions, and new political notions based on justice and human rights. And we have to protect the objectives of the revolution,” said El Khawaga.

Joseph Schechla, representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights added that OHCHR stands ready to assist and support Tunisian people in this quest.

“In this phase we are ready to provide what we can to exchange relevant experiences with Tunisian government. But, it is important to recognize that no comprehensive model that can be applied from outside and procedures must come from local initiatives and reflect Tunisian uniqueness,” stated Schechla.

Taieb Baccouche, Minister of Education in the Transitional Government of Tunisia asserted that political will to implement transitional justice mechanisms exists.

“There must be political desire, objective to achieve justice, to seek truth and restitute civil rights and peace to people so that they are ready to turn the page and face the past. Other countries can inspire us, but models cannot be copied.

“Tunisia needs transitional justice and the question now is the timing and the mechanisms. The political will in Tunisia exists, and we now need to find the right model and timeframe to apply mechanisms of transitional justice,” concluded Minister Baccouche.

The sessions on transitional justice mechanisms, criminal justice, and security sector reform drew great attention of participants, and ensuing discussions revealed the urgency of issues surrounding the need for a justice strategy, the functioning of the judiciary in Tunis, and the need for its reform.

The Arab Institute for Human Rights, the International Center for Transitional Justice, the Tunisian League for Human Rights, and the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights are jointly hosting the conference with support from the Open Society Foundations.

The proceedings continue tomorrow with sessions on truth-seeking initiatives, reparations for victims and gender-related justice measures. The proceedings can be followed in Arabic, French and English languages at