Week in Review: Questions in Tunisia, and Switzerland returns stolen funds

Week in Review: Questions in Tunisia, and Switzerland returns stolen funds©IVD
Tunisia's Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD), December 2017
2 min 1Approximate reading time

Tunisia’s transition is certainly chaotic, but it is also lively and resilient, as JusticeInfo.net showed this week. This country, last bastion of the Arab Spring, is questioning the future of its transitional justice processes, notably its Truth and Dignity Commission. “A few months from the end of the Commission’s work in December 2018, the question of what happens afterwards is recurrent”, writes JusticeInfo’s correspondent in Tunis Olfa Belhassine.

With 60,000 victims’ cases registered at the Commission, the questions are many. What kind of transitional justice will there be in the period after the Truth Commission? Who will implement the recommendations of its final report? How will the victims be helped with rehabilitation and reparation? What will be the strategy for remembrance? What about reform of the institutions and laws to guarantee non-repetition of the violations?

For the moment, there are few answers from the authorities who have over the years regarded with growing suspicion this work of remembrance, justice and reparations. But civil society has taken to heart these transitional justice issues, as shown by the debate on the future of the Truth and Dignity Commission's archives. The Commission has launched a call for proposals to house its written and audio archives, and apparently favours Cloud Microsoft azure, a private American company based in western Europe and the United States. But this plan worries victims’ associations, historians and Tunisian jurists who want the documents to be preserved in their country. These are “documents essential for establishing the facts in the context of investigations and which contain part of the truth about a dark past of human rights violations”, writes our correspondent. And she quotes historian Abdel Jelil Temimi, who speaks of the “archives of the soul”.

This debate shows the importance of justice processes for countries in transition. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, this week presented his last annual report, documenting a list of mass crimes that he says need commissions of inquiry, referral to the International Criminal Court or to other courts that can act under the principle of universal jurisdiction. These crimes concern Syria, of course, but also countries such as Sri Lanka, Venezuela, the Central African Republic and Myanmar. It remains to be seen whether the High Commissioner, whose mandate ends this year, will be heard.

Let us end on a more positive note with Switzerland’s restitution of hundreds of millions of dollars looted by former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha. With oversight from the World Bank, the money is to go to Nigeria’s poorest in the form of cash transfers. This agreement “is being hailed as a model for how other countries deal with dictators’ assets,” writes Julia Crawford. “But civil society organisations in both Switzerland and Nigeria have reservations.” They nevertheless recognize that the agreement with the World Bank is better than the funds getting lost, as has happened before. Switzerland says this agreement is “historic” for its level of monitoring, involvement of civil society and use of new technology for cash transfers and traceability that would not have been possible just a few years ago. Since 1986, Switzerland has returned more than 2 billion Swiss francs in funds stolen by foreign dictators.