Chilling accounts of torture are expected to be aired during the broadcast of public testimony to Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD), established to investigate criminal violations at the hands of the old regimes. However, questions remain over how far the government will go to hold senior officials from the Bourguiba and Ben Ali eras to account.
The latest round of the Forum, designed to allow those victimized to speak openly as part of Tunisia’s “transitional justice” process, will air live on national television at 8:30 PM.
IVD president Sihem Bensedrine called the public hearings”a historic moment that our children and grandchildren will read about in books.”
Months of investigation by the Commission, which filed through a staggering 62,000 cases from the years 1955 to 2013, has already began to shed light on state abuse, especially the extent to which former officials relied on grisly torture methods to punish prisoners.
Ex-prisoners interviewed by the forum have told of being systematically raped, assaulted and tortured in graphic detail, including accounts of being suspended over a rod with their limbs tied together, having their testicles crushed by wooden drawers and of their flesh being scraped raw by jailers.
For many, openly airing the injustice and abuse perpetrated by the state, is critical for both preserving the truth in Tunisia’s “collective memory,” and moving towards reconciliation with honesty and credibility.
“Today we hear a lot that under the old regime everything was fine, that there was no terrorism, no unemployment,” said Bensedrine. “We are here to restore the truth. The majority of Tunisians do not know what is going on. ”
According to some victims’ accounts, many of those responsible for ordering torture and abuse have not only continued to elude justice, but have retained previous posts.
“Some senior executives who ordered torture are still in power,” said lawyer Eleyes Benesdrine, a member of the IVD’s training unit, “(They) are putting pressure on those in charge so they do not speak out.”
While some officials have been implicated during IVD proceedings, activists are concerned that recent political developments will ultimately shield top officials from scrutiny.
In July 2015, President Béji Caïd Essebsi put forth an economic reconciliation bill that many regarded as undermining much of the IVD’s remit. According to the government, the controversial bill was intended to stimulate the economy and resolve lingering criminal accusations against former state officials by having them return state funds.
Proponents of the bill contend that the IVD should limit its scope to human rights violations, but some civil society activists say the Commission must fully realize its original aims.
“All those who committed crimes must be judged,” Amnesty International’s Sousse coordinator Hichem Osman told Tunisia Live, “We’re only ready to turn the page when the victims and those who committed crimes recognize their crimes.”
Updated 20.31 This article was amended to show the broadcast in local time after originally featuring the broadcast time in GMT