By Tarek Amara
TUNIS Tunisian television will broadcast testimony from victims of decades of authoritarian rule on Thursday, a first chance for the public to see the workings of a Truth and Dignity Commission intended to help cement democracy after the Arab Spring revolution of 2011.The commission is investigating crimes and abuses dating back to 1955, a year before Tunisia gained independence from France, in an effort to come to terms with its past. In the past three years, it has gathered testimony behind closed doors from about 11,000 people. "The goal is not revenge," said its head, Sihem Bensedrine, a former activist who was harassed by the authorities under former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.She said the sessions beginning on Thursday would be "a historic event that will be taught to our grandchildren and enhance the image of Tunisia in the world as a model of tolerance".
Further public hearings will be held on Dec. 17 and Jan. 14, dates that commemorate the outbreak of Tunisia's 2011 uprising and the flight of Ben Ali to Saudi Arabia. At the December session, officials accused of human rights violations, torture or corruption will present public apologies. The commission said the hearings could boost investment in Tunisia's struggling economy, "because foreign investors will know that Tunisia is implementing a path for transitional justice aimed at dismantling its authoritarian and corrupt system." The country is hosting a major international investment conference at the end of the month.
The 2011 uprising, the first of the Arab Spring that spread across the Middle East, was driven by a wave of anger at unemployment, corruption and repression.Since ending Ben Ali's 23 years of authoritarian rule, the North African country has won praise for its democratic transition. But many remain frustrated over a lack of economic opportunities and the fact that some former officials have been allowed to return to public life.
Rights group Amnesty International said the truth commission was "a historic opportunity to affirm a commitment to end impunity for past crimes under international law and human rights violations"."The real test facing Tunisia's transitional justice process, however, is whether it will ultimately lead to criminal prosecutions for the crimes of the past decades, which have thus far gone without adequate investigation or punishment," Amnesty said. (Editing by Aidan Lewis and Mark Trevelyan)
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