The first of three empirical chapters is concerned with those justice measures that were introduced in an ad hoc manner directly after the fall of the Ben Ali regime and the first initiatives for a more structured, institutionalised transitional justice process. This stage was mainly marked by political struggles over the direction of the Tunisian transition and the country’s future political architecture. Speculation about the intentions of ‘the Islamists’ when in power and their potential lack of commitment to democratic values played a decisive role, as well as the question of the future role of old-regime actors. Thus, in this first stage, one can see an intensification of conflict and friction, in a cross-cutting manner, among political and civil society actors. The emergence of new sentiments of injustice through the pursuit of justice and accountability measures played a significant role in this dynamic. The chapter furthermore shows that despite the early efforts at seeking justice and accountability, one can already identify a counter-trend to the pursuit of transitional justice, since there was an unwillingness (or inability) to dismantle ‘the system’ at a deeper level.
In order to set the scene for the book, the introduction begins by briefly recounting the so-called Arab Spring and the fall of the repressive Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. It lays out Tunisia’s prompt efforts to seek justice and accountability and how the much-lauded, comprehensive transitional justice project was developed with international support. It discusses the conflicts the transitional justice process has been embedded in since the beginning, as well as the attempts to hamper the work of the Truth and Dignity Commission, the central transitional justice institution, as the process went forward. The introduction furthermore lays out the fundamental questions addressed in the book and the ideas it is based on, as well as the relevance of studying Tunisia’s transitional justice in process. It situates the case within transitional justice research and introduces the processual heuristic and the arguments. The introduction also gives brief insights into the interpretive research process and methods and introduces a conceptualisation of ‘process-concurrent’ research. It closes with an outline of the remainder of the book.
This chapter provides the historical background to the study and examines Tunisian history from the end of colonialism to the transition following the fall of the Ben Ali regime. It identifies the main societal cleavages and lines of conflict, power structures and changes to them, as well as the nature of the regime that people were rising up against in 2010/11. The chapter fulfils the purpose of outlining what kind of past is dealt with in Tunisia’s transitional justice process while also demonstrating that the Tunisian revolution did not provide a clean slate for transitional justice. It shows that transitional justice is therefore neither neutral nor happening in a historical and political vacuum. In this vein, the chapter first looks at the grievances that emerged from and violations that happened during the independence period and Bourguiba’s rule. It then turns to the systems of power under Ben Ali, outlining how existing grievances were exacerbated and new ones emerged. The chapter also presents possible explanations for the collapse of the regime, as discussed in the academic literature, as well as a discussion of post-revolutionary political developments, power shifts, and frictions. It thereby also outlines the political context after the ruptures of 2011 to better understand the dynamics of transitional justice, the course it takes, the friction the transitional justice project provokes, and the challenges it faces.
This chapter focuses on the planned transitional justice process and its institutions in action. Thus it mainly concentrates on the Truth and Dignity Commission, how it worked and was perceived, as well as the challenges it faced. It shows that the Truth and Dignity Commission had partisan appeal from the very beginning and that its president Sihem Ben Sedrine was a polarising figure. The commission was perceived as a project that would mainly serve Ennahda and its followers. With the elections of 2014 and the changes in government that followed, the political will for seeking accountability declined further and political support for the transitional justice process dwindled. The chapter shows that the difficulties the truth commission experienced in performing its tasks and fulfilling its goals and promises were due to a combination of factors: an overburdening mandate and internal quarrels, as well as external attempts to hamper its work. But this stage also reveals that the institutionalised process developed its own dynamic that allowed it to proceed, to a limited extent, independently of actors and their political preferences. Given the truth commission’s efforts to make transitional justice public and inform and educate wider public opinion, the chapter concludes that the performance of transitional justice in Tunisia may have constitutive consequences by ‘cracking the past open’, even if it did not exactly proceed as it was initially planned. The chapter also covers the last phase of the truth commission, as well as some developments after its mandate ended.
Transitional Justice in Process is the first book to comprehensively study the Tunisian transitional justice process. After the fall of the Ben Ali regime in 2011, Tunisia started dealing with its authoritarian past very early on and initiated a comprehensive transitional justice process, with the Truth and Dignity Commission as its central institution. However, instead of bringing about peace and justice, transitional justice soon became an arena of contention. The book explores through a process lens how the transitional justice process evolved and why and explains how it relates to the political transition. Based on extensive field research in Tunisia and the United States, and interviews with a broad range of Tunisian and international stakeholders and decision-makers, the book provides an in-depth analysis of a crucial time period, beginning with the first initiatives to deal with the past and seek justice and accountability. It includes discussions of the development and design of the transitional justice mandate and, finally, looks at the performance of transitional justice institutions in practice. It examines the role of international justice professionals in different stages of the process, as well as the alliances and frictions between different actor groups that cut across the often-assumed local–international divide. The book therefore makes an essential contribution to literature on the domestic and international politics of transitional justice and in particular to our understanding of the Tunisian transitional justice process.
The chapter provides the conceptual background with regard to transitional justice, outlining the origins, development, and dynamics of the concept and the field. The chapter looks at characteristics that define the approaches that are currently dominant in research and practice. It then turns to the question of how transitional justice gains ground and is appropriated and reconfigured in different contexts, before ending with a discussion of frictional encounters in internationalised processes of change. These aspects provide the crucial background for understanding how and what kind of transitional justice was introduced in Tunisia.
Chapter 3 explores how taming the Rhine as an internal European highway translated into the creation of the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine at the 1815 Congress of Vienna. Diplomats at Vienna wished to restore a pre-Napoleonic social order, but they also felt the pull of Enlightenment confidence in civilized European society’s ability to control the Rhine and reform centuries of irrational river politics to secure free trade and economic benefits for all European states. To placate the impulse for both reform and restoration, European diplomats struck an awkward compromise between three existing legal interpretations of the transboundary river: the river as the private property of individual sovereigns; the river as shared commons between states; and the river as international commons open to all. While subsequent narratives suggest the third interpretation won out at the Congress of Vienna, an examination of the contingent politics of the Congress shows that the 1815 Rhine Commission was largely a return to pre-Napoleonic interpretations of the river as private property – but with a liberal twist that reflected imaginaries of the Rhine as a trans-European highway. By establishing the Rhine Commission, the Congress of Vienna affirmed freedom of commerce and created a consultative body to implement rational and sensible regulations to maintain the river as an efficient economic highway.
The Danube as a connecting river represented the flow of European power and civilization outward to command the eastern periphery, but the river as conduit can flow both ways, and in the 1850s, instability at the far reaches of the Danube delta threatened to destabilize European politics. Chapter 5 examines the Paris Peace Conference to end the Crimean War and the creation of the European Commission of the Danube to ensure a civilized and rational authority to control the mouth of the river. At Paris, competing interpretations of the transboundary river as private property versus international commons again took the diplomatic stage, but imaginaries of the Danube delta as an untamed space at the fringe of European civilization moved diplomats, particularly the French and British, to reject the Rhine Commission model as too weak a body to control this untamed geography. Instead, diplomats at Paris created a strong commission with independent authority not only to conduct engineering works to clear shipping channels, but with the policing and judiciary powers to maintain order and the fiscal powers to borrow money on the international market. By the 1930s, the Commission had become such an extraordinary international actor that historian Glen Blackburn even described it as being ‘at the twilight of statehood’.
If the Rhine and Danube commissions could be considered accomplishments in global governance, then the abortive International Commission of the Congo proposed in the text of the 1885 General Acts of the Berlin Conference was an international disaster. Chapter 7 examines diplomatic efforts to bring European normative and institutional models to the conceptual emptiness of the Congo basin. At first glance, it seemed that diplomats at Berlin faced the same dilemma as their predecessors at Paris in 1856 – whether to tame the river through private sovereign control or as international commons. However, the Congo represented a particular colonial geography in the European imagination – first, as a blank canvas waiting to be filled with European models, and second, in the Congo’s primary importance as a token in European balance of power politics. Combined, these framings led to the imposition of ill-fitting models taken from Europe’s own historical development onto the morally and politically ‘empty’ spaces of the colonial periphery. Hence, European diplomats’ inability to transform the Congo into a peaceful, non-sovereign, and neutral space for the benefit of international commerce reflected failings in the Western European geographical imaginary – both of the conceptually empty Congo as well as its understanding of Europe as a geography of universal and generalizable political possibilities.
If the Rhine represented an internal European highway to be tamed for European civilization, and the Danube represented a liminal space between the civilized European self and the semi-familiar other to the east, then in the late nineteenth century the Congo represented an abstract and empty colonial geography waiting to be filled with European ideas, practices, and institutions. Chapter 6 examines the construction of the Congo – by European legal experts, cartographers, and explorers – as a colonial highway that would impose commercial rationality and European civilization onto a conceptually empty space. This imaginary of the river collapsed time and terrestrial space into the same civilizational and developmental continuum that elevated Western Europe as the model of progress. However, I contend that exporting civilization to the Congo basin not only erased indigenous histories and political agency but contorted Europe’s own messy experience with state-building and economic development into a generalizable model applicable across time and space. At the same time as the Congo represented endless possibilities for ambitious colonizers, it also represented a disconnected geography separate from the normal politics of civilized European society and a foreignness that threatened to reverse rationality and uncivilize those Europeans who traveled upriver – a fear made vivid in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I highlight how European imaginaries of the Congo looked inward at European superiority and anxieties about Europe’s own geopolitical and civilizational position in the late nineteenth century.