Africa

Tunisian victims of abuse speak on TV in reconciliation move

A picture taken on November 17, 2016, in Tunis shows relatives of abuse victims watching a live broadcast of the testimonials of the abuse victims before the The Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD). Image copyright AFP
Image caption Victims of abuse spoke out during a live broadcast on Thursday

Tunisians who suffered abuse under decades of authoritarian rule have been airing their grievances live on TV.

Thursday night's event, run by the country's Truth and Dignity Commission, aims to ease tensions arising from past abuses.

More than 62,000 incidents, including torture and rape, have been filed to the commission since 2013.

Tunisia became a democracy after President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in 2011.

The commission is investigating reports of police torture, corruption and murder over a 50-year-period since independence.

Alleged abusers include Tunisia's previous state authorities and top security bosses.

A quarter of alleged victims are women who have complained about sexual violence, formerly a taboo in Tunisia.

The mother of a protester shot by security forces in 2011, Ourida Kadoussi, began the televised testimonies.

"They killed our children. We have not been given our rights," she said asking for freedom and dignity.

The president of the Truth and Dignity Commission, Sihem Ben Sedrine, opened the forum saying: "Tunisia will not accept human rights abuses after today. This is the message from Tunisia."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The head of the commission said the aim of the hearing was to demand accountability

London-based human rights charity Amnesty International has welcomed the hearings, saying victims "may finally have a chance to have their right to truth fulfilled".

But the charity also said it is uncertain whether justice will be done.

"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."

Tunisians seek justice for past wrongs

The BBC's Rana Jawad in Tunis says victims of abuse have each been given up to one hour to tell their stories to a panel of commissioners, and an audience including representatives of civic groups and international observers.

The commission hopes that victims will forgive their alleged abusers. But many victims who have spoken to the BBC have demanded financial compensation and say the accused should be held accountable in court.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Relatives of the victims want justice

The Truth and Dignity Commission says alleged abusers might also have a chance to give public testimonies in the near future. Two additional TV hearings are scheduled in December and January.

Tunisia's uprising was the first of the 2011 Arab Spring, and often hailed as the most successful with the country now functioning as a parliamentary democracy. But across the country many struggle to find work amid a high unemployment rate.

According to Reuters, the commission has said the hearings could boost economic investment "because foreign investors will know that Tunisia is dismantling its authoritarian and corrupt system".

The country is due to host an investment conference at the end of November.

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