Tunisia: The Colonial Legacy and Transitional Justice

Following the 2011 Revolution ending over five decades of dictatorship, Tunisia embarked on
a comprehensive transitional justice process to investigate a broad range of state violations
against its citizens, including false imprisonment, torture, assassination as well as social
marginalisation and economic exclusion. Significantly, although Tunisia gained independence
from France on 20 March 1956, the transitional justice process will cover crimes from 1955 to
2011. For many Tunisians, linking the transitional justice process to 1955 is symbolic. This study analyses the key details and developments of the political struggle between the national independence movement’s (Neo-Destour party) founding leaders, Habib Bourguiba and Salah Ben Youssef, which culminated in the triumph of the “Bourguibist” over “Youssefist” model of state-building,
upon which the foundations of the post-colonial Tunisian state hinged, from independence in
1956, to the 2011 Revolution. The paper begins with a discussion of how colonial rule politically, economically, and socially transformed the country in ways that would shape the nature of the Tunisian nationalist, anticolonial movement. This section places special emphasis on the years immediately preceding independence, during which the ideological tensions within the nationalist movement erupted into intra-party violence, which impacted post-colonial institutions. Supported by colonial institutions – the foundations of the post-colonial Tunisian state – Habib Bourguiba ejected opponents to his modernisation strategy from party and state. Section two focuses on the debates surrounding the period of time covered by post-dictatorship transitional justice. Section three places those debates on to a larger platform, highlighting how transitional justice discussions serve to remind
observers of the long-term processes behind dictatorship and reconciliation.