Post Uprising Justice – Lawyers & Tunisia (Marny Requa)

Lawyers, “Revolution,” and
Transitional Justice: the Case
of Tunisia
Marny Requa, Queen’s University Belfast
11 October 2014
Cornell Law School Post-Uprising Justice
Administration conference
• Project background and methodology
• Tunisia: recent history
• Lawyers and legal culture in Tunisia
Cause lawyering and the Ben Ali regime
Lawyers and social movements
Tunisian legal culture and international law
Transitional justice in Tunisia
• Observations
Lawyers, conflict & transition:
Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Ulster TJI
• Project funded by the UK Economic & Social Research
• Aim to explore the role of lawyers – within and outside
the courtroom – in societies undergoing or transitioning
from violence or authoritarianism
• Case studies: Cambodia, Chile, Israel, Palestine, South
Africa, Tunisia, building on research in Northern Ireland
• Research questions include:
o How do lawyers respond to extreme state repression?
o What is the role of lawyers in social movements?
o How do lawyers contribute to understandings of the “rule of
law” in conflict and transition?
o How significant is the issue of gender in determining the role of
o Do local lawyers engage with international law and legal
actors? To what end?
o How do lawyers contribute to efforts to “deal with the past”?
Theoretical literature review
Local researcher report and data
Research instrument
21 interviews (24 individuals) in Tunisia, June 2014
Activist and “cause” lawyers
Governmental lawyers; new institutions
Academics and judges
Local and international NGOs
Legal collective reps (Bar Association; Young Lawyers’
• Data analysis across all jurisdictions (ongoing)
Tunisian recent history
1881: French colonization
1956: Independence
1987: Ben Ali presidency
2005: 18 October Coalition
for Rights & Freedoms
2008: Gafsa
Mining Basin
Photo: AI/
2010-11: Pressure builds to
Fleeing of Ben Ali (Jan 2011);
Constitutional Democracy
Rally dissolved; elections (Oct)
Political assassinations;
Ennahda hands power to
caretaker gov
2014: New constitution
(Jan); Truth & Dignity
Commission (June)
Elections (Oct/Nov)
Photo: AP 2011
Photo: Morocco World News 2013
Lawyers and legal culture in
30 December 2010, Tunis City (photo: ahramonline)
Cause lawyering and the
Ben Ali regime
Cause lawyering:
• Moral activism … an abandonment of the traditional
disavowal that law is political … the professional is
• An “activity that uses law-related means … to achieve
greater social justice” (Menkel-Meadow 1998)
• A profession “whose function is more than the
deployment of technical skills but rather a vehicle
through which to build a better society” (McEvoy &
Rebouche 2007: 305)
“In any conflict situation it is very difficult for a lawyer to be
strictly a lawyer”
- Priscilla Jana
• In Tunisia, what ‘causes’?
o Representation of political prisoners, Islamists, Salafists, activists
o Protecting basic rights of individuals against state or the powerful;
challenging corruption
• Sexual harassment may be “feminist on the surface but with
political waves underneath … the judiciary is implicated …
the economic influence of the prosecuted” determines
• Activities
o Judicial and political strategies, boycotts, client welfare
o “The Bar as a profession was the only opposition party in Tunisia”
• Consequences
o Pressure, physical assaults, occasional imprisonment; intimidation
of clients, Ls’ offices raided and files confiscated, phones cut,
cars stolen
• The legal community: lawyers’ commitment to the
profession often transcended political boundaries
o “Even the people who belonged to Ben Ali’s ruling party did not
want lawyers to be mistreated”
o “They elected me as a member of the Bar Association as a form
of protection … they helped me by giving me money”
Lawyers and social movements
Elitist? Suspicious? Necessary?
• Activists first
o Keepers of the flame of change (Shdaimah 2006)
o Comparative advantage – legal knowledge (Tushnet 1987)
o Law is a tactic and a target (Cummings 2013)
• Or ‘legal cooptation’ (Lobel 2007)?
o Impose own (elite, resourced) agendas (Levitsky 2006)
o Legitimate larger structures of domination (Kostiner 2003);
support the illusion of functioning rule of law (Sfard 2009)
o De-radicalization of movements; support status quo (Albiston
o Litigation should be one element in wider mobilization (Tomik
2005) given limitations of juridical law (Rosenberg 1991) and
risks of even successful outcomes (Schoenfeld 2010, Vanhala
• Why activism?: “The core of the lawyers in Tunisia is
highly politicized”; lawyers had “some kind of
immunity” and solidarity
• Position within movements: Looked to as leaders;
linked to politics – involvement assumed, but to an
extent disconnected from youth, grassroots
• Effect: Encouraged wide support, law brought
imprimatur of justice/morality, but changes not
radical – structures remain
• Post-14 January 2011 focus on building a “rule of
law state”, as understood by legal activists
o Enact progressive laws and draft new constitution
o Negotiate “appropriate” TJ mechanisms, challenge impunity
o Lawyers working within the state on reform projects
• Political crises
• Currently a holding pattern until Oct/Nov elections
• Interviewees’ views: lawyers are “Tunisia’s first
democrats” or lawyers are “greedy”?
o The larger group of lawyers active in the uprising/post-uprising
period has been reactive; now back to business, not radical
o Major role of lawyers in politics, and of politics in the Bar
o Lawyers within government: reformists but pragmatists
o Period of upheaval had contained divisions amongst lawyers;
now apparent
o Thick or thin rule of law agenda?
Tunisian legal culture and
international law
• International law allows some to circumvent oppressive
legal system and for resistance within law (Jabareen
• In transition, melding of past, present and future legal
cultures (Krygier 2006)
• Post-colonial considerations:
o Rule of law as norm creation and culture  need significant
adaptation of foreign order to the local, and
accommodation of local legal heritage (Brooks 2003;
Berkowitz 2003)
o Cause lawyering can resist colonialism rather than support it
• Human rights institutions: where cause lawyers’ concerns
can be heard and operationalized, if accompanied by
enforcement powers (Hajjar 1997: 475)
• International law used politically during dictatorship
o Trials were “a battle, for us to show that the regime was dictatorial
... It was an opportunity for us to show to the rest of the world …
that these were not court hearings just legal theatre. When we
plead we would hurt them, and when we would walk out of the
courtroom we would hurt them even more”
o “Ben Ali ratified international conventions just for the image …
judges were furious” when treaties such as the Torture Convention
were invoked in court. “It is proof that the regime is not
democratic and does not respect its commitments”
o International pressure had a “major impact,” and lawyers
appealed to foreign media, even to facilitate access to clients
• Politicized use of international law continues
o Debates over meaning of laws and rights
• International law and connections generally valued
o Symbols of justice in society
• Some resistance to foreign role and role
o Viewed as imposing norms, agenda
o Sustained engagement with international law and institutions
lacking (for better or for worse?)
“What is our vision of human rights? The ministry still doesn’t
have a clear vision”
Transitional justice in Tunisia
• Social transition brings ‘paradigm shifts in the
conception of justice’ (Krygier 2006; see Teitel 2006)
• Has TJ discourse negotiated ‘a cosmopolitan
conception’ of justice rather than simply introduced
a toolkit? (Bell 2009: 23-27)
o Risks: inflexibility, foreign interest, technical approach,
disregard of local; law can dominate, overshadow goals
o Hopes: challenge impunity and denial, draw on legal
tradition, elicit participation, inspire local demand, cross
disciplines and demographics
• Mediating function of law (Dezalay & Garth 2011);
activists as translators (Merry 2008)
• But some TJ processes can be a means of
absorbing and regulating challenges (Moon 2012)
• A model of transitional justice?
o Ministry of TJ; national dialogue; “exceptional
measures” required “new structures”
o “Based on the past, it relies on the present to build the
• Questions raised about enforcement, scope
o “The committee itself has been the result of political
wheeling and dealing … I’m not sure these people
will act with full impartiality and transparency and
o “Few people understand what transitional justice is”
o Contradictory measures; open to challenges?
• TJ versus broader reforms and human rights agenda
• “We are still suffering from the same practices that
prevailed before [regarding] the security apparatus
and the judiciary”
• “It is important to … undertake major economic and
social reforms to ensure progress because people
who cannot find bread will not enjoy freedom”
Observations / questions
• Appetite for change highest after a critical juncture
• Politician lawyers as a different breed of cause lawyer:
Do they stimulate or undermine projects of reform?
• Post-uprising cause lawyering still vital to “thicken” rule of
law, and to expand space for non-legal,
intergenerational activism and participation
o “The only thing that has really changed is that we can express
ourselves freely … there are more than 150 political parties now... If
we don’t defend our rights we might lose them.”
• TJ “mainstreamed” in Tunisia; local interviewees raise
questions on implementation. How can the international
community exercise power and resources responsibly?
More on the project:

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