Iraqi activists meet Tunisian counterparts to discuss lessons learnt on dealing with gender-based abuse and violence

Since 2003, Iraq has been struggling to find a way to deal with its repressive past and violent present. Impunity Watch together with Iraqi Association Al Amal and PAX launched in 2016 a programme on “Engendering the Transition to Peace and Security in Iraq” that aims to map sexual and gender-based violence in Iraq, expose its root causes and enhance local capacity to address it. As part of this programme, the three organisations organised an exchange trip to Tunisia for a group of Iraqi activists and officials to meet with their counterparts and learn how Tunisia’s transition has dealt with violence and abuses faced by women under the previous regime, and how official and unofficial truth-seeking efforts were used to address gender-based abuses.


The exchange trip took place from 20 to 24 November 2017. The group included activists from Al Amal and Al Firdaws associations in addition to the Director of Women Empowerment at the Iraqi Council of Ministers and a representative of the Ministry of Interior who is in charge of training and capacity building. Participants represented different governorates in Iraq: Baghdad, Al Basra, and Kirkuk. The trip was an opportunity to meet representatives of CSOs, victims’ groups and officials in the Tunisian government and state institutions.


A meeting took place with the High Committee of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.  Mr. Taoufik Bouderbala, head of this committee talked about the geneses of the institution during the dictatorship and its passive role before the revolution. He also shed light on the new role the committee is playing today including announced or unannounced visits to prisons to check detention conditions and recommendations they make to Parliament on specific legislation such as the recent law on violence against women.


The group also visited the Truth and Dignity Commission (TDC) and met its chairperson, Ms. Sihem Ben Sedrine and other commissioners. Ms. Oula Ben Nejma, President of the Investigation and Research Committee gave an extensive presentation on the transitional justice process in Tunisia, the role of the TDC and the processing of victims’ files.


Participants met also with the Head of Office of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), Ms. Salwa El Gantri who explained how the transitional justice process in Tunisia operates under a government that appears to be hostile to the process. Tunisian Victims’ groups also attended the meeting at ICTJ. Women victims who worked on establishing the network “Transitional Justice is also for Women” in Tunisia and those who participated in the recent creation of a national victims’ coalition gave their counterparts practical information and advice on the challenges to work and network and defend victims’ interests in the current climate in Tunisia.


The group met also with Aswat Nissa’, a feminist youth organisation focusing on women leadership in political parties, gender and security sector reform. The meeting allowed for an exchange on the experience of both countries in relation to UNSC Resolution 1325 and establishment of gender-sensitive codes of conducts to be used by security services. This meeting was a true mutual exchange of lessons learnt for both sides. The Aswat Nissa’ activists were impressed by the number of women enrolled in Iraqi police and the gender-based approach adopted within this institution.


In their meetings with UN Women and the Ministry of Women Affairs Representative, Iraqi participants expressed their admiration for the Tunisian law on violence against women. The Iraqi delegation served also as a source of information for their Tunisian counterparts regarding the creation of a 1325 National Plan of Action (NAP), especially that Iraq is working on its second NAP now while Tunisia will make public its first plan in 2018.


In a meeting with Mr. Samir Dilou, former Minister of Human Rights and Transitional Justice and current head of the Women Committee in the Tunisian Parliament and Mr. Mohsen Sahbani, Former chair of the Technical Committee that drafted the transitional justice law in Tunisia, attention was paid on the importance of inclusive processes and innovative thinking when it comes to designing transitional justice policies and national strategies.


Finally, the group had the unique experience of attending a public hearing organised by the Truth and Dignity Commission on the use of buckshot shooting to suppress peaceful protests in Siliana in 2012.