ILAC was invited to Tunisia only weeks after president Ben Ali was forced into exile in January 2011. The invitation was a result of the long-standing relations between the Tunisian Bar and the Union Internationale des Avocats, one of the founding members of ILAC. The Tunisian Bar had played a prominent role both in the opposition to and the overthrow of president Ben Ali, and as a result both the President and the Prime Minister of the interim government were former bar presidents.
Consequently, during ILAC´s first visit to Tunisia in early March 2011, which was carried out jointly with the UIA and the American Bar Association, we were received at the highest levels of government. In addition, the delegation had productive discussions with the Ministry of Justice, the judges organisations and the Bar.
One issue, which came up in all of our discussions was a consensus that the judiciary was poorly prepared for the transition from a totalitarian system to democracy, which is now under way in Tunisia. Interestingly, this is a problem which ILAC and several of its member organisations have dealt with in other countries in similar transition situations.
So, after this first visit, ILAC contacted the International Bar Association (IBA) and the CEELI Institute in Prague,, which has ties to the American Bar Association. In a two-fold training program, which was initiated and coordinated by ILAC, these organisations implemented during 2004-2007 the training of almost one thousand Iraqi judges and prosecutors in, on the one hand, international human rights law with an emphasis on fair trial and due process (IBA), and, on the other , the role of a judge in a democratic society (CEELI). For reasons of security, the training sessions were held in Dubai and Prague, and the judges were flown out of Baghdad on chartered flights. The curriculum in international human rights law was developed by IBA in cooperation with the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and translated into Arabic. The training by CEELI was an adaption of a program that had been created in the early ´90s for judges from the former Soviet Union and socialist Eastern Europe, in order to prepare them for the fundamental change in the role of a judge – in relation to the executive power, the mass media and the general public – that followed from a transition from a totalitarian system to democracy.
A second visit to Tunisia was carried out 16 – 19 May together with experts from IBA and CEELI. The purpose of this visit was to bring together IBA and CEELI with our Tunisian counterparts, in order for all parties to be able to discuss the structure and the curricula of the planned training. Consequently, we once again met with representatives from the Ministry and the judges associations. We also visited the Tunisian Judges Institute to discuss possible cooperation. Again, all our interlocutors demonstrated a keen interest and it was agreed that ILAC and its member organisations were to put together a training program for Tunisian judges, based on the experiences and the curricula from Eastern Europe and Iraq.
The elections for a constitutional assembly, which were originally planned for 24 July were postponed to 24 October. During the summer and the fall, the Ministry was tied up with issues connected to the elections, and as a consequence, decision-making on many other issues, including the ILAC training program, were considerably delayed. However, in December, the Ministry contacted ILAC and reiterated its interest in the proposed training program. During discussions that followed between all partners to the project it was decided to try to aim for a launch of the training program in March of 2012.