Tunisia’s Truth Commission vs France, the IMF and World Bank

8 September 2019 by Olfa Belhassine

Demonstration against the violence of the French state, in Tunis in 1957, a year after the declaration of independence.

On July 16, Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD) sent two memorandums calling first on France and then on the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to apologize and pay reparations to Tunisian victims. It says they all have a “share of responsibility” in colonial violence and social violence linked to structural adjustment policies.

“Massive violations of human rights were committed by the French army in the period from March 1956 to July 1961, leaving more than 7,000 Tunisian victims,” says the Commission in a memorandum addressed to the French president on July 16. This estimate is based on investigations, testimonies of survivors of the liberation war and archive documents. The Truth Commission has received 5,052 complaints, three of which are collective. 650 are linked to the Bizerte battle in 1961, while others concern Sakiet Sidi Youssef, Gafsa, Tataouine, the mountains of the southeast and southwest, and other sites where battles took place between rebels allied to Ben Youssef, opponent of Bourguiba, and the French army after independence.

The president of the Commission had already announced in a Justiceinfo.net interview last April that she planned to ask for more money for the Dignity Fund, a fund dedicated to reparations for victims of the dictatorship in Tunisia, notably from France.

And so on July 16, the Commission sent two memorandums via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one addressed to the French President and the other to the heads of the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

and International Monetary Fund IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.

(IMF). The Commission is seeking reparations for Tunisian victims of human rights, economic and social rights violations, for which it says the French State, the IMF and the World Bank bear “a share Share A unit of ownership interest in a corporation or financial asset, representing one part of the total capital stock. Its owner (a shareholder) is entitled to receive an equal distribution of any profits distributed (a dividend) and to attend shareholder meetings. of responsibility”.

Colonization and terror

The Commission memorandum says that France employed “a strategy of impoverishment of the peasantry and extreme taxation of the population” and “economic exploitation of the country’s mineral and agricultural wealth” which was devastating for Tunisians. The 1952-1954 policy of terror, at a time when the national movement was pushing for Tunisia’s independence, led to mass arrests, torture and collective reprisals where looting and rape of women were common. After independence in March 1956, Tunisia still continued to suffer from French domination over its economy, according to the Commission, with the former colonial power seeking to “perpetuate the advantages of certain French companies”.

The tragic policies of financial institutions

For all these abuses, the Truth Commission demands that France acknowledge the facts, apologize officially, pay compensation to individual victims, to victim regions and the Tunisian State, return the Tunisian archives from 1881 to 1963 and cancel Tunisia’s bilateral debt, “given that it is an illegitimate debt”. The memorandum adds that “the estimate of damages should be assessed within the framework of a commission to be set up for this purpose”. In her interview with Justiceinfo.net, Commission president Sihem Bensedrine suggested a sum of “200,000 dinars [63,600 euros] per person killed”.

The memorandum to the IMF and World Bank refers to another historical period, running from the 1970s to the Revolution of January 2011. The two financial institutions are accused of having pushed the Tunisian government to freeze wages, reduce subsidies on basic consumer goods and freeze recruitment in the civil service. These policies led to several social crises, including conflicts with the trade union movement in 1978, the bread revolt in December 1983-January 1984, the mining region uprising in 2008 and the 2011 Revolution. These bloody events resulted in serious human rights violations: death, injury, torture, rape and imprisonment following unfair trials.

The Commission has received a collective complaint by the Tunisian Trade Union Federation on behalf of trade union victims, and 909 individual complaints relating to these events. With regard to the bread riots, the Commission has received 1,230 individual complaints, relating to cases in 19 governorates with 85 murders, 213 gunshot wounds, 932 arrests and imprisonments with systematic use of torture, as well as several rapes of minors, including in prison.

“Regarding the impact of World Bank and IMF intervention on the human, economic and social rights of Tunisian citizens, the Commission concluded that not only the Tunisian State was responsible for these serious violations but also the World Bank and IMF, which through loan conditions and structural adjustment Structural Adjustment Economic policies imposed by the IMF in exchange of new loans or the rescheduling of old loans.

Structural Adjustments policies were enforced in the early 1980 to qualify countries for new loans or for debt rescheduling by the IMF and the World Bank. The requested kind of adjustment aims at ensuring that the country can again service its external debt. Structural adjustment usually combines the following elements : devaluation of the national currency (in order to bring down the prices of exported goods and attract strong currencies), rise in interest rates (in order to attract international capital), reduction of public expenditure (’streamlining’ of public services staff, reduction of budgets devoted to education and the health sector, etc.), massive privatisations, reduction of public subsidies to some companies or products, freezing of salaries (to avoid inflation as a consequence of deflation). These SAPs have not only substantially contributed to higher and higher levels of indebtedness in the affected countries ; they have simultaneously led to higher prices (because of a high VAT rate and of the free market prices) and to a dramatic fall in the income of local populations (as a consequence of rising unemployment and of the dismantling of public services, among other factors).

IMF : http://www.worldbank.org/
plans imposed inappropriate policies that were at the root of the serious violations that followed the popular uprisings,” the memorandum explains. And at the end of the document the Commission calls for three acts of reparation: apology; the payment of financial compensation to the victims and the State; and the cancellation of Tunisia’s multilateral debt.

Unprecedented request

There is no obligation on France, the IMF or the World Bank to compensate for damage done in the past. In its arguments, however, the Truth Commission refers to international conventions and pacts. In particular, it cites the “Basic principles and guidelines on the right to a remedy and reparation for victims of gross violations of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law”, a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 2005. It also refers to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the General Assembly on 16 December 1966, and the United Nations Resolution of 21 March 2016 on “the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights”.

There is no precedent in the world for such a procedure, hence the scepticism of its critics. On top of that is the incessant conflict between the Truth Commission and the Tunisian authorities. The current government, led by Youssef Chahed, still has not published the Commission’s final report in the Official Journal. It does not appear ready to support the two requests made by the Commission and signed by its president.

(The article was originally published on Justiceinfo.net)

Olfa Belhassine

Olfa Belhassine has been a correspondent in Tunisia for JusticeInfo.net since 2015. After the 2011 Revolution, she published articles about her experience as a journalist during and after the fall of President Ben Ali. Her reports appeared in French newspapers Libération, Le Monde and Courrier International. In 2016, she was the co-author with Hedia Baraket of an investigative book on the transition in Tunisia, "Ces nouveaux mots qui font la Tunisie » (The New Words that Make Tunisia).



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