Tunisia Rights Group Takes Israel to Court for War Crimes

Demonstrators in downtown Tunis on November 11 hold up props resembling the bloody shrouds of Palestinian babies killed during Israel's latest genocidal campaign in Gaza. Photo by Chahd Lina Belhadj.

One of Tunisia’s oldest human rights organizations has filed a criminal complaint to state prosecutors, calling on them to investigate Israeli officials for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

“What is happening in Gaza is a humanitarian, supranational, and cross-border crime whose psychological effects affect all of humanity, and therefore it is a global crime,” Bassem El Trifi, president of the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) said in a January 11 press conference announcing the complaint that they had filed. They held the press conference at the headquarters of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) in downtown Tunis.

The LTDH filed the complaint through lawyer Imed Ben Cheikh Larbi on December 27, 2023. Larbi then announced in a Facebook post that he had done so citing the principle of universal jurisdiction, the notion that national courts can bring to justice individuals from other States in cases of serious breaches of international law.

“If there is to be a new, humane, world order, then we must contribute to writing it,” Larbi added in his post.

The complaint focuses only on three days of attacks by Israeli forces in Gaza, specifically November 15, 16, and 17. On those days, Israeli armed forces entered Al Shifa hospital. According to Trifi, the LTDH focused on the assault of the hospital because there is so much public evidence available pointing to international crimes–including by independent international organizations–that they believe Tunisian state prosecutors will have enough evidence to move forward without needing to gather more via on-the-ground investigations. They also chose those days because they believe the facts clearly nullify any potential defense arguments about Israel’s right to self-defense.

“The selection of these three days is supported by documentation in international reports issued by both the United Nations and the World Health Organization. Accordingly, we and the public prosecution, to whom we submitted the complaint, are exempt from [providing] any [additional] evidence,” Trifi said in the press conference.

As for which specific Israeli officials should face prosecution, LTDH has said that it will be up to state prosecutors to determine that during the course of an investigation.


Whether the case will be taken up at all is now in the hands of Tunisian authorities, and the LTDH, in its press conference, called on the judiciary, public prosecutors, and the political authority to act on their complaint. Trifi was asked during a subsequent interview with radio IFM whether Tunisia’s lack of diplomatic recognition of Israel could prevent the state from taking up the case. Trifi responded that he considers Tunisia’s official position of refusing to support international condemnations of Israel citing that fact that it does not recognize Israel as a “shame”, noting that even Hamas and the Palestinian resistance are engaging in negotiations with Zionists.

“We do not recognize the state of Israel, but these are legal methods for prosecuting war criminals. We believe that Tunisia could and should have participated in the call and sent its lawyer to plead and condemn the Zionist entity,” Trifi told IFM, referring to South Africa’s case against Israel for genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Meanwhile there are reports that Tunisian authorities prevented lawyer and former head of the Anti-Corruption Authority (INLUCC) Chawki Tabib from leaving Tunisia as he was on his way to the Hague to represent Palestine at South Africa’s case at the ICJ.

Tunisian authorities recently appeared to halt efforts to pass a law criminalizing relations, or normalizing, with Israel, despite efforts by activists in October and November to get it passed.

“Since we don’t have a law that criminalizes normalization with the Zionist entity, it is important to criminalize the Zionist entity’s acts in Palestine and violations of human rights and to consider those responsible, through this complaint, as war criminals in Tunisia at least,” Najem Ben Youssef, vice president and representative of LTDH in the Kelibia-Korba region of Tunisia told Meshkal.

As for why Tunisia should have jurisdiction to prosecute Israeli officials in Tunisia’s national court system, the LTDH argued that Tunisia’s ratification in 2011 of the Rome Statute allows Tunisia to claim universal jurisdiction in this case, though they also said they hoped bringing the case would set a precedent.

The Rome statute set up the International Criminal Court (ICC) and delineated international crimes relating to genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression with respect to individual perpetrators. On January 18, Mexico and Chile made a request to the ICC that it investigate Israeli officials for crimes committed during its continuing assault on Gaza. In contrast, the ICJ, where South Africa brought a case against Israel for genocide, is designed to arbitrate between states and does not target individuals.

“What truly matters is ensuring that they face accountability for their crimes,” Ben Youssef of LTDH added.


At the press conference announcing their criminal complaint against Israel, LTDH representatives were joined by Palestine’s ambassador to Tunisia, Hael Al Fahoum.

“The current events unfolding in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem have brought to light a multitude of truths and exposed long standing falsehoods. It is crucial to substantiate these revelations within a legal framework, unveiling not only the lies imposed on us but also those propagated within their own societies,” Al Fahoum stated in the press conference.

Trifi of LTDH added that their complaint comes as part of a broader spectrum of popular, national, and international initiatives aimed at upholding human rights and Palestinian rights.

“All means of resistance, including litigation, whether international or national, must be enacted within the framework of supporting the Palestinian cause and supporting the resistance by all means,” he said. “In Tunisia we were raised to advocate for the Palestinian cause and support all kinds of resistance within and outside the Palestinian borders.”

Trifi added that LTDH and other Tunisians standing in solidarity with Palestinians “will not tire” and will continue to take to the street and support the resistance.


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