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Redress and Reconciliation

In 1990 it was unthinkable that hundreds of ‘‘disappeared’’ dissidents, their stories cloaked in secrecy for decades, would ever reappear. It was likewise unthinkable that the Moroccan government, in a newfound commitment to ‘‘turn the page on past abuses’’ whose very existence it had coolly denied only a few years earlier, would initiate a massive indemnity program to offer financial compensation to some four thousand victims and their families.8 But the unthinkable did come to pass. In 1998 the issue of past injustice was forced to a head. In that year the high drama of the Pinochet case was playing out before courts in Spain and Great Britain, and Moroccans had no trouble drawing parallels between the Latin American ‘‘dirty wars’’ and their own dark ‘‘years of lead,’’ les annees de plomb. Human rights groups campaigned vigorously for a process to bring justice for those who had suffered abuse. Eventually they succeeded in their efforts to secure the monarch’s commitment to address, and redress, the human rights crimes committed over the

previous thirty years. Six months after Youssoufi was named prime minis-

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ter, Hassan II ordered the resolution of all human rights cases. That official decree paved the way for a remarkable communique from the government’s human rights advisory body that was no doubt intended to close the door on further discussions. Instead, it opened the door further. In that groundbreaking statement in April 1998, the CCDH acknowledged that 112 people had been forcibly disappeared while in government custody. While that official toll represented only one-fifth of the victims listed by human rights groups and failed to mention any of the Saharan disappeared at all, it acknowledged government responsibility for the first time.

Beyond this acknowledgment, the matter received little official attention through the final months of Hassan Il’s reign. For human rights groups, however, justice remained a pressing issue. As the sole human rights group participating as a member of the government’s advisory council, the OMDH engaged the question of redress directly and issued two separate statements on the principles that should be followed.9 Human rights advocates across the country campaigned for justice that included truth-telling as well as compensation.10 Their frustration and outrage was fueled by the impunity enjoyed by former officials known to have collaborated in grave abuses. They carefully followed news accounts of court proceedings against the Moroccan newspaper El Bay- ane for fingering a former police commissioner, and current Member of Parliament, as a widely recognized torturer. When the court fined El Bay- ane instead of condemning the torturer, they vented with cynicism.11

After his father’s death, Mohammed VI responded with a new overture. Shortly after taking the throne, he announced that victims of past human rights abuses would be compensated, and he created an independent arbitration commission to oversee the process. The CCDH, as a royal advisory council, was instructed to develop internal procedures for the new commission, which was to begin processing complaints without delay. For human rights advocates the victory was real but incomplete. While the commitment to acknowledge wrongs of the past was a substantial political innovation for Morocco and for the region as a whole, the mechanism developed by the CCDH fell far short of their hopes and expectations.12 To begin with, the nine-member commission included a representative from the despised Ministry of Interior. Although the commission declared itself ready to receive any legitimate complaints,13 human rights groups immediately noted that the documents of reference failed to mention some of the most notorious cases. Moreover, the commission’s statute completely overlooked the issue of ‘‘truth.’’ Effectively, it offered amnesty to those who had perpetrated the abuses.

The arbitration commission set to work immediately but was quickly

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overwhelmed. Advocates for the victims and their families developed a standard form to facilitate the process of submitting a complaint,14 and by the cutoff date of December 31, 1999, more than 5,000 complaints had been filed.15 Human rights activists lost no time organizing themselves to monitor the commission’s work and press for a more far-reaching process. A coordinating committee with representatives from six Moroccan organizations convened a planning meeting in October and organized a two-day conference in Casablanca in late November. That meeting gave birth to the Forum for Truth and Justice, with leaders drawn from a wide array of former political prisoners and their families.16 A former political prisoner was elected the group’s president.

Over the next several months, the forum amplified the call for public investigation of past abuses and public rehabilitation of the victims of abuse. Together with the leading national human rights groups, it insisted on a more extensive national process, one that resembled truth and reconciliation processes elsewhere. The forum and its partners sponsored several commemorative days, including a national Day of the Disappeared and a demonstration in front of Parliament. In March 2000 they organized a sit-in at Derb Moulay Cherif, a facility in Casablanca where many political prisoners had been tortured. That political event included an exhibit of commemorative photographs and posters, and more than 1,000 people participated in a human chain intended to convey collective pain and collective memory.17

The arbitration commission, meanwhile, moved forward with its work. ByJune 2001, some 600 separate human rights cases had been settled, more than half of them involving indemnity payments.18 In this way, abuses suffered by a wide range of detainees held in prisons across the country were formally acknowledged. Contrary to initial expectations, cases as geographically and politically diverse—and as politically evocative—as Tazmamert, Kelaat M’gouna, Laayoune, and Agdez were reviewed by the commission.19 Yet no accountability was established among those responsible for the misdeeds that were being compensated. Some of the abusive acts were deemed unproven. In other cases, the abuser was excused on the grounds that he was following orders, the statute of limitation had passed, or the governing international instruments were not in force at the time of abuse.20 As a result of the decision not to press charges against those responsible, Youssef Kaddour— identified as the chief torturer at Derb Moulay Cherif—was permitted to remain a high-level civil servant, and Mahmoud Archane continued to serve in Parliament.21 In November 1999, Mohammed VI replaced the formidable Driss Basri as minister of interior but allowed him to reclaim his post on the University of Rabat’s law faculty rather than banish him in ignominy.

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Human rights groups found it difficult to accept such outcomes. They continued to levy both moral and legal criticism and took their arguments to the public. In 2002 a highly visible ‘‘Caravan of Truth’’ to the prison at Kelaat M’gouna, where hundreds of Saharans had been surreptitiously incarcerated for more than a decade, attracted public attention to the event. Through seminars, rallies, and sit-ins—some of them resulting in beatings and arrests22—human rights advocates pressed their case for the creation of an independent national commission to ‘‘let the truth come forth.’’23 Somewhat less openly, they also began to call for prosecution of the perpetrators and an end to the impunity they enjoyed. The AMDH was most outspoken in this regard and went so far as to compile and publicize a list of some forty-five individuals it presumed were implicated in grave human rights violations, five of whom were deceased.24 The OMDH worked with its international partner, the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), to prepare a report for submission to the UN International Committee on Torture and in it reiterated the shared demands for an independent commission to establish the truth on disappearances and human rights abuses.25

As the call for truth and accountability grew louder, Mohammed VI issued a new decree ordering a reorganization of the national human rights advisory council. He expanded its powers, authorizing it to initiate investigations on its own. Its composition was also reformed to include a majority of representatives proposed by civil society organizations, with more than one-third of the members to be named by human rights groups.26 Following the structural reorganization, in December 2002 the king named Omar Azziman as president of the council and Driss Benze- kri as secretary-general. Azziman was a law professor who had been a founding member and an early leader of the OMDH. Later he was appointed minister of justice. Benzekri had spent seventeen years in prison for his membership in an outlawed Marxist-Leninist group, and had been named the first president of the Forum for Truth and Justice.

The CCDH’s new leaders soon opened discussions on the possibility of expanding the process to settle outstanding issues related to grave human rights abuses of the past. Exercising its new power to make recommendations to the government, in November 2003 the CCDH advised the creation of a ‘‘justice and reconciliation body.’’ Shortly thereafter Mohammed VI formally accepted the council’s recommendation and confirmed the creation of a new body that would ‘‘extend the scope of indemnities offered to victims and their families, try to locate the remains of those who died in detention, and produce a report summarizing the finding of up to a year’s research into ‘disappearances’ and arbitrary detentions.’’27 The Justice and Reconciliation Committee was

installed in January 2004 and charged with concluding ‘‘the process of

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shelving a thorny issue once and for all.’’28 No provisions were included for prosecuting wrongdoers, and both international and domestic critics pointed out the obvious shortcoming.29 Nevertheless, in what the king called a ‘‘bold, comprehensive approach,’’ moral as well as material damages would for the first time be addressed. To lend substance to that rhetoric, in December 2004 the Justice and Reconciliation Committee took the unprecedented step of holding televised hearings in which torture victims were invited to give oral testimony—under condition that the names of perpetrators go unmentioned. The AMDH parried in February with its own open air meetings in Rabat, wherein victims of torture challenged the Justice and Reconciliation Committee’s rule of silence about perpetrators and identified those who had abused them in the name of the state.

These recent developments are part of a continuing social and political dialogue, whose conclusion at this point remains unpredictable. Yet the fact that there is any conversation at all is a tribute to human rights groups, who over the previous decade had campaigned vigorously for a process to bring justice to those who suffered abuse. As we have argued, it is difficult to imagine even a limited process of redress and reconciliation without their presence and pressure. They continue to promote public discussion of the need to establish and preserve ‘‘the truth’’ and to bring the perpetrators of abuse to justice. It remains to be seen whether their continued efforts and influence will eventually lead to a full truth and reconciliation process and whether those accused of torture and other crimes will ever meet their accusers in court. Both issues present a political challenge to the royal court, if not the state.

 
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