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Moroccan Human Rights Groups as Agents for Norm Change

As many scholars have noted, it is difficult to gauge with confidence the role and impact of human rights groups on human rights practice around the world. In part, the problem is due to the ubiquitous difficulty in ‘‘real world’’ social science of controlling for confounding factors in order to concentrate only on the phenomenon under scrutiny—in this case, variations in strength, character, or activities of human rights groups. The challenge to comparative study is compounded by the fact that groups can reasonably be expected to develop different strategies according to their circumstances, and groups that seek to initiate a process of human rights change may face very different issues than a group seeking to expand a process already in process.71

A second aspect of the problem relates to the human rights practices and outcomes themselves—whether amnesties, court verdicts, and patterns of harassment, or norm-violating arrests, detentions, incidences of

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torture, and disappearances. While human rights groups hope for an immediate end to violations of human rights, in reality, change is rarely observable in the short term. Indeed, the trajectory of norm change is often long because it involves a cultural redirection at the level of public institutions and, in particular, security agencies and other institutions that bolster the state’s monopoly on force. If well enforced, legal reform and the imposition of sanctions can speed up a process of cultural change, but even in the best of circumstances lag time should be expected.

Efforts to assess social change and its contributing factors often rely on a counterfactual analysis that speculates about likely outcome in the absence of the phenomenon under study. In the case of Morocco, it would be difficult to imagine either the changes that have come about or the process of change itself absent an influential domestic constituency. For much of the 1990s the palace had little intrinsic interest in reform, and entrenched forces resisted it. In partnership with and alongside international human rights organizations, Morocco-based groups deployed strategies to initiate an observable process of norm change. They can claim considerable success, though in no case was their effort sufficient to bring about reform sui generis, and in some cases (notably women’s rights), little progress was made before Mohammed VI intervened directly. (And, one might add, both the efforts of these groups and their welfare as individuals might have been in jeopardy without the support of international partners.) Moroccan human rights groups nevertheless made a crucial contribution to reform. Without their sustained pressure and visible presence, international pressures would have been easier to dismiss and human rights might well have slipped from Morocco’s political agenda. Instead, when King Has- san’s death in 1999 brought change at the palace, domestic groups were in a position to take advantage of new opportunities.

Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink have developed a model of international norm change that provides heuristic assistance in understanding the process by which local human rights groups have affected change in Morocco. Finnemore and Sikkink’s model was designed for exclusive application at the international level, and we have added complexity to the model by appending parallel dynamics at the domestic level. The original model portrays the emergence and institutionalization of international norms and identifies three stages: a period when norms emerge (Norm Emergence), a period when they spread (Norm Cascade), and a period when they become politically invested or institutionalized (Internalization).72 Within the model, norm entrepreneurs— usually acting domestically in a small number of states—advocate new

standards of appropriate behavior in the Emergence stage. As states

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begin to accede to the standard, a tipping point is reached, and Norm Cascade begins. What transpires when a state accedes to new standards is largely dependent on local political context. For some states accession may require a significant reorientation of behavior. Where the behavioral norm is already established, states may participate in its reinforcement internationally with relatively little investment of time or political capital, for example, by ratifying a convention or agreeing to its reference in elaboration of other instruments. In a final stage, the norm acquires a general acceptance.

To this basic model of international dynamics we add a domestic dimension. Once international standards achieve stability, domestic ‘‘norm entrepreneurs’’ can refer to the international regime in their efforts to initiate or advance the process of norm change domestically. They can anticipate success in their efforts to the extent that the government of their state desires association with positive images attached to such norms (e.g., respect for rule of law). Indeed, as Andrew Morasvcik has shown, elites of newly democratized states may recognize that acceding to international instruments can help the new structures lock in the political values for which the ascendant elites have struggled.73 Far from considering ratification a matter of empty form or lip service to hegemonic powers, new elites may hope that attachment to international human rights standards will help transform their own culture and institutions.

Figure 11.1 represents our understanding of the linkage between processes that contribute to the construction of international norms and the internalization of standards domestically. The successful negotiation of a human rights instrument at the international level—Level I—does not guarantee domestic change for any of the states that participated in the negotiation, but it can be expected to increase the effectiveness of supporters (domestic norm entrepreneurs) in noncompliant states. Once a standard has been established internationally, by treaty, a parallel process must take place domestically (at Level II) if a tipping point is to be reached within the national culture and the norm is to spread throughout society.

Human rights groups in nations that have not accepted international standards of human rights or have not yet developed public cultures of respect for human rights may use international human rights norms achieved at Level I as a reference point and source of legitimacy for their efforts to initiate and advance the process of domestic norm change. The process of institutionalization is furthered when domestic norm entrepreneurs seek to achieve a domestic cascade effect parallel to the international dynamic, edging acceptance beyond the ‘‘tipping point.’’

Domestic human rights groups, operating at Level II, can play impor-

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Figure 11.1. Two-level model of norm change.

tant roles in two different phases of this process. First, they may be in a position to leverage the international norm and thereby help the norm emerge in an initial domestic phase. An existing international standard may provide a sort of hook or ratchet for local groups working to secure public commitment to new practices. Subsequently, human rights groups as domestic political actors may actively promote the norm at home, helping to reach a tipping point that will allow the norm to root and spread in the domestic context. Both phases are important, though more attention is typically paid to the first phase than the second one. Norms cannot spread and root before they emerge, yet as important as this initial phase is, it should not eclipse the importance of cascading change. Through the dynamic of cascading change, domestic norm entrepreneurs ensure that a culture of human rights takes root in all structures of their society.

Needless to say, such a process of norm internalization takes time. In the Moroccan case, it is not unusual that some problems with human rights practice persist and past abuses have not been fully redressed. That does not diminish the significant impact of local human rights

groups, who helped initiate and thereafter participated in a process of

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change that, following Finnemore and Sikkink, might be called “domestic norm cascade.’’ It is a testimony to the success of these groups that they are able to use strategies today that a decade ago would have put them at risk. In an August 2004 article titled ‘‘The Slow March to Reform,’’ the Economist reported a demonstration by human rights activists before the country’s Directorate for the Surveillance of the Territory (DST), the Moroccan secret service agency. Wielding ‘‘Torture-Free Zone’’ banners, protesters demanded parliamentary oversight of the DST in the wake of the Amnesty International report that documented recent incidents of torture. Fifteen years ago, as the article notes, these same ‘‘indefatigable’’ human rights advocates would likely have become the next to endure abuse similar to that which they had come to peacefully protest. On that day in 2004, however, plainclothes officers stood aside, recording only descriptions of individuals who approached the buildings too closely. No arrests were made.

Scenes like these, impossible a decade ago, should not be discounted or minimized in the assessment of Morocco’s current human rights situation. Morocco may not yet be able to claim a public culture of full respect for human rights, but neither do practices remain substantially unchanged from a decade ago. Progressive change is not guaranteed, but the government has demonstrated some responsiveness. There is reason to believe, or at least hope, that pressures from Moroccan human rights groups will result in a continued narrowing of the gap between rhetoric and a reality that engages policy reform, legal accountability, institutional transformation, and education.

There are few circumstances under which such political transformation would be easy. Mohammed VI has extended an impressive program of political reform, but these reforms have not been fully consolidated. As the recent legislative decisions regarding terrorism and emergency powers amply demonstrate, even reforms to which the palace is committed could be tested if the power of the monarchy or Morocco’s traditional bureaucratic elite (makhzen) is challenged or assaulted. Human rights groups have demonstrated that they can make an impact on domestic political processes under favorable circumstances. The greater test of their influence and their resolve may lie ahead as they continue to engage in the painstaking and possibly high-risk task of effectively creating a public culture of human rights.

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