Morocco confronts past rights abuses

Morocco is confronting the stains of past human rights abuses with public testimony about tortures and disappearances in the kingdom.

    Human rights bodies have condemned the late king Hasan

    The hearings to be broadcast live on national radio and

    television were organised by a state body

    empowered to look into widespread abuses committed over a period

    of 43 years, from independence from France in 1956 to 1999.

    The Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER) was tasked

    with investigating and documenting "grave" human rights abuses,

    notably during the 1960s and 1970s, a period under the rule of

    the late King Hasan II known in Morocco as "the years of lead".

    However, to avoid reviving old tensions, there will be no

    naming of names as participants are not allowed to identify

    individuals responsible for the violations.

    Some of the torturers are believed to still hold high

    positions in the state apparatus, particularly the military.

    The IER says it has received 22,000 files. About 200 people -

    victims, relatives and witnesses - were given an opportunity

    for 20 minutes each to present testimony and tell their tales of

    arbitrary detentions, disappearances or torture at the hands of

    security agents.

    Torture

    The hearings, to start on Tuesday evening in the capital

    Rabat, are scheduled to take place in 10 different cities across

    the kingdom over a period of 10 weeks.

    "It's almost unheard of in this part of the world for

    victims to be given an official platform to relate their

    experiences of abuse"

    Hanni Megally, International Centre for Transitional Justice

    "The impact of these hearings ... will be enormous, not only

    in the country but throughout the region," said Hanni Megally,

    director for the Middle East and North Africa at the US-based

    International Centre for Transitional Justice.

    "It's almost unheard of in this part of the world for

    victims to be given an official platform to relate their

    experiences of abuse," he said.

    The IER, led by respected former political prisoner Driss

    Benzekri, is expected to present a final report in April that

    will set out the reasons and institutional responsibilities for

    grave violations up to 1999.

    Most victims have asked for reparations, mainly in the form of

    financial compensation.

    But the commission's statute was a disappointment for many human

    rights activists in Morocco who had lobbied for punishment of

    those responsible for torturing or killing political dissidents.

    Security apparatus

    "This is a good initiative but conditions of transparency

    must be met at these hearings," said Abd Allah bin Abd al-Salam, a

    member of Morocco's main independent human rights group AMDH.

    King Muhammad VI is more
    reform-minded than his father

    "Witnesses ... must be allowed to give names of people

    responsible for past human rights violations. One can't talk

    about truth if these torturers still occupy cushy jobs in the

    state and in its institutions," he said.

    Long considered the

    most Western-oriented country in the Arab world, Morocco was

    ruled for 38 years until his death in 1999 by a monarch who

    relied on a ruthless security apparatus.

    King Hasan, human rights groups and historians say,

    imprisoned thousands of perceived opponents, leftists, Islamists

    as well as real and imagined coup plotters.

    Soon after ascending the throne, his son, now

    41, created a board that financially compensated 4000 victims

    of past abuses.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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