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III. Introduction: Addressing Past Abuses

Morocco’s progress on human rights, which began under the late King Hassan II in the late 1980s and continued under his son and successor, Mohamed VI, can be measured in many fields.  Parliamentary elections, by all accounts, have become more transparent. Moroccans enjoy greater freedom to criticize public authorities, both in print and in public assemblies. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, King Hassan II freed most of the country’s political prisoners and emptied the notorious secret Tazmamart prison, where accused coup plotters had languished long after completing their prison terms.  The king also released hundreds of persons whom the police had forcibly “disappeared” years earlier. Many government critics and opposition politicians returned from long years of exile; one, Abderrahmane Youssoufi, was named prime minister by King Hassan II and served in that post from 1998 to 2002.  In 2000, King Mohamed VI freed Islamist leader Abdeslam Yassine from house arrest that had been imposed a decade earlier.

The government in 1993 ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention against Torture and other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, making Morocco a party to all the major international human rights treaties.  In May 2004, then-Minister of Human Rights Mohamed Aujjar announced before parliament that the government was preparing to withdraw its reservations to six of the treaties to which it was a party.1

Over the past decade, authorities have shown greater tolerance for the activities of local and international human rights organizations, and consulted with Moroccan organizations on how the state should address grave abuses committed in the past. Mohamed VI opened prisons to inspection by an independent monitoring organization, l’Observatoire Marocain des Prisons, which publishes its often-critical findings.2 Legal reforms shortened the length of garde à vue detention and enhanced human rights protections for defendants and specifically for minors in court.  In 2004, parliament adopted sweeping reforms of the family code, abolishing many of the provisions that denied women rights equal to those of men in matters of marriage, divorce, and custody of children.

The advances of the 1990s all came with qualifications of one sort or another.  For example, newspapers grew bolder in their criticism of government policies and human rights abuses, but Moroccan journalists still wound up in prison, and their magazines were banned, for showing the monarchy “disrespect.”  Sit-in protests became more commonplace – except when truncheon-wielding police were dispersing the protesters, who sometimes received prison terms for participating in “illegal” assemblies.

The progress, though uneven, was nonetheless genuine and gave Morocco the basis for claiming that, on civil and political rights, it had become one of the region’s most progressive countries.

The significance of the progress can be gauged only by taking stock of the severity of the repression that had preceded it. In fact, it was only during the 1990s that the details of the earlier repression became widely known.   In that decade’s freer atmosphere, Moroccans recounted, in a flurry of taboo-breaking books and articles, how the security services two and three decades earlier had crushed the palace’s real and suspected opponents.  The secret police abducted and “disappeared” hundreds of men and women, including exiled opposition leader Mehdi Ben Barka, kidnapped on a Paris street in 1965.  The luckier “disappeared” dissidents were eventually freed by the king after spending years in secret prisons like Tazmamart, Qalat Mgouna, and Agdez. The less fortunate remain missing to this day.  Thousands of other dissidents were arrested and tortured in illegal detention in police stations like Derb Moulay Cherif in Casablanca, before being convicted in unfair mass trials and handed long prison sentences. The victims of repression included leftists, Islamists, advocates of independence for the disputed Western Sahara, and servicemen rounded up in the aftermath of unsuccessful coup attempts.

For years, Moroccan officials, from the king on down, flatly denied any pattern of human rights abuses.  Hassan II said famously before an international television audience in 1989, “If one percent of the human rights violations suggested by Amnesty International were true, I wouldn’t get a wink of sleep.”3

But international and domestic pressure on human rights was building. Recognition of a public relations problem underlay the king’s creation, in 1990, of his Advisory Council for Human Rights, to which he assigned the task of “put[ting] an end to allegations . . . to close this dossier.”4

It was not until in October 1998 — thirty-seven years into the reign of King Hassan II and nine months before his death — that the palace issued its first, tentative acknowledgement of past violations.  The king’s Advisory Council for Human Rights stated that it had looked into 112 cases of “disappearances” and determined that fifty-six of the persons in question had died.  Morocco’s human rights minister, Mohamed Aujjar, declared, “Those who died will be declared dead. Death certificates and compensation will follow.”5

The king accepted the council’s findings and then ordered it to devise a plan to resolve outstanding human rights issues within six months.  “We wish – and are resolved – to definitively close the human rights file,” the king told parliament on October 9, 1998. “We have given our orders to set in motion the necessary procedures to finish with this subject, so that Morocco will no longer be burdened with a reputation that does not reflect its true face and corresponds neither with its past or present.”6

In April 1999, the Advisory Council for Human Rights published its final report on the 112 cases, proposing to the king a body to decide on paying financial compensation to some of the victims.  The Council also declared the file on “disappearances” to be closed forthwith.  This claim was quickly derided by human rights organizations and families of “disappeared” persons, both because the Council had failed to provide even the most rudimentary details of the 112 cases it mentioned — nothing on how or why these persons “disappeared” or who was responsible, or where they died or were buried — and because its list excluded hundreds of cases of “disappearances” that had been documented by nongovernmental organizations.  Human rights organizations estimated the number of unresolved “disappearance” cases to be at least 600.  Some of the estimates were far higher, with disputed cases from the Western Sahara accounting for most of the difference.

Far from being definitive, the Advisory Council’s 1999 report now appears, with five years’ hindsight, to have been the first small step in a still-evolving series of measures taken by authorities to address past abuses.  These steps have been shaped, on the one hand, by the desire of authorities to protect institutions and individuals complicit in these abuses and, on the other hand, by the rising expectations of many Moroccan citizens as to what constitutes a satisfactory treatment of the past.

In July 1999, King Hassan II died and was succeeded by his son, Mohamed VI.  In a speech delivered on August 20, 1999, the young monarch acknowledged state responsibility for “disappearances,” something his father had never done directly.  He also announced the creation of an “Independent Arbitration Panel,” within the Advisory Council for Human Rights, to determine the level of compensation the state should pay to victims (or to their survivors) of forced disappearances and arbitrary detention for the “moral and material harm” they suffered.7

The arbitration panel created by King Mohamed VI received over 5,000 applications for compensation.  Applicants had the right to submit any information and documents they deemed relevant to their claim.   By the time it ceased to function, in July 2003, the panel had paid out nearly 4,000 claims, according to figures provided by CCDH members.8  But it also was the target of criticism from the human rights community and of a boycott by many victims of human rights violations and victims’ relatives.  Among the complaints were that the panel had been tasked, arbitrarily, with compensating some forms of abuse while excluding others; that it offered financial compensation divorced from any process of establishing justice or the truth; that rather than being an arbiter designated by the parties in dispute, it was a top-down institution composed of state appointees; that it worked behind closed doors and according to methods that were not made public; and that it required applicants to sign an agreement to accept the panel’s rulings as final.

Moroccan authorities, to their credit, took steps to acknowledge and make restitution for past grave abuses. But those steps were seen as inadequate by many participants in an increasingly sophisticated domestic and international debate over how past abuses should be addressed.  Having won — with the arbitration panel — official acceptance of the principle of compensation, Moroccan civil society now focused its demands on creating an independent truth commission.9

First, King Mohamed VI agreed to restructure the Advisory Council for Human Rights, in order to enhance its powers and independence.10  The docile body created by his father in 1990 had steadily lost credibility in light of the Moroccan public’s rising public expectations and sophistication regarding human rights.  In 2003, the revamped council submitted a proposal to establish an Equity and Reconciliation Commission that would advance the process of reckoning with the grave abuses of the past.

The Equity and Reconciliation Commission

The king embraced the proposal and inaugurated the commission on January 7, 2004, hailing it as “the last step in a process leading to the definitive closure of a thorny issue.”  Moroccan officials now point to the commission as a key element in Morocco’s democratic transition.  For example, Morocco’s report on its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights refers to the commission thus:

The creation of the Equity and Reconciliation Commission [seeks] to close definitively the file of human rights abuses committed in the past.  It is tasked with making just reparations to achieve the rehabilitation of victims, their social reintegration, while conducting investigations to clarify cases of disappearance.  The commission is working to seek the truth on forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and the pursuit of a judicial treatment of human rights violations. It must respond to the demands of families, emphasizing the need to repair the harm suffered, which should not be limited to paying compensation but should also include rehabilitation, both in an individual and a collective sense, of the victims.  In the case of persons who are determined to have died, the commission will seek to find where the bodies are buried and to establish the responsibilities of different state bodies.11

Among its various duties, the new commission has taken over the arbitration panel’s work of providing monetary reparations to victims. On April 15, 2004, it announced that it had already received more than 20,000 applications for compensation for acts of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention that occurred between 1956 and 1999.12

But the remedies that the commission was empowered to offer went well beyond cash awards to victims: it was tasked with proposing measures in the realms of social assistance, rehabilitation, returning victims' bodies to their families, and the creation of public memorials.   During the first half of 2004, commissioners traveled around the country to consult with representatives of civil society and ordinary Moroccans on how to go about its work. 

The commission boasts another role absent in the previous mechanisms. It is in some ways a truth commission, called upon to research and produce a historical record of acts of repression that took place from Morocco’s independence in 1956 until the end of King Hassan II’s reign in 1999.  The record, which is to be completed by April 2005, will include both a general history of repression as well as specific details about the fate of the hundreds of "disappeared" Moroccans. The record is to spell out “the responsibility of state or other apparatuses in the violations and the incidents under investigation.”  Then, reflecting on the historical record it establishes, the commission is to make “recommendations and proposals for breaking once and for all with the practices of the past…and restoring and reinforcing confidence in the rule of law and respect for human rights.”13

The commission launched a website in the summer of 2004 that provides information on its mission, members, founding documents, and public activities. The bilingual Arabic and French site ( also reprints statements about the commission made by various nongovernmental organizations, and provides links to information on truth commissions in other countries and to other human rights websites.  Although still under construction, the website contributes to the transparency of the commission and to conveying its objectives to a wider public.

The wide range of the commission’s mandate constitutes recognition on the part of the state that victims and their survivors are entitled to more than just financial compensation and that past wrongs create obligations not only to victims but to Moroccan society at large.

With this broad mandate, the commission is by far the most serious effort yet initiated by Moroccan authorities to recognize, make amends for, and prevent the kinds of grave human rights abuses committed in the past.  There is no comparable state-sponsored effort underway anywhere else in the Middle East or North Africa, despite records of human rights abuses that are no less grave.

Limits of the New Commission

A number of constraints will impair the ability of the commission to address past abuses to the satisfaction of the widest possible array of Moroccans, and in conformity with international principles on accountability for the commission of grave abuses and on the right of victims to reparations.  Most critics nevertheless agree that the commission, whose members include several of Morocco’s most respected independent human rights activists, is a serious initiative in the evolving process of reckoning with past abuses.  Morocco’s major human rights organizations all declared their readiness to engage with the commission, despite their reservations, rather than boycott it.14

The following are some of the key constraints likely to determine the effectiveness of the commission:


The commission cannot name perpetrators.  Its statutes say, in Article 9, that it will “Examine the responsibility of state or other apparatuses in the violations and the incidents under investigation.”  However, according to Article 6, “The purview of the committee is non-judicial. It will not determine individual responsibility for violations.”15    This point was elaborated in the earlier, authoritative16 proposal of the Advisory Council for Human Rights to establish the commission, accepted by Mohamed VI in 2003.  It states:

The work of the commission shall proceed within the framework of the ongoing process for settling, in a nonjudicial manner, past human rights abuses.  Upon conducting the necessary inquiries, the commission shall not in any case invoke any type of individual responsibility, or undertake any initiative whatsoever that may give rise to dissension and rancor, or sow discord.17

Thus, even if the commission successfully produces a truthful account of abuses that occurred and compensates and rehabilitates victims, it cannot, by itself, do much to end the impunity enjoyed so far by the perpetrators. Their continued impunity is unacceptable insofar as the hundreds of enforced disappearances and the thousands of other grave violations committed in Morocco in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s constitute grave crimes for which there should be no amnesty or statute of limitations.

Although the commission, which is not a judicial body, cannot itself establish individual responsibility for violations, it should publicly urge Morocco’s judiciary to ensure that perpetrators are held criminally accountable, and assist in that process by turning over the findings of its investigations to prosecutors or investigative judges, and urge them to open criminal investigations. And it should remind all Moroccans that their right to seek justice before the courts, for “disappearances” and other crimes, is not precluded by the commission’s existence or by their acceptance of compensation from the commission.18

Unfortunately, these steps can accomplish little so long as Morocco’s judiciary lacks full independence in politically charged cases.  The commission needs therefore to advocate forcefully and publicly in favor of reforming the judiciary in such a way that it becomes capable of conducting independent investigations and rendering fair decisions, both in cases where the defendants are opponents of the government and when the defendants are state agents.  The commission can also urge administrative actions, calling on the executive branch to sanction public servants who are found, after a fair hearing, to have engaged in grave abuses of human rights.

Arbitrary limitations to the mandate

The statutes of the commission indicate that it will focus its work on two types of human rights violations.  They do not spell out what the commission’s responsibilities are with respect to other types of abuses and to their victims.  Article 5 defines “grave violations of human rights, “for the purpose of these statutes,” to mean, simply, “enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention.” All other key definitions stem from this one. “Victim,” for example, refers to “a person who was subjected to arbitrary detention or enforced disappearance.”  “Compensation for damages” means “the totality of measures undertaken to benefit persons who suffered material or psychological harm, either as a victim, or as the beneficiary of a victim, of an enforced disappearance or an arbitrary detention…”

What about other forms of grave abuse that occurred during the same period, such as the torture and long-term imprisonment of prisoners of opinion after unfair trials? The killing or maiming of persons by the police using excessive force to quell marches and disturbances? The indiscriminate reprisals against the civilian population of rebellious regions, such as the Rif in 1958 and Khenifra in the mid-1970s?  By explicitly defining grave violations to mean two particular types of abuse, the statutes of the commission suggest that victims of other abuses will not necessarily receive equal treatment in terms of compensation or truth-telling. The commission has not, to our knowledge, expressed an official position on whether, and how, victims of other grave abuses ought to be compensated. Nor has it indicated what place it plans to accord their ordeal in its final “truth” report, alongside its coverage of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions.  However, individual commissioners told Human Rights Watch the commission was not limiting its attention to these two forms of abuse.   And, in its public activities and fieldwork, the commission has displayed wider interests. For example, the commission, according to its website, sent representatives to an event commemorating the more than one hundred persons killed during a failed coup attempt against King Hassan II in 1971.  And commission President Driss Benzekri said the body intended to examine the question of persons killed during violent disturbances in Casablanca and reportedly buried in mass graves.19

It is worth recalling that the now-defunct arbitration panel on compensation also operated with a mandate limited to cases of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention.  It went beyond that mandate by compensating a limited number of victims outside these categories, such as certain Moroccans who had spent years in exile because of their political beliefs or activities.  It nevertheless rejected many other applicants on the grounds that the type of violation they allegedly suffered fell outside the panel’s mandate. 

In the view of Human Rights Watch, the commission should interpret the definition of “grave human rights abuses” to include all forms of internationally recognized abuses of human rights that rise to a certain level of gravity; or it should declare the need for additional mechanisms in Morocco to ensure that victims of other forms of grave abuse enjoy equal rights to compensation, rehabilitation, and assistance, and equal rights to have their stories included in the formal truth-telling process.

Lack of powers to compel testimony or cooperation

The commission was given no statutory powers to compel public officials to cooperate or to provide it with testimony or documents, casting doubt on how, in the absence of the threat of sanctions, the commission would pry open state secrets.  The statutes of the commission, in Article 10, demand cooperation from state institutions but mention no consequences for noncooperation:

To achieve the aforementioned goals, and in accordance with the royal order establishing the Commission on Equity and Reconciliation, all public authorities and institutions are to cooperate with the commission and provide it with all information and data enabling it to fulfill its objectives.

“The king assured us that he would make sure that authorities cooperate with the commission,” commission President Driss Benzekri told Human Rights Watch on February 3, 2004.  “Authorities confirmed to us they were aware of the king’s decision. But the commission has no legal powers in this regard and our requests for cooperation are not legally binding. We will have to see how it will work,” Benzekri said.

Benzekri has hinted at the need for the commission to disclose the usefulness of the cooperation it ultimately receives from the public administration.  Al-Bayane newspaper, in an article posted on the commission’s website, reported:

Mr. Benzekri indicated that the work of accessing official archives is already under way.  He cited the arrangements to facilitate access that the administration has been providing.   But concerning the value of those archives, he indicated that this would be disclosed in the report, after the work is completed.20

Human Rights Watch urges the commission to disclose fully and publicly at appropriate intervals, the extent to which it is receiving the necessary cooperation of past and present officials in its investigations, and the impact of any non-cooperation on its task of providing a full and truthful account of the period under its consideration.  Cooperation should be measured in terms of the provision of oral testimony, documents, including medical-legal records and existing court files, and other items of evidence.

The need to enhance transparency

The commission has decided to hold a series of public hearings at which victims and others may speak.  As of this writing, the commission is still debating the modalities of these hearings, including their wider dissemination, and other mechanisms by which the public will participate in its work of uncovering and recording facts about past events. The commission is also charged with completing a final report by April 2005.  It has not, to our knowledge, announced whether it will release that report in its entirety or classify portions of it.

There is a place for confidential deliberations in a commission of this sort, especially one that is enjoined from naming individual perpetrators. Article 4 of its statutes states that the commission’s deliberations shall be confidential. The Advisory Council’s proposal for the commission states, “The commission and its members shall observe full secrecy in respect of their sources of information as well as their discussions and deliberations.” Confidentiality can also protect witnesses from being threatened or harmed.

Nevertheless, the success of the commission depends partly on maximizing transparency and the access it allows to the public in general and to victims in particular.  This applies to the receiving members of the public, holding public hearings, and releasing and disseminating to the fullest possible extent its findings and conclusions.

Fairness toward Western Saharan (Sahraoui) victims

The commission faces a particular challenge in doing justice to abuses that occurred in the Western Sahara, a disputed territory that is claimed by Morocco.  For years, debate inside Morocco on the disposition of the Western Sahara has been stifled by officially encouraged chauvinism on the issue and laws punishing persons who question the “Moroccan-ness” of the region. Authorities continue to persecute advocates of an independent Western Sahara, and are generally less tolerant of dissent in this region than elsewhere.

The commission must approach abuses related to the conflict in the Western Sahara as thoroughly and fairly as those that occurred elsewhere.  In light of the politically charged debate over this territory and the existence of armed conflict there during the 1970s and 1980s, it is not surprising that estimates vary widely on the number of Sahraouis “disappeared” by Moroccan security services. Some organizations provide lists of 400 to 500, some as many as place the number at 1,500, most of them missing since the 1970s.  

Some sources insist the higher figures include cases of persons who may be missing but whom Moroccan security services never took into custody, including some who died in combat and whose bodies were not recovered, and others who fled the region on their own. For example, commission President Driss Benzekri told Human Rights Watch, “There are only fifty to eighty [Sahraoui] cases where there is good evidence of a forced disappearance.  On the other cases we don’t have the information….We need the archives of the army.  And we need to talk to the families.”

Benzekri also told Human Rights Watch, “There has been no discrimination in terms of how compensation claims are being handled [between Western Saharan applicants and other applicants].  The Western Sahara is part of Morocco administratively.”21 

Yet large numbers of Western Saharans remain particularly distrustful of the state’s efforts to pay compensation and “close” files.  The commission must do its utmost to inspire confidence in its handling of this dossier.

Obligation toward the Present

Finally, the commission has begun its work under the cloud of the present deterioration in human rights practices.  There has been no resumption of systematic “disappearances,” as occurred in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.  Nevertheless, the mistreatment of those arrested today recall in some ways the past abuses for which the commission is supposed to help Morocco achieve closure. Suspected Islamist militants have been arrested without warrants and have then gone “missing” for weeks and sometimes months; some have been tortured or ill-treated, and then sentenced to long prison terms after patently unfair trials. Seventeen have been sentenced to death, although none has been executed.  (The last known execution of a person sentenced to death in Morocco occurred in 1993.)Also, while the commission is seeking “the truth” about past abuses, government authorities are for the most part denying the present pattern of violations.

Monitoring present-day human rights conditions in Morocco is not part of the brief of the Commission on Equity and Reconciliation.  Nevertheless, the commission’s statutes explicitly link its examination of the past to its obligations toward Morocco’s future.  The commission is to propose, on the basis of lessons learned from the past, “safeguards that such acts will not be repeated,” as well as ways “to reinforce the rule of law and human rights standards.”22 This language tracks the advisory council’s proposal for the commission, approved by King Mohamed VI, which states that the commission will make “proposals for…breaking once and for all with the practices of the past…and restoring confidence in the rule of law and respect for human rights.”

Commission President Benzekri suggested that this responsibility could offer a kind of trade-off in what the body was able to achieve: “Guaranteeing stability and preventing recurrence could compensate for lack of individual responsibility.”23  In other words, the commission, prevented from naming individual perpetrators, could measure its achievement instead in terms of erecting safeguards against a reversion to past practices. 

Some Moroccans bristle at the notion that the round-up of suspected Islamist militants following suicide bombings in the nation’s economic capital should be compared in any way to the wide-scale torture and “disappearances” of activists three and four decades ago.  But the current crackdown shows that, despite Morocco’s undeniable progress on human rights, the security forces are once again breaching the rule of law with impunity, and the courts can still be put at the service of the executive branch.  This is a threat to the human rights of all Moroccans and, in crafting its recommendations, the commission can ignore this only at peril to its own credibility.

Moroccan human rights organizations have proposed a number of such safeguards against abuse that the commission should consider adopting: a purge of officials implicated in grave abuses; enactment of stiffer criminal penalties for state agents who violate laws or human rights recognized in the Moroccan constitution; an overhaul of the judiciary to strengthen its independence; the dismissal of judges who manifestly failed in their duties in the past to provide defendants with fair trials; and ratification of the optional protocols to international human rights treaties.24

2003 Report of the Advisory Council for Human Rights

Regrettably, the restructured Advisory Council for Human Rights tarnished its own credibility with the release on June 15, 2004, of its first-ever annual report on human rights in Morocco.25  The report was eagerly anticipated for various reasons.  First, the report covered a year during which the new counter-terror law and the crackdown on suspected militants was exacting heavy toll in human rights terms.   Second, the council’s handling of these developments would test whether the restructuring of the council, begun in 2001, had succeeded in enhancing its strength and independence.  A decree of April 10, 2001 explicitly endowed the council with the job of investigating current abuses: it was to “examine, on its own initiative or at the request of the party concerned, cases of human rights violations that are brought to its attention, and to make recommendations to the appropriate authorities.”26 A 2003 decree states that the council should be “objective and impartial in its démarches and analyses, firm and demanding in the face of violations of human rights.”  The annual report that the council is to produce should contain “an objective and precise evaluation of the situation of human rights in Morocco.”  That report should document “the violations and abuses of human rights, [and provide] an analysis of the impediments to progress in specific areas.”27

In view of these commendable standards, the council’s report for the year 2003 is weak, both in documenting specific abuses and in recommending specific measures to halt them.28  It reports that the council learned of nine cases where the time limit for garde à vue detention had been exceeded, nine cases where police did not inform families of a detention, and two cases of illegal detention. The report provides neither details on the cases nor any assessment of how widespread these practices were. The report briefly describes two cases of death in detention without reaching any conclusions.  It also says that all cases of “disappearances” raised by families had been “clarified.”  It makes no mention of the unacknowledged detention facility at Temara that had stoked much controversy throughout the year as an interrogation center for suspected militants.  Nor does it mention the role of the Directorate for the Surveillance of the Territory (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire, DST, recently renamed the Direction Générale de la Surveillance du Territoire, DGST).

The report acknowledges the allegations, concerns, and arguments of human rights groups concerning illegal arrests, abuse during interrogation, violations of due process rights, and violations of fair trial standards, and affirms that the fight against terrorism should be carried out with full respect for human rights and international treaties. But overall, the council’s report understates the extent of the problems, especially in light of the volume of case-specific information that had already been published by Moroccan news media and by domestic and international human rights organizations. The report offers little analysis of the present human rights situation and makes few useful recommendations.  The report praises the 2003 amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code but offers only minimal criticism of them from a rights perspective, and makes almost no specific recommendations regarding the impact of the 2003 counter-terror law on due process protections.

[1] “Wazir huquq al-insan: al-Maghreb yasta’id li raf’ at-tahafouzhaat ‘ala sita ma’ahudaat dawliya khilal al-asabi’ al-muqbila” [“Human rights minister: Morocco is preparing to lift the reservations to six international treaties during the coming weeks”], Maghreb Arabe Presse, May 20, 2004.

[2] See, e.g., « Maroc: situation préoccupante dans les prisons, selon une association, » Agence France-Presse, June 9, 2004.

[3] Quoted in Jacques de Barrin, “Royal Privilege and Human Rights,” Manchester Guardian, December 18, 1990.

[4] “His Majesty King Hassan II Announced the Setting Up of an Advisory Council for Human Rights,” English-language version of speech, Moroccan Ministry of Information, May 8, 1990. In English.

[5] José Garcon, “Geste du Maroc pour les droits de l’Homme,” Libération (Paris), October 2, 1998.

[6] “Hassan II appele le Parlement marocain à résoudre le dossier des droits de l’Homme,” Associated Press, October 9, 1998.

[7] The text of the speech is online in French at (consulted July 13, 2004). The internal regulations of the arbitration panel are online at (consulted July 28, 2004).

[8] Human Rights Watch has seen no official figures on the Panel’s decisions.  Its final report was submitted to the king in November 2003 and has not been made public.  CCDH Secretary-general Driss Benzekri told Human Rights Watch on July 24, 2003, that the Arbitration Panel had received some 5,000 requests for compensation, rejected about 800 of them, mostly on the grounds that the abuse did not fall within the mandate of the panel; and issued compensation to all of the rest.  Five months earlier, CCDH member Abdelaziz Benzakour stated that, as of the end of January 2003, Morocco had paid out more than US $80 million to compensate 3,700 victims of disappearances and arbitrary detention.  “Morocco pays 80m dollars compensation for ‘disappearances,’” BBC Monitoring Middle East, February 21, 2003, text of report in English on the Moroccan news agency MAP web site.  For a more detailed, but unsourced, breakdown, see « Les commissions de vérité et de reconciliation: l’expérience marocaine, Séminaire régional, Rabat, Maroc, 25-27 mars 2004, » International Federation of Human Rights, report no. 396, July 2004, p. 37, online at (consulted September 16, 2004).  Similar, but not identical, data, are attributed to Morocco’s Ministry of Human Rights in the U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights for 2003: 

According to the Ministry of Human Rights, the commission had resolved 4677 cases, in which 3657 claimants were awarded $ 94.5 million (945 million DH). The commission rejected 885 cases because they did not involve disappearances or arbitrary detention and 133 cases because the claimants did not respond to a summons to appear before the commission or did not supply documentation. Two cases were suspended, and a further 450 were considered to be duplicates. 

Online at (consulted September 17, 2004).

[9] See, for example, the final declaration of the national conference on grave violations of human rights, November 9-11, 2001, published in Attadamoun, the monthly publication of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, no. 83, December 2001.  The declaration was signed by the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, the Moroccan Organization for Human Rights, and the Forum for Truth and Justice.

[10] Royal decree n°1-00-350 of April 10, 2001, on the reorganization of the Advisory Council for Human Rights, online in French at (consulted September 17, 2004).

[11] Paragraph 6. CCPR/C/MAR/2004/5, 15 avril 2004.  Translated by Human Rights Watch from the French original.

[12] « Maroc: 20.000 demandes d'indemnisation pour les abus des ‘années de plomb,’ » Agence France Presse, April 15, 2004.

[13] Kingdom of Morocco, Advisory Council for Human Rights, “Recommendation for the setting up of a ‘Justice and Reconciliation Commission.’” Undated text in English, provided by the Embassy of Morocco in Washington, DC.  This text is available online in Arabic and French at  The term insaf, or équité, in the name of the commission in Arabic and French, respectively, is best translated into English as “equity” rather than “justice.”

[14] See, for example, the criticisms of the commission offered in a May 11, 2004 communiqué issued by the joint “follow-up committee” formed by the Moroccan Organization for Human Rights, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, and the Forum for Truth and Justice.

[15] Royal decree no. 1.04.42 of April 10, 2004, setting forth the statutes of the Commission on Equity and Reconciliation, online in French and Arabic at (consulted September 24, 2004).

[16]  This proposal, and the king’s approval of it, is invoked in the preamble to the decree setting forth the commission’s statutes.

[17]  Article 10 of “Recommendations of the Human Rights Advisory Council for setting up a ‘Justice and Reconciliation Commission.’” Online in French and Arabic at

[18] The truth commissions in El Salvador and South Africa are two that did identify perpetrators by name, without usurping the conventional domain of trial courts. The Salvadoran commission, in its final report, defended its decision thus:

[T]he whole truth cannot be told without naming names. After all, the commission was not asked to write an academic report on El Salvador, it was asked to investigate
and describe exceptionally important acts of violence and to recommend measures to prevent the repetition of such acts. This task cannot be performed in the abstract, suppressing information (for instance, the names of persons responsible for such acts) where there is reliable testimony available, especially when the persons identified occupy senior positions and perform official functions directly related to violations or the cover-up of violations. Not to name names would be to reinforce the very impunity to which the Parties instructed the Commission to put an end.

The Salvadoran commission was mindful that, even if its deliberations were not bound by the country’s laws of criminal procedure, it had to apply evidentiary rules that protected the rights of those susceptible to being named as perpetrators.  (See the “Mandate” chapter of the commission’s report, online at [consulted September 17, 2004].)

Whether or not a commission decides to name names, it still has the duty, when faced with cases of grave abuse, to turn over the evidence collected to the justice system for possible prosecution.

[19] Article published in al-Bayane, September 22, 2004, and online at (consulted October 1, 2004).

[20] Ibid.

[21] Human Rights Watch interview, Rabat, February 3, 2004.

[22] Articles 5 and 9, respectively, of Royal decree 1.04.42 of April 10, 2004.

[23] Human Rights Watch interview, Rabat, February 3, 2004.

[24] See, for example, « Pour un règlement juste et équitable du passé des atteintes graves aux droits humains au Maroc » a memorandum presented in April 2004 to the commission by the Association de défense des droits de l’homme au Maroc (ASDHOM-France), Association des Marocains en Belgique pour la défense des droits de l’Homme (AMBDH – Belgique), Association de soutien des droits de l’Homme au Maroc (KMM – Hollande).  Online at (viewed September 22, 2004).

[25] Advisory Council for Human Rights, Kingdom of Morocco, Annual Report on the Condition of Human Rights in Morocco, 2003 (in Arabic). 

[26] Royal decree no. 1-00-350 of April 10, 2001.

[27] “Réglement intérieur du CCDH,” March 2003, online at  Published in the Official Bulletin of the Kingdom of Morocco, no. 5204, April 15, 2004.

[28] For critiques of the annual report by Moroccan human rights defenders, see remarks by Abderrahim Berrada in al-Ayam, July 29, 2004, and Abdelaziz Nouaydi in Le Journal Hebdomadaire online, (consulted July 20, 2004).

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