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VI. The ERC in Action


Three months after its official inauguration by the king on January 7, 2004, the ERC reported having received more than 20,000 cases.50  A few days before the end of its official mandate, the ERC President Benzekri said it had received “close to 40,000 pieces of correspondence, concerning between 25,000 and 30,000 cases.”  He added that “when the work is completed, it is likely that only 10,000 to 15,000 of these cases will be determined eligible for compensation.”51

According to Benzekri, more than 10,000 persons have been received at the headquarters of the ERC in Rabat to provide testimony or other information.  The staff of the commission’s Investigation Division has met nearly 10,000 persons, including victims, their relatives, persons living near detention centers, and retired security agents.

In the months following the ERC’s creation, numerous political parties, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and victims’ groups submitted memoranda to it. These included the Follow-Up Committee on Grave Human Rights Violations (a consortium of the AMDH, OMDH and FVJ), the nongovernmental Truth Commission for the Rif, Sahrawi activists, and parties such as the Socialist Union of People’s Forces (Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires, USFP), the Unified Socialist Left (parti de la Gauche Socialiste Unifiée, GSU) and the Constitutional Union (l’Union Constitutionnelle, UC). 

In the three relatively remote regions that were most touched by political strife and ongoing repression − the Middle-Atlas, the Rif and the Western Sahara − the ERC established a temporary presence to collect additional information.  It staffed field offices in the Middle Atlas cities of Beni-Mellal and Azilal from December 13 to 28, 2004, in the Western Sahara from February 4 to 13, 2005, and in the Rif, in the towns of El-Hoceima and Nador, from April 26 to 30, 2005.

Closed and Public Hearings

The ERC conducted a number of closed meetings with former officials who might be in a position to provide information on a number of specific cases, as well as offer their perspectives on events being investigated.  The outcome of these meetings has not been made public.  According to ERC President Benzekri, “Many wanted to participate, others were less willing.”52 

Between December 2004 and May 2005, seven public hearings were held around the country, including in areas that had experienced some of the harshest repression.  Direct and indirect victims of human rights abuses spoke.  The eighth and final hearing, planned for El-Ayoun, in the Western Sahara, was postponed and eventually cancelled, reportedly due to the political unrest that shook the region in May 2005 (see above).

Morocco’s human rights organizations, politicians and political activists, union officials, and media welcomed the ERC’s decision to organize public hearings, but expressed reservations concerning the form and substance of the hearings.  Most of the criticisms centered on the last clause of the “pact of honor” between the public witnesses and the ERC that forbids witnesses from citing suspected perpetrators by name.53  This ground rule was unacceptable to some victims, such as the “Benouhachem Group” (a group of ex-detainees who were arrested as high school students in 1975 and held at the secret detention centers of Agdez and Kal`at M`gouna until the late 1980s),and to some human rights organizations, including the AMDH.Abdelhamid Amine, AMDH president, said on March 29, 2005, “The ERC categorically refuses to designate individual perpetrators, which means that we will have, at best, only partial truths.  The aftermath of the [suicide] attacks of May 16, 2003 [in Casablanca] revealed the fragility of what has been achieved in terms of human rights, and thus the importance of the struggle against impunity and for the truth.”54

The “pact of honor” required public witnesses to attend preparatory meetings prior to the hearing itself, and refrain from defending or attacking any political, union, or association.  The “pact of honor” obliged the ERC, for its part, to seek wide and diversified media coverage for the hearings (see below); to permit the witnesses to testify in the language of their choice (classical Arabic, dialectal Arabic, Amazigh, French or Spanish); to bear the transportation and lodging costs of the witnesses; and to offer psychological counseling to the witnesses.

The hearings in Rabat (of which there were two), Marrakesh, Figuig, Khénifra, and Rachidiyya all followed the same format.  At each hearing, about ten victims narrated before those assembled – members of the ERC, journalists, and members of the public − under a portrait of Mohamed VI, what they had suffered during the reign of his father, Hassan II, and grandfather, Mohamed V.  Each one had about twenty minutes to speak, after which no one could ask questions or otherwise respond to the speaker.  Those present were to maintain absolute silence and refrain from applause or other expressions of emotion.

The events evoked by the witnesses included the uprising in the Rif in 1958, the guerrilla movement in the region of Goulmina in 1973, and the 1981 bread riots in Casablanca.  They spoke of arbitrary arrests, “disappearances,” unfair trials, torture, rapes, and reprisals against relatives.

In these five cities, the hearings were packed and emotion-filled. But perhaps most harrowing was the public hearing at al-Hoceima in the Rif, much anticipated because of the lack of information about repression in this region during and after the 1958 rebellion. When the hearing opened on May 3, 2005, members of the audience stood up in a gesture of protest at the ERC’s rule that public witnesses could not name those responsible for committing the abuses they suffered or witnessed.  A week earlier, a collective of local associations had already declared their opposition to the ERC’s approach, notably the ban on public naming of perpetrators.  The protests delayed the start of the hearing until late in the evening. 

The goals of the public hearings were two-fold, according to the ERC’s website and statements made to the media by its members: to inform the Moroccan people of the violations committed by the state and to show the suffering and the dignity of the victims.

The ERC selected the public witnesses from among those who had applied to speak on the basis of several criteria.  It said it wanted those it chose to be broadly representative of the different violations that had occurred.55

The AMDH, which criticized the ERC hearings not just because witnesses could not name perpetrators but also because post-1999 abuses were excluded, organized its own public hearings between February and May 2005, in Rabat, Khénifra, al-Hoceima, Marrakesh, and Paris, under the title, “Testimonies in Complete Freedom for the Truth.”56 During these hearings, some victims named those they held responsible for violating their rights.  In contrast to the ERC public hearings, Moroccan television did not cover the AMDH hearings, although the association said it had invited both stations to attend.

The AMDH, in an e-mail to Human Rights Watch dated October 26, 2005, said that those whom the AMDH’s witnesses had accused by name could exercise their right of response if they wished to do so.  To date, none of those who testified at the AMDH hearings have faced complaints of libel. 

In addition to the victims’ hearings, the ERC organized a series of thematic seminars.   These had two purposes: to complement the “victims’ hearings” by furnishing contextual information about the violations committed over four decades, and to debate the reforms needed to establish the rule of law, the protection of freedoms, and to guarantee the non-repetition of past violations. Five thematic hearings were held between February 15 and March 15, 2005.  Each was broadcast on Moroccan state television’s Channel 2 during prime time. The subjects were “Democratic Transition in Morocco,” “Eliminating Violence as a Means of Governing,” “Political, Economic, and Social Reform,” “Cultural and Educational Reform,” and “Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary Reform.” The speakers and discussants were primarily scholars and policy analysts.

Publicity and Issues of Transparency

The national and international news media – notably the print press – followed the ERC public hearings closely.  The leading state channel broadcast the first hearing live and in full.  Then, in contrast to what had been initially announced, the subsequent hearings were not broadcast live or in their entirety.  Some defenders of the switch to edited coverage said that it was more successful at holding the interest of ordinary viewers than the longer, sometimes sprawling live coverage. The ERC also put on its website summaries and audio clips of the testimonies, as well as photographs of the hearings.

Some Moroccan newspapers published the testimonies of victims and witnesses who were not among those selected to speak at the ERC’s public hearings.   In some cases, these other witnesses named those they held responsible for human rights abuses.57

The ERC statutes specify the need for both transparency and confidentiality.  Article 4 states: “The deliberations of the Commission are confidential.  All members are to maintain strict confidentiality concerning the sources of information and the progress of the investigations.”

Such a confidentiality clause is understandable.  It can protect both the commissioners and witnesses from being subjected to pressure. It can also encourage state agents to cooperate with the ERC.

Article 24 states, “In order to ensure the interaction and participation of all sectors of society in following its work, the Commission shall establish a plan for maintaining contact with victims or their families and their representatives, with the print and broadcast media, and with all parts of civil society.” The ERC statement of April 15, 2004 explaining its mission identifies “those who make up the human rights movement and civil society” as among the ERC’s “essential partners.”58

The conflicting needs of confidentiality and transparency have caused some tensions.  In a communiqué dated February 7, 2005, the three Moroccan human rights organizations that make up the Follow-Up Committee on Grave Human Rights Violations accused the ERC of failing to involve them in its work. According to members of the groups, during the first year of its work the ERC met with them only twice.59  At a third meeting, on July 8, 2005, the Follow-Up Committee presented its recommendations to the ERC, which published them on its website.

The Coordinating Committee of Families of Disappeared Persons also complained that the ERC was not communicating sufficiently with it.  It said that committee members were among the first to visit the ERC after it set up shop, with some members paying more than one visit, to provide details of their individual cases.  Since that time, the committee claimed a year later, the ERC has had no further contact with the families.  The family of one of the best-known “disappeared” persons, Hocine Manouzi, issued a statement dated March 10, 2005 stating:

With the announcement of the results of the ERC’s investigations only a few days away – investigations that unfortunately did not involve us by providing us with all of the information concerning the search, and with the possibility to furnish other kinds of evidence relating to the facts − our right to know has been abridged.  It has been abridged by the non-respect for the principle of allowing all concerned parties to see and respond to the evidence.60

According to its president, the ERC has adopted a policy of refraining from communicating partial information to families of the “disappeared,” preferring to wait until its investigation has been completed. 

The ERC website ( represents a laudable effort in transparency and communication on the part of the ERC.  The site contains the ERC’s basic referential texts, biographical data about its members, summaries of the ERC’s hearings and of the various seminars at which commissioners spoke, press coverage of the ERC, a bibliography on the theme of violations of the past, and links to other sites containing information about human rights and truth commissions.

The ERC has no statutory obligation to publish on its site documents other than its own. But, having decided to place on its website some articles published by the press and some materials issued by human rights organizations, it is regrettable that the ERC has chosen to present selective perspectives on its work.  While the site presents some articles and communiqués critical of the ERC, the accent is on the positive. Abdelillah Benabdeslam of the AMDH said, for instance, that a critical memorandum that the AMDH submitted on January 29, 2004 was not posted.  Nor were recommendations of the FVJ concerning compensation, or a communiqué issued by the Follow-Up Committee on Grave Human Rights Violations that criticized the lack of cooperation it said it received from the Commission.61

Presentation of ERC findings

On October 9, 2005, the ERC announced the first results of its efforts to determine the fate of “disappeared” persons.  It reported having located the burial places of fifty men and women who had “disappeared” during the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s.  The ERC communiqué listed the names of all fifty and said that it had contacted the families before making the announcement.  All of those named had previously figured on established lists of “disappeared” persons; most were from the Western Sahara. Each person had died after being detained in one of three remote secret detention centers – Agdez, Kal`at M`gouna, or Tazounit.  They were then buried in cemeteries near these centers, the ERC said.

The ERC stated that it had visited these centers and determined the date and place of death, “thanks to information gathered from national authorities, documents available from provincial authorities, and information collected from former civil servants who witnessed the circumstances of death and of burial.”62

The announcement that the ERC had resolved fifty long-standing cases of “disappearance” raised hopes that additional announcements of this nature would follow, providing answers in other outstanding cases of “disappearance.” But there were also important questions hanging over this first discovery:

  • Did the ERC inform the families whether/when they might rebury the bodies in accordance with their preferences?
  • By what means did the ERC confirm the identification of the body, and would the family have the opportunity to do so too, if it wished?
  • What information, if any, did the ERC provide families concerning what happened to the person between the time of arrest or abduction and the time of death? 
  • Were the families informed of the cause of death?
  • Did the ERC identify to the families any individuals or agencies that were implicated in the deaths of their relatives? 
  • Were the families provided with, or invited to consult, the archival records that pertain to the person’s case and that were consulted by the ERC? 
  • Would the public authorities make any comment concerning the discovery of the bodies of fifty persons who had died after being illegally detained by state agents?

The answers to these questions were not known at the time this report went to press.

As noted above, at the end of its mandate, the ERC is to submit to the king a complete report based on its work.  Alongside this report, the ERC plans to make public a version of the report that is written in a more accessible fashion but, in keeping with the ERC’s statutes, will not contain the names of suspected perpetrators.63

In addition to these reports, the ERC will have created, on the basis of its research and investigations, an unmatched database of human rights violations committed in Morocco during the pre-1999 period.  The ERC’s archives may contain evidence that is of value in judicial proceedings, both for victims and those accused of wrongdoing.

At present, Morocco has no law guaranteeing the preservation of and the right of access to public archives. In their public comments, ERC members have spoken of the need for laws and policies designed to protect and preserve the data they have collected, and to make it as accessible as possible to the Moroccan public.  Their final recommendations should address this need in a forceful manner.64

The building blocks of the ERC’s database are the information sheets completed for each person who submitted a case to the ERC.  They contain the name of the victim, the nature of the violation, a description of any torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment alleged by the victim, the place of detention, and the name of the suspected perpetrator(s).  According to ERC commissioner Driss el-Yazami, the data collected has made possible a precise and detailed chronology of the principal periods of repression during Morocco’s history, as well as a map showing the main secret detention centers. 

Like most other truth commissions, the ERC’s work has been victim-centered, and this will no doubt be reflected in its documentation of repression in Morocco.  A fuller picture would emerge if and when it becomes possible to obtain more information from perpetrators and from state agents.

As part of the ERC’s work on reparation, commissioners visited all of Morocco’s known former secret places of detention to reflect on proposals for converting some of these sites into public memorials. (The ERC apparently did not visit the DST facility in Temara, which human rights organizations allege served as a secret detention center for interrogating suspected Islamist militants after 2001 – a period not included in the ERC’s mandate.)  According to its president, the ERC may also recommend other kinds of collective rehabilitation, such as socioeconomic development programs for regions that suffered from decades of neglect, either because they were considered rebellious or because they happened to be located near secret prisons such as Tazmamart.

[50] “Maroc: 20 000 demandes d’indemnisation pour les abus des années de plomb,” Agence France Presse, April 15, 2004.

[51] Human Rights Watch interview, Rabat, April 6, 2005.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview, Rabat, April 6, 2005.

[53] Speakers had to pledge “not to cite by name the persons whom the victims hold responsible for violations that they were subjected to, in conformity with the non-judiciary character of the ERC, and with the provisions of its statutes, which calls for avoiding any assigning of individual responsibilities.” See the “Charte d’honneur relative aux engagements de l’Instance Equité et Réconciliation et des victimes participant aux auditions publiques,” [online]

[54] Public presentation in Paris, March 29, 2005, attended by Human Rights Watch.  

[55] See “Critères et sources du choix des témoins,” on the ERC website, at

[56]See information provided on the website of the AMDH, at

[57]See, for example, Le Journal Hebdomadaire, December 25, 2004, no. 188 [online], in which several victims accuse perpetrators by name.   

[58] Présentation des Statuts de l’Instance Equité et Réconciliation, [online]

[59] Human Rights Watch interviews, Rabat, with Mohamed Sebbar, president of the FVJ, March 29, 2005, Abdelaziz Nouaydi of the OMDH, April 1, 2005, and Abdelillah Benabdeslam of the AMDH, March 29, 2005.

[60] Communiqué de la famille de Houcine el-Manouzi, “La vérité, toute la vérité, rien que la vérité,” Casablanca, March 10, 2005;  and Human Rights Watch interview, Casablanca, March 31, 2005, with Rachid Manouzi, brother of Hocine.

[61] Human Rights Watch interview, Rabat, March 29, 2005.

[62] ERC, “L’IER annonce les résultats relatifs aux lieux d’enterrement des victimes décédées dans les centres de détention illégaux,” October 9, 2005, [online]

[63] Human Rights Watch interview, Rabat, October 20, 2004.

[64] See “Question of the impunity of perpetrators of human rights violations (civil and political),” a report prepared for the U.N. Commission on Human Rights:

The right to know implies that archives must be preserved, especially during a period of transition. The steps required for this purpose are:
(a) Protective and punitive measures against the removal, destruction or misuse of archives;
(b) Establishment of an inventory of available archives, including those kept by third countries, in order to ensure that they may be transferred with those countries’ consent and, where applicable, returned;
(c) Adaptation to the new situation of regulations governing access to and consultation of archives, in particular by allowing anyone they implicate to add a right of reply to the file.

“Question of the impunity of perpetrators of human rights violations (civil and political),” revised final report prepared by Mr. Joinet pursuant to Sub-Commission decision 1996/119, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/20/Rev.1
October 2, 1997, [online]

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