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VIII. The ERC and Current Human Rights Issues

The ERC, itself a product of the progress Morocco had made in human rights, was established at a moment when that progress was being undermined by attacks on civilians by militant Islamist groups and the state’s response to those attacks. The mistreatment and unfair trials of suspected militants who were rounded up after the suicide bombings of May 16, 2003, recalled in some ways the grave violations of the past that lie at the heart of the ERC mandate.

The parallels are limited: while some of the suspects arrested in 2003 went missing in police custody for up to several months, they were all accounted for eventually.  However, many were subjected to torture or mistreatment while under interrogation.   Some were held in an unacknowledged detention center in Temara, a facility under the auspices of the National Surveillance Directorate (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire, DST).  Some 900 of the suspects were sentenced to prison terms, many in hasty proceedings that did not provide defendants their basic due process rights.  Seventeen were sentenced to death, sentences that have not been carried out yet. (Morocco has not carried out an execution since 1993.) If, since 2003, the abuses have been most dramatic in the crackdown on suspected Islamist extremists, the government has also persecuted other Moroccans for participating in peaceful protest rallies or for criticizing government policies.

Authorities have responded to reports of present-day abuses by characterizing them as isolated phenemona.66 Mohamed VI, in an interview published in the Spanish daily El País on January 16, 2005, acknowledged the existence of “twenty cases of abuse” that he said were being handled by the courts.67  No details of these twenty cases have been disclosed, to Human Rights Watch’s knowledge, making it difficult to verify whether and for what offenses officials were being held accountable.

Overall, the pattern of continuing abuses, criticized by various human rights organizations as well as by the U.N. Human Rights Committee,68 shows that security forces continue to operate in a climate of impunity and disrespect for the law, and that the executive branch continues to exercise considerable influence over the courts.

It is unfair to expect the ERC to investigate or speak out on recent human rights practices. Its mandate covers abuses that occurred between 1956 and 1999. Insofar as a state-appointed body has responsibility for examining present-day abuses, it is the Advisory Council on Human Rights.  The ACHR is, according to a decree of April 10, 2001, 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.”69 The ACHR’s internal regulations state it 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 ACHR 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.”70

While responsibility for monitoring and responding to present-day abuses resides with the ACHR, the ERC’s statutes link its probe of the past to the future, and this linkage inevitably passes through the present.  The ERC is asked to propose “guarantees that violations will not be repeated” (Article 5), as well as means for “restoring confidence in the primacy of law and respect for human rights” (Article 9.6). These provisions reaffirm one of the recommendations made by the ACHR in 2003 and endorsed by the king, which is that the ERC propose ways “to guarantee a definitive break with past practices and a re-establishment and re-enforcement of confidence in the state and respect for human rights.”

ERC President Benzekri gave an example where the ERC’s work depends on assessing current conditions.  It seeks to formulate recommendations on “maintaining security in a democratic society,” he said, but was finding it difficult to obtain the regulations governing each of the various security agencies, their fields of action, their recruitment policies, their training, and methods of recruiting.  This lack of clarity, he said, can make it easier for abuses to take place.

The recommendations that the ERC makes toward preventing a return to the past will be more compelling if it points out, in its final report and in its public declarations, where “past” practices appear to persist at present, and where the structures that made them possible apparently remain in place. 

[66]For example, Justice Minister Mohamed Bouzoubaâ said abuses in the context of the round-up of terror suspects were “rare” and “isolated,” but vowed, “We will respond to reports of violations.”  Agence France-Presse, “Aucun centre de détention secret au Maroc, selon un ministre,” July 2, 2004.

[67] King Mohamed VI said, “There is no doubt that abuses took place.  We found out about twenty cases.  They were cited also by nongovernmental organizations and the ACHR. They are now being handled by the courts.”  The interview is online in French at the ERC website,

[68] See the Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee on Morocco, November 5, 2004,  CCPR/CO/82/MAR, [online]

[69]Decree n°1-00-350 of April 10, 2001, on the reorganization of the ACHR, Article 2, [online in French]

[70]Internal regulations of the ACHR,” March 2003, [online, in French] Published in the Official Bulletin of the Kingdom of Morocco, no. 5204, April 15, 2004.

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