Sins of the Past

Driss Benzekri, the man who spent 17 years as a political prisoner under the reign of King Hassan, and who is now the head of the Equity and Reconciliation Commission, visited Washington this week. The commission had been charged with documenting abuses of the “years of lead” and with making recommendations. Its report was released to the Moroccan public earlier this year.

“In the course of our work, we were able to shed light on the fate of 742 persons who disappeared for different reasons. We called for compensation for them, as well as 10,000 other victims. Then we proposed a series of reforms to the constitution to ensure the separation of powers; and we recommended that the independence of the judiciary be inscribed in the constitution, and an end to legal immunity for security officials who commit human rights abuses. The main objective of our recommendations was to promote and protect all forms of civil liberties. Then we gave the report to His Majesty and it was made public.”

The young king, who took over from his father in 1999, immediately embraced the report and its calls for compensation. Many former political prisoners appeared in public town hall meetings and on television, telling their stories in a unique form of catharsis. This is unprecedented in the Arab world.

This, of course, is real, tangible progress, and I think it’s a huge step forward for Morocco (combined with the family law reform of last year, this really puts the country in the right track). There’s also clearly a political will, on all sides of this issue, to finally address the dossier.

But, and there is a but, the report leaves open two questions. Firstly, I’ve seen press reports that suggest that there are cases that have not been investigated, and the worry now is that they probably won’t be. Secondly, although many of those responsible have now passed on, others are alive and kicking, leading a life of relative ease, while their victims have to live with the horrors of the past.