Morocco struggles to overcome its bloody recent past

May 22nd, 2008 - 11:00 am ICT by admin  

By Sinikka Tarvainen
Rabat (Morocco), May 22 (DPA) In March, Moroccan employees digging the ground to renovate a public garden in Fez discovered human bones. Did they belong to some of the dozens - possibly more than 100 - people killed when a general strike against the high cost of living degenerated into three days of riots that were bloodily repressed in 1990 in the northern city?

“The remains date from a time which is very distant from the year 1990,” the royal prosecutor finally announced.

“A strange formulation that did not dissipate doubts,” one newspaper commented.

The case reflects the doubts of many Moroccans over whether the country has really dealt with human rights abuses committed under the 1961-1999 rule of the late King Hassan II despite a reconciliation process aimed at that end.

Mass graves known to contain bones of Hassan’s victims have been discovered, but human rights activists fear that the entire truth will never be told and that those responsible for the repression will not be punished.

King Hassan, whose reign ended with his death, is today remembered as a strong and intelligent statesman, but also for controlling his country through fear.

Hundreds of Moroccans were killed during urban protests or never returned from prisons such as the infamous desert dungeon of Tazmamart.

Hassan’s son Mohammed VI has made some attempts to improve the country’s human rights record, taking in 2004 the bold step of establishing an Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER) to rehabilitate victims of human rights abuses under his father’s rule.

The victims ranged from people from the northern Rif region, whose rebellion was ruthlessly quashed by then crown prince Hassan in 1958, to Western Saharawi separatists, political opponents and ordinary people who participated in riots such as those in Fez.

Most of the abuses occurred during the “years of lead” from the 1960s to the early 1990s.

Dozens of victims revealed their ordeals on television in a process which was described as unprecedented in the Arab world.

“The executioners think that the truth comes out of punishment,” Morjane Abdeltif, an Islamist who was detained in 1983, said in a testimony given to a Spanish newspaper.

“They first torture you without asking questions, because they think that if you say something without being under pressure, you are lying,” he added.

Abdeltif recalled how blindfolded and handcuffed prisoners were not allowed to move or talk.

The IER is now wrapping up its work. It has clarified nearly all of the 1,200 cases of disappeared people that were on its list, Ahmed Herzenni, president of the Human Rights Advisory Council (CCDH), told the daily Le Matin.

The authorities say more than 700 people have been paid damages, though the sums paid have been criticized as disproportionately low.

“What Morocco has done in this area is more than honourable,” he said.

Yet for Khadija Ryadi, president of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), the result of the reconciliation process leaves much to be desired.

Dozens of disappearances remain to be clarified, she stresses.

DNA tests are being done on dozens of remains retrieved from mass graves, but human rights activists believe that many more people remain buried, and urge the authorities to reveal the location of all the mass graves.

Other recommendations by the IER are also still to be met, such as compensating regions which had been marginalized as a punishment for their rebelliousness, or abolishing the death penalty, which continues being handed out despite not being applied, according to Ryadi.

Above all, however, the victims who went on television were not allowed to name their torturers, critics complain.

“Besides, the IER only dealt with the period until 1999, while human rights violations still continue in Morocco,” Ryadi points out.

Repression is not as heavy as before, she explained, but media representatives and demonstrators constantly risk crossing an invisible and imprecise red line that can lead them behind bars.

Despite the criticism, however, analysts welcome the reconciliation process as an important first step.

“We Moroccans have now begun writing our memoirs of the (King Hassan) era,” columnist Khalid Jamai said.
DPA

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