What is unique about Morocco in the Arab world is its use and promotion of ’transitional justice’ tools. They were introduced under the leadership of King Mohammed VI, in order to deal with the dark years of repression during the cold war.
By *Pierre Hazan, Geneva
But there is vibrant debate in Morocco about the effectiveness and impact of these tools. Is it a sign of democratic change or just a window-dressing exercise?
The list of measures introduced over the last fifteen years or currently planned in Morocco is impressive. In 1999, under the auspices of Mohammed VI, the Independent Commission of Arbitration was created to offer reparations to the victims of forced disappearances. Some 7,780 former prisoners received the equivalent of a total of $100 million. In 2004, the king, by royal decree, established the first ever Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in the Arab World.
Its ambitious mandate was to deal with the wrongs of the past, committed from Independence in 1956 to 1999, in particular under the reign of Hassan ll (1962-1999), the father of the current king. Twenty thousand victims gave testimony, some of them evoking graphic details of their ordeals in six public hearings, widely covered by the media. For many Moroccans, it was the first time they could listen in public, to the extent of the repression in their country during the 1960s and ‘70s - and to a lesser degree, the 1980s.
The 2006 report which put an end to the Truth Commission, recommended the regime undertake ambitious reforms, such as giving an effective role to parliament, granting real independence to the judiciary and real authority to the government. As the king’s advisors were more powerful than the ministers, the commission recommended circumscribing the power of the king, who under article 23 of the constitution, was considered as “sacred,” retaining political, military and spiritual power as Sharif of Mecqua, descendant of the prophet Mohammed. But little has been done to implement these recommendations.
The list of recommendations is impressive, ranging from a truth commission to different kinds of reparation, involving measures regarding the right to truth, reparation and the guarantee of non-repetition. It’s even more impressive when the Moroccan situation is compared with Algeria, Syria, Libya or Egypt, where human rights violations occur on a much wider scale.
So, why is there no consensus in Morocco on this set of transitional justice measures? Why is there such a deep divide between those who celebrate the ‘Moroccan model’ and want to export it to the rest of the Arab world - and the critical voices? The simple answer is: the fundamental disagreement over the nature of the Moroccan transition, which lies at the heart of the debate.
Supporters of the model in Morocco believe the transition to democracy has accelerated under Mohammed VI and that the country is moving from an autocratic to a more liberal regime, diffusing the concentration of powers (political, military, spiritual and economic) from the hands of the king and the makhzen, his inner circle.
Avoiding the Algerian scenario
Still, according to this analysis, the gradual transformation from an executive monarchy to a more democratic monarch is a careful approach which has been able to progressively marginalise hard-liners and the most conservative elements of the old guard -who had vested economic interests in keeping the status quo. In that respect, this ‘small steps’ policy has been effective in avoiding the dramatic evolution à l’algérienne of the 1990s, when 200,000 people were slaughtered in the confrontation between the army and the Islamists.
According to this view, Mohammed VI has introduced a new family code which provides equal rights for women, important transitional justice measures and more recently, a new constitution approved by more than 98% of the population in July 2011, in which the Berber minority gained cultural rights. Also, the Prime Minister has to be selected from within the largest political party and will no longer be named by the king according to his own choosing. This view promotes the transformation of the Consultative Comity of Human Rights into a constitutional organ called the National Comity of Human Rights, strengthening democratic safeguards as additional proof of the reality that Morocco is at the forefront of democratic change in the Arab world.
The other perspective is radically different and is held, among others, by the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH). According to this view, these measures have been merely cosmetic, serving only one purpose: to give national and international legitimacy to the new king by projecting the image of a progressive, modern and caring monarch. Fouad Abdelmoumni of AMDH encapsulates the criticisms: “the fundamental question is whether reparations and transitional justice measures are triggering a dynamic process of political and social transformation – or whether they inhibit such a dynamic. If the State wants to repair the past and avoid repetition, it has to accept full responsibility by sanctioning those responsible for the repression. But it is far from ready to do that.”
These critical voices point out deficiencies in the measures. The fact that the 1999 Independent Commission of Arbitration didn’t fulfill its mandate, not daring to explore the full extent of forced disappearances and offering reparations under opaque criteria. They stress that as the TRC was established a few months after the 2003 Casablanca bombings, it provoked the arrest of thousands of Islamists under an anti-terrorist law which doesn’t guarantee fundamental rights and that some were tortured.
These critical voices acknowledge the 2004-2006 TRC did a much better job than the 1999 Independent Commission of Arbitration. But they nevertheless point out the limitations under which the TRC operated: the right to justice was impossible to obtain and even the right to truth was limited. For instance, one of the conditions for the victims to testify publicly was they would not reveal the names of those who arrested and tortured them. Moreover, some politically sensitive cases of historical significance, such as the kidnapping and murder of high-profile Third World leader and socialist Ben Barka, were never properly investigated.
Diffuse internal tensions
But there are elements that no one disputes: the king has been tactically astute in using ’transitional justice’ tools to project a dynamic image of Morocco internationally, and to a certain degree, diffuse internal tensions. But that won’t be enough to cope with social problems: a quarter of the population living below the poverty line, thirty per cent illiterate and the brain drain to the US and the EU. Only time can tell whether the ‘small steps’ approach will vindicate the believers in the reality of the democratic process - or the deeply sceptical observers.
*Pierre Hazan is a lecturer in political science, Geneva (Judging War, Judging History, Stanford University Press, 2011)