- The Washington Times - Friday, January 6, 2006

Moroccan King Mohammed VI in a nationally televised address yesterday expressed sympathy for thousands of victims of human rights abuses committed under the long reign of his father, King Hassan II.

In a move Moroccans say is unprecedented in the Arab world, the reformist 42-year-old monarch embraced the findings of an “equity and reconciliation commission” he established to look into reports of state torture and abuse between 1956 and 1999, when Hassan died.

The panel, chaired by former political detainee Driss Benzekri, reported last month it had confirmed some 593 Moroccans killed by the government in those years and nearly 10,000 other cases of human rights violations, including disappearances, false imprisonment and sexual abuse.

In his first public address on the commission report, Mohammed said the findings, while painful, would help the North African country move ahead with social reconciliation and political reform.

“I send these glad tidings to [Hassans] blessed soul to bring joy to his heart, as well as to the hearts of all victims, persons who have been wronged and their grieving families, about whom I care so deeply,” Mohammed said.

The king said he was charging the government’s human rights council with implementing a series of reforms endorsed by the equity and reconciliation panel. The recommendations include compensation for the victims and their families, judicial reforms and the end to legal immunity for security officials who commit human rights abuses.

The king’s statement, broadcast before an audience that included several prominent dissidents who suffered under his father’s reign, fell short of the direct apology sought by independent human rights groups in Morocco.

The Moroccan Association for Human Rights has complained that the truth commission’s estimates of the numbers killed and tortured are far too low.

But the equity and reconciliation commission, patterned on the panel that spotlighted crimes in apartheid South Africa, provided a rare opportunity in the Arab Middle East for a regime to come to terms publicly with its own failings.

The Moroccan panel, formed in November 2003, looked into some 16,000 cases and its investigative sessions were broadcast live to a large television audience.

“The responsibility of the state in human rights violations has been established and is evident and nothing can excuse it,” Mr. Benzekri told reporters in Rabat last month at the release of the findings.

The king’s father was a staunch ally of the United States and the West, but his long reign came to be known as Morocco’s “years of lead,” as an extensive government security apparatus suppressed political and religious dissent.

Moroccan analysts said Mohammed still faces a delicate task. Prosecuting still-powerful figures in the government and army could also prove divisive.

Mohammed said in his remarks that he hoped the panel’s findings will help Morocco move on.

“It is high time we turned to the present and the future of our sons, for they will not understand our failure to fulfill their reasonable aspiration for a life of dignity,” he said.

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