- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A clear sign of a progressive, reforming and transparent government is an honest recognition of past transgressions and mistakes. Last week, the Moroccan Equity and Reconciliation Commission released a report on human rights abuses committed between 1956 and 1999 — the first of its kind in the Arab world.

The report details the deaths and disappearances of (808) Moroccans in the first years after independence and during the 38-year reign of King Hassan II, the father of current King Mohammed VI. The commission, formed two years ago, was charged with acknowledging past government brutality, opening secret files for families of victims and recommending measures to prevent future abuse.

Throughout history, many nations have endured difficult periods during which the ruling regime committed crimes against its own citizens. In some cases, these nations have carefully concealed their brutality in the hopes that all transgressions will be forgotten. Some have even held mock referendums to suggest the people simply “forget” the past. In other cases, attention has been focused on past abuses because of a revolution or a regime change that left the victors seeking justice or retribution.

Morocco has taken a different path. King Mohammed VI, who peacefully acceded to the throne upon the death of his father, has implemented a number of reforms. Nearly two years ago, against the recommendations of many, he formed the Equity and Reconciliation Commission to examine alleged abuses during his own father’s reign — and to provide reparations to those who had suffered or whose family members had suffered.

Upon announcing the commission, the king stated, “A bold, comprehensive approach, seeking justice, rehabilitation and reintegration, will be adopted to uncover the truth and draw lessons from the past.” Underscoring his determination to move Morocco forward, he appointed a former political dissident jailed for 17 years and university professor, Driss Benzekri, to lead the Equity and Reconciliation Commission. Mr. Benzekri and his panel were tasked with interviewing all Moroccan citizens who had suffered, awarding them reparations and making recommendations on avoiding future abuses.

To date, the commission is continuing to accomplish its goals. Morocco made history one year ago when dozens of victims of government abuse were invited to testify about their experiences on Moroccan public television. The commission has interviewed thousands of Moroccans and awarded tens of millions of dollars in reparations.

While these projects have been painful and have aired Morocco’s darkest secrets publicly for the world to see, the Moroccan government realizes that this process is a necessary step in its aggressive reform program. In recent years, Morocco has implemented reforms in many sectors, earning the title “one of the leading states in the Arab world in terms of political reform” from a 2004 report by Canada’s House of Commons.

The reforms, completed in the past five years with the strong encouragement of King Mohammed VI, have positive and tangible results for many Moroccan citizens. Under the new Moudawana (family laws), women can now initiate divorce; they can assert their right to share child custody; polygamy is virtually impossible; and the age of legal marriage has been raised to 18. The Council of the Ulemas was established to certify religion teachers and promote moderate Islam — with the goal of discouraging the extremism that is often linked to terrorism. Millions of dollars have been spent on improving housing for the less fortunate.

Perhaps most important, Morocco held parliamentary elections in 2002 that were internationally recognized as free, fair and transparent. This step toward democracy was embraced by Moroccans, who are now playing a more active role in their government.

As a Moroccan of Jewish faith, I can attest to the respect given to every religion — both in the laws of Morocco and, more importantly, in daily life. Historically, Morocco has been a bastion of religious freedom and has actively worked to prevent the common causes of Islamic extremism: poverty, unemployment and unresponsive government.

As a Moroccan American, I deeply regret that Morocco has had to go through tough and grueling periods in its history. However, I am encouraged by — and proud of — a leader who is willing to acknowledge the past in order to improve the future of Morocco. Here in America, many take our liberties and freedom for granted. Morocco has peacefully undertaken the difficult reforms and democratization we see Iraq fighting to achieve every day. Morocco, her citizens and especially King Mohammed VI should be commended for their forward thinking and leadership on human rights in the Arab world.

Charles Dahan is world vice president of the Federation of Moroccan Jewry.

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