- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 19, 2006

RABAT, Morocco — Former victims of state repression are taking heart from promised constitutional reforms that would ensure that the government can never repeat abuses that claimed hundreds of lives in three decades.

The reforms promise to move this North Africa nation toward becoming a model for the Bush administration’s effort to promote democratic values throughout the greater Middle East.

“I managed to survive the repression and the torture, but many others found it much more difficult,” says Ahmed Herzenni, who was imprisoned and tortured for 10 years for distributing pamphlets critical of Morocco’s education system. “I saw people who were tortured so badly they ultimately lost their sanity.”

Despite his suffering, Mr. Herzenni, 58, says he is comforted that his children and grandchildren will never endure such horrors because of sweeping social, economic and political reforms being introduced.

Authorities say they will implement all the recommendations in a report released last month by the Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER). The 17-member panel was established two years ago by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI to investigate torture and abuse committed under the reign of his father, King Hassan II from 1961 to 1999 and to provide compensation to victims and their families.

“We want to show that Morocco remembers what happened here, recognizes its errors, and has the will to put in place all measures necessary to prevent a repetition,” said government spokesman Nabil Benabdellah. “Then we can turn the page on this part of our history and look forward to the reconstruction of our future.”

Mr. Benabdellah said the decision to establish the IER and follow its recommendations represented an unprecedented act of political courage.

“We are practically the only country in the world that has decided to look into the sins of its past within the same regime,” he said. “We were not forced to do this through coup d’etats or anything like that.”

Among the recommendations outlined in the report are changes to the constitution that would:

• Make international law on human rights override internal law.

• Ensure a presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial.

• Clarify basic freedoms and rights, including the freedoms of speech and expression.

• Prohibit arbitrary detention and genocide.

• Reform security, justice and penal policies.

The IER, chaired by former political detainee Driss Benzekri, arrived at its recommendations after hearing searing testimony from thousands of people, much of which was televised nationally.

Victims of human rights violations described forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, false imprisonment, torture and sexual abuse at the hands of authorities.

“The hearings were very moving and presented historical significance,” said IER member AbdelHay Moudden. “Never have you seen victims of human rights abuses explain their suffering in front of an entire country and accusing the state at the same time. There is no precedent.”

The IER verified that 743 Moroccans were killed by the government during the period under study and said 65 others remained “missing” as a result of forced disappearances.

The United States welcomed the commission’s findings and recommendations. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Jan. 13 that the report “demonstrates the kingdom of Morocco’s willingness to contemplate serious reform.”

The establishment of the truth-seeking commission was among a host of reforms initiated in the past year by Mohammed VI. Others include reforms to help the rural poor, to allow more press freedom and to give women more rights.

The government has agreed to provide financial compensation and other reparations to some 9,000 victims and their families who brought their grievances to the IER. No provisions have been created to punish the perpetrators.

Mr. Herzenni, who remembers the names of some of his torturers, said most victims do not need revenge to feel at peace.

“Most Moroccans share the mood of forgetting and moving forward,” he said. “For me, what matters most is not that I get revenge, but that what happened never repeats itself.”

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