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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 April, 2005, 08:14 GMT 09:14 UK
Facing up to Morocco's hidden fear
By Pascale Harter
BBC News, Rabat

Maria Sharaf is still cautious about who she opens the door to. In 1985, she and her husband were arrested simply for holding opinions unpopular with the regime of King Hassan II.

Alleged torture victims
Some 22,000 people have filed claims
In prison, Maria listened to her husband's screams as he was tortured. Until one day, they stopped.

"Some days I didn't see him and I didn't hear him," she says.

"The police told me he was in hospital, but three days after that, when I came back home, we had a telegram saying that he was dead."

She starts sobbing as she recalls: "The police... kept the body. So I never saw him dead."

Maria had to accept her husband's death in silence, afraid that if she made accusations against the police, she might meet the same fate.

Now, for the first time, Maria and thousands of other Moroccans are being allowed to speak openly about the state-sponsored terror under the regime of the late King Hassan II.

Morocco is the first country in the Arab world to have set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Compensation

Used most notably in South Africa, reconciliation commissions usually aim to break with human rights abuses of the past by confronting those responsible.

Morocco's Equity and Reconciliation Commission is due to present its findings this month.

We have cases of people who have been tortured, kidnapped and some of them killed for their political views, even last year
Mohamed el-Boukili
Moroccan Association for Human Rights
Abderazak Tebarak, one of the commission staff whose job it is to document these cases, indicates rows and rows of files: about 22,000 applications by individuals who say they were tortured or that their family members disappeared.

All of them deal with a period of time starting with the independence of Morocco in 1956, and ending in 1999 - coinciding exactly with the reign of the late King Hassan II.

As Abderazak Tebarak explains, there was a reason for1999 cut-off date: "The commission works on the terrorists of the past, so it has to have a clear idea and to make a distance from the present."

The commission uses the files to assess how much compensation victims and their families should be given. For Maria Sharaf, the $15,000 dollars she received was not enough.

"When I have seen my son groaning without his father, how much can they give me to make me forget that?" she says.

"I want to live a normal life but I can't."

Failing

There are other criticisms levelled at the Equity and Reconciliation Commission, or the IER as it is known here.

An independent organisation, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, is investigating current human rights abuses in Morocco.

Secret policeman
Morocco's secret police remains a feared force
The association's Mohamed El Boukili, says the IER is failing because, unlike other reconciliation commissions, not one of the 22,000 files at the IER headquarters will result in a prosecution.

"We have cases of people who have been tortured, kidnapped and some of them killed for their political views, even last year," Mohamed El Boukili says.

"We stick to naming torturers because we aim to prosecute them, so this can't be repeated in the future."

Mr Boukili's association has published a list of alleged torturers it thinks should face prosecution.

They include figures in Morocco's current administration.

But Abdelhay Moudden of the IER says the commission does not need to prosecute individuals to change the system and break with the past.

"Our major task is how to reform this political system from within and if our answers and our recommendations are not addressing these violations then the IER is useless," he says.

Dark era

The testimonies of torture victims are televised live by the IER, and make emotional viewing even for Moroccans too young to remember the so-called "years of lead".

"I think it's a good idea," one woman told the BBC. "It gives people more of a chance to know about something that was silenced and was not known."

But one woman is not convinced that times have changed. "If I say I don't agree with the king, I will have problems. I can't say it here in front of people or in the street," she says.

The commission is uncovering a dark era in Morocco's history. And while some say the present is not all that different, for many, just being able to talk at last - albeit within limits - is the first step to changing Morocco's future.




SEE ALSO:
Morocco publishes king's salary
29 Dec 04 |  Africa
Spain and Morocco in judge swap
30 Sep 04 |  Europe
US struggle to woo Moroccans
20 Jul 04 |  Africa
Morocco's king pardons satirist
07 Jan 04 |  Africa
Country profile: Morocco
23 Nov 04 |  Country profiles


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