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Communiqué du Centre International de la Justice Transitionnelle concernant la tenue des auditions publiques
NEW YORK, November 3, 2004-The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) today welcomed the start of public hearings for victims of human rights abuses in Morocco. The hearings are organized by the Moroccan Equity and Reconciliation Commission (Instance Equité et Réconciliation) (IER) as part of an official truth-seeking process focusing on disappearances and arbitrary detentions perpetrated against Moroccan citizens from 1956 until 1999. The IER is the first truth commission to be established in the Middle East and North Africa region and the public hearings that will begin tomorrow will provide victims with the opportunity-unprecedented in the region-to tell their stories before an official body.
The hearings will extend over a period of at least 10 weeks and will be held in the capital, Rabat, as well as in Al Hoceima, Casablanca, Errachidia, Figuig, Fes, Khenifra, Smara, Tantan and Tetouan. According to the Commission, the individuals who will relate their experiences have been selected according to the types of violations committed, regional representation, historic events, age, gender and location of detention centers. The IER will also organize 12 thematic hearings aimed at opening public debate on the legal, historical and political contexts surrounding the violations. Themes will include disappearances, torture, and arbitrary detention ; regions such as the Atlas, the Rif and the Western Sahara ; and topics including women, families of the disappeared, and exiles.
“The impact of these hearings, televised live across Morocco, will be enormous, not only in the country but throughout the region,” said Hanny Megally, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the ICTJ. “It is almost unheard of in this part of the world for victims to be given an official platform to relate their experiences of abuse. In this respect, Morocco should be praised for breaking new ground in its efforts to deal with past human rights violations.”
The hearings are the latest development in an official process that started on January 7, 2004 with the establishment of the Commission by King Mohamed VI. Efforts to move away from state policies of forcibly disappearing or arbitrarily detaining opponents, however, began in early 1990 when over three hundred disappeared persons were released. Since then, Moroccans have vociferously sought justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators. Over the past decade, the government has responded by establishing human rights institutions, reforming legislation, releasing political prisoners, and paying more than $100 million in compensation to nearly 3,700 victims and their families. To date, however, the full story about what happened to those still missing, and their whereabouts, has yet to be told.
The Commission, which is also tasked with finishing the work of the Independent Arbitration Commission, has received over 22,000 submissions related to past human rights abuses, and is following up with site visits to conduct in-depth interviews. The IER’s mandate extends for one year, ending in April 2005 with the delivery of a final report. Given the tremendous response from Moroccan citizens, the ICTJ believes that it is unlikely that the Commission will be able to complete its work by this date, and that it may need to seek a limited time extension.
Public hearings have become a common feature of truth-seeking processes around the world, the most recent examples being in Ghana, Peru, Timor-Leste, and Sierra Leone. Public hearings are not trials, nor are they meant to be a substitute for prosecutions. Their aim is usually not to uncover previously unknown information, but to constitute one important step in restoring dignity to citizens who have suffered state-sponsored human rights violations and who have been forced to remain silent about their experiences for fear of reprisal or societal exclusion.
Many victims speak of the terrible burden that such forced silence imposes on them. Public hearings seek to break this cycle of silence with the state providing victims an official, public forum to tell their stories, thus signaling its intention to break with the past.
Hearings are an important step in the construction of a new relationship between a state and its citizens, though they do not only affect these two sectors. Through public hearings, society as a whole can participate in the important debate about its own past, the violations that were committed in its name, the origins and causes of such violations, and the safeguards that must be put in place to prevent the repetition of such abuses.
The ICTJ in Morocco
The ICTJ has worked closely with the Moroccan Commission in the period leading up to its establishment, encouraging a transparent and participatory process for establishing the IER’s mandate and selecting commissioners. The Center has also provided the Commission with ongoing technical assistance in areas such as the conduct of public hearings, developing communications and outreach strategies, and providing comparative analyses on reparations. The ICTJ has also worked closely with Moroccan nongovernmental organizations, stressing their role in monitoring and critiquing the IER and assisting victims in presenting their submissions to the Commission.
About the ICTJ
The ICTJ assists countries pursuing accountability for past mass atrocity or human rights abuse. The Center works in societies emerging from repressive rule or armed conflict, as well as in established democracies where historical injustices or systemic abuse remain unresolved. It provides comparative information, legal and policy analysis, documentation, and strategic research to justice and truth-seeking institutions, nongovernmental organizations, governments, and others. The ICTJ assists in the development of strategies for transitional justice comprising five key elements : prosecuting perpetrators, documenting violations through nonjudicial means such as truth commissions, reforming abusive institutions, providing reparations to victims, and advancing reconciliation. The Center is committed to building local capacity and generally strengthening the emerging field of transitional justice, and works closely with organizations and experts around the world to do so.
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