Covering events from January-December 2001

Kingdom of Morocco
Head of state: King Mohamed VI
Head of government: Abderrahmane Youssoufi
Capital: Rabat
Population: 30.4 million
Official language: Arabic
Death penalty: retentionist

The process of compensating victims of "disappearance" and arbitrary detention in previous years and their families continued. However, the authorities failed to clarify the cases of several hundred people, most of them Sahrawis, who "disappeared" between the 1960s and early 1990s. Fifty-six political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, were released in a royal pardon. However, some 30 others sentenced after unfair trials in previous years remained in detention. Dozens of human rights defenders and over a hundred members and sympathizers of a banned Islamist association were sentenced to prison terms following demonstrations in December 2000; the human rights defenders were later acquitted. The failure to bring those responsible for human rights violations to justice remained a major concern.


King Mohamed VI made several new appointments to key administrative positions, including the post of Minister of the Interior and nine new regional governorships. Many of the new officials were recruited from the business community, rather than from within the politico-administrative sector, as had traditionally been the case.

In April, a decree was enacted reforming the structure and mandate of the Conseil consultatif des droits de l'homme (CCDH), Human Rights Advisory Board. Changes introduced by the decree included expanding the Board's mandate to allow it to examine individual cases of human rights violations and to increase the representation of non-governmental organizations on the Board. In December, a new institution was created to deal with complaints from citizens who considered they had been unjustly treated by the authorities.

In March, King Mohamed VI announced the creation of a royal commission responsible for revising the moudawana (personal status code) which discriminates against women.

The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) proposed a controversial new initiative to end the deadlock in the process designed to lead to a referendum on the sovereignty of Western Sahara. The proposed initiative would radically change the criteria for those eligible to vote. However, there was no agreement on whether or not the initiative should be implemented.


The process continued of compensating victims of "disappearance" and arbitrary detention and their families. According to the authorities, by the end of 2001, compensation had been awarded in a total of over 700 cases where claims had been submitted to the arbitration commission, established in 1999. Many families continued to distrust the process, insisting that compensation was only one element in the process of providing full redress for victims of past human rights violations. The CCDH gave assurances to AI that receiving compensation would not prevent victims or their families from subsequently seeking legal redress through the courts.

However, despite the authorities' stated commitment to address all past human rights violations, no additional steps were taken to adequately resolve the cases of grave abuses committed between the mid-1960s and the early 1990s, notably the "disappearance"of several hundred people, the majority of them Sahrawis. The deaths of scores of "disappeared" had still not been acknowledged by the authorities by the end of 2001; their families had not been told the whereabouts of the remains or received the bodies for burial. Among them were some 70 Sahrawis who "disappeared" in the secret detention centres of Agdz, Qal'at M'gouna and Laayoune between 1976 and 1991. Investigations to establish responsibility for the grave and systematic human rights violations which occurred in the past were not known to have been opened and the perpetrators, including those responsible for gross violations over long periods, were not brought to justice.

  • In June retired security agent Ahmed Boukhari disclosed information relating to the "disappearance" of Mehdi Ben Barka, a leading Moroccan political opposition activist, who was abducted in Paris, France, in 1965. Ahmed Boukhari alleged that Mehdi Ben Barka died while being interrogated in a villa south of Paris by Moroccan security agents and that his body was then flown back to Morocco and dissolved in acid.
Prisoners of conscience and political prisoners

The Moroccan authorities released 56 political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, following a royal pardon in November.
  • Morocco's longest serving prisoner of conscience was released. Mohamed Daddach, a Sahrawi, had been arrested in 1979 and was serving a life sentence for trying to desert from the Moroccan security forces into which he had reportedly been forcibly enlisted.
  • Three Sahrawi prisoners of conscience, Brahim Laghzal, Cheikh Khaya and Laarbi Massoudi, serving four-year prison sentences imposed in 2000 for "threatening state security", were released. The charges related to their alleged connections with the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el-Hamra y Río de Oro, Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra y Rio de Oro (known as the Polisario Front). Salek Bahaha ould Mahmoud, who was sentenced to four years' imprisonment on a similar charge in a separate trial in 2000, was also released.
Other releases involved people who had been imprisoned following trials since 1999 in connection with demonstrations in September 1999 in the cities of Laayoune and Marrakech which were violently suppressed by the security forces. They had been sentenced, following unfair trials, to prison terms of up to 15 years for, among other things, destruction of property and looting. Allegations that dozens of the protesters had been tortured in detention were not investigated by the courts during their trials.

However, some 30 political prisoners, including a prisoner of conscience, sentenced after unfair trials since the 1970s continued to be detained.
  • Prisoner of conscience Mustapha Adib, a Moroccan Air Force captain, charged with indiscipline and dishonouring the army, remained in prison. On 21 February, the Supreme Court confirmed a two-and-a-half year prison sentence against him. He had been unfairly tried in 2000 following the publication of an article in a French newspaper which quoted him as denouncing corruption in the Moroccan armed forces.
Political opponents of the government faced intimidation and harassment when exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and association.
  • The first trials of approximately 130 members and sympathizers of the banned Islamist organization al-'Adl wa'l-Ihsan, Justice and Charity, began at the end of January in several cities around Morocco. Most of the defendants were charged with participating in an unarmed gathering liable to disturb public order in connection with demonstrations in December 2000 which were violently dispersed by the security forces. During the year, dozens of people were sentenced to prison terms of up to one year; appeals were still pending at the end of the year.
Human rights defenders

Dozens of human rights defenders were sentenced to prison terms as a direct consequence of their work. Others were prevented from carrying out their work.
  • On 16 May, 36 human rights defenders were each sentenced to three months' imprisonment and a fine of 3,000 dirhams (around US$300) for organizing an unauthorized demonstration on 9 December 2000. On 21 November 2001, the Court of Appeal in Rabat acquitted them. The trial of the human rights defenders, who included men and women from prominent local human rights organizations, followed calls by the Association marocaine des droits de l'homme (AMDH), Moroccan Association for Human Rights, for the authorities to shed light on past human rights abuses. Just days before the demonstration, the AMDH had written to the Moroccan parliament asking for an independent inquiry into the alleged participation of 16 senior Moroccan officials in the torture and "disappearance" of opposition activists. Following the acquittal, the AMDH published an extended list adding 29 new names.

Restrictions on freedom of expression continued to be imposed. Journalists were punished for work deemed to be critical of the authorities. Foreign journalists were expelled from the country, certain editions of foreign and domestic publications were banned and Moroccan journalists were sentenced to prison terms.
  • On 1 March, a Casablanca court sentenced two journalists working for the Moroccan weekly Le Journal Hebdomadaire – Aboubakr Jamai and 'Ali 'Amar – to three and two months' imprisonment respectively and a fine of 20,000 dirhams (approximately US$2,000) in addition to damages of two million dirhams (approximately US$200,000). The two men were charged in connection with a series of articles which accused the current Minister of Foreign Affairs of embezzlement while he was Moroccan ambassador to the USA in the late 1990s.
Polisario camps

Freedom of expression, association and movement continued to be restricted in camps near Tindouf in southwestern Algeria controlled by the Polisario Front. Those responsible for human rights abuses in the camps in previous years continued to enjoy impunity. The Polisario authorities failed to hand over perpetrators still resident in the camps to the Algerian authorities to be brought to justice, and the Moroccan authorities failed to bring to justice the perpetrators of abuses in the Polisario camps present on Moroccan territory.

AI country reports/visits

  • Morocco/Western Sahara: Freedom of assembly on trial (AI Index: MDE 29/011/2001)

AI delegates visited Morocco in April and June and were granted an audience with King Mohamed VI in June.

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