Covering events from January - December 2002

Head of state: King Mohamed VI
Head of government: Driss Jettou (replaced Abderrahmane Youssoufi in November)
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: signed

The process, begun in 1999, 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. Sahrawi human rights and civil society activists faced arrest, detention and imprisonment. Tens of demonstrators, charged with public order offences in Western Sahara, and scores of Islamists, held in secret detention and accused in connection with alleged violent acts, were reportedly tortured or ill-treated. Over 30 political prisoners sentenced after unfair trials in previous years remained in detention. The failure to bring those responsible for human rights violations to justice remained a major concern.


Parliamentary elections took place in September resulting in the formation of a new government in November, headed by Prime Minister Driss Jettou, formerly Minister of the Interior. The King retained powers to appoint key ministers, including the Prime Minister, and the Ministers of Justice and the Interior.

In December a new leadership was appointed by the King for the official human rights body, the Human Rights Advisory Board.

The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) continued to extend its mandate to remain in the disputed territory as no progress was made to end the deadlock in the process designed to lead to a referendum on the sovereignty of Western Sahara.

Moroccan human rights and women's organizations continued to campaign on a range of issues, including to resolve all outstanding cases of "disappearance" and to revise the moudawana (personal status code), which currently discriminates against women.


The compensation process for victims of "disappearance" and arbitrary detention in previous years and their families continued. The families of the "disappeared" and former victims of "disappearance" continued to insist that compensation is only one element in the process of providing full redress for victims of human rights violations.

However, despite the authorities' stated commitment to address current and former human rights violations, no additional steps were taken to 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.

  • Hamudi ould Mohamed-Lahbib ould Baba Biri was among tens of Sahrawis arrested by the Moroccan security forces in Erbeib, near Smara in Western Sahara, on 10 July 1976. His wife, Safiya L'mbarek, was arrested five days later. After reportedly being tortured, the security forces took her, on two separate occasions, to see her husband, whom she alleged had also been tortured. She had neither seen nor heard news of her husband since that time, despite repeated attempts to seek clarification regarding his whereabouts from the Moroccan authorities. Over 26 years later, the fate of Hamudi ould Mohamed-Lahbib ould Baba Biri remained unknown and a thorough, impartial and independent investigation had not been opened into his "disappearance".
The deaths of scores of "disappeared" remained unacknowledged by the authorities, and the victims' families had neither received any information on the whereabouts of their relatives' remains nor received them for burial. Among the victims 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.
  • On 16 December the Moroccan authorities announced that a Moroccan magistrate would be appointed to record the testimony of retired security agent Ahmed Boukhari on behalf of the French judicial inquiry investigating the "disappearance" of Mehdi Ben Barka, a leading Moroccan political opponent, who was abducted in Paris, France, in 1965. Following his allegations that the Moroccan secret services were responsible for thousands of abductions, followed by secret detention and torture, including that of Mehdi Ben Barka, Ahmed Boukhari had repeatedly been prevented from testifying before the French judicial inquiry because the Moroccan authorities continued to refuse to renew his passport. A challenge to this decision by Ahmed Boukhari was pending before the courts at the end of the year. In addition, several defamation lawsuits brought against Ahmed Boukhari, including one by three of his former colleagues, who he alleges were implicated in grave and systematic human rights violations over a number of years, were ongoing at the end of the year.
Sahrawi activists

Tens of Sahrawi human rights and civil society activists, particularly those perceived to advocate the independence of Western Sahara, were subjected to harassment and intimidation. Many were members of the Western Sahara branch of the human rights organization Forum for Truth and Justice. Some were arrested, remanded in custody and brought to trial on apparently politically motivated charges. Others were arrested and released after being questioned about their alleged support of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (known as the Polisario Front), the pro-independence movement based in neighbouring Algeria. Several were reportedly denied a passport.
  • On 24 October, Ali-Salem Tamek, a prominent activist in the Western Sahara branch of the Forum for Truth and Justice and a prisoner of conscience, was sentenced on appeal to two years' imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 Moroccan dirhams (about US$1,000) for "undermining the internal security of the state". Ali-Salem Tamek's conviction was based on two elements. The first was his stated belief that Western Sahara should be an independent state. The second was a statement, allegedly extracted under torture, made by three former Sahrawi prisoners of conscience during questioning by Moroccan security forces in 1999 that Ali-Salem Tamek received funds from the Polisario Front. The allegations of torture raised by the three former prisoners were never investigated.
Torture and ill-treatment

There were reports that scores of detainees were tortured or ill-treated in custody in order to extract confessions or to force them to sign statements which they rejected or denied. Many of the reports related to scores of Islamists held in secret detention and accused of involvement in or planning violent acts, and tens of demonstrators charged with public order offences in Western Sahara.
  • Following their arrests in May and June, three Saudi Arabian nationals and seven Moroccans, including the wives of two of the Saudi Arabians, were put on trial in proceedings that opened on 28 October. They faced various charges, some of which carried the death penalty, in connection with an alleged plan to blow up NATO warships in the Straits of Gibraltar and of plotting attacks on cafés and public buses in Marrakesh. Some were allegedly held in secret detention for up to a month. In the case of the three Saudi Arabians, defence lawyers claimed that the authorities tried to cover up this serious breach of procedures by logging a false arrest date of 12 June in official records rather than the correct dates of 12 and 13 May. Many of the detainees alleged that they were tortured and ill-treated during interrogation in secret detention in order to make them sign "confessions" whose content they rejected and denied. Techniques reported included suspension, beatings and threats of rape. In addition, they were allegedly threatened with further torture immediately prior to appearing before the examining magistrate in order to coerce them into repeating their "confessions".
  • On 25 April, 14 people were sentenced to between six months' and two years' imprisonment for taking part in a demonstration in Smara on 18 November 2001, which was violently dispersed by the Moroccan security forces. They were allegedly tortured in detention, including being beaten with clubs and whipped, in order to extract "confessions" from them. Despite raising this in court, no investigation into these allegations was undertaken and the "confessions" were accepted as the principal piece of evidence leading to their convictions. Lawyers claimed that, in some cases, traces of torture were visible when the accused appeared before the public prosecutor and the examining magistrate.

Journalists continued to face prison sentences when reporting on sensitive subjects.
  • On 14 February, a Casablanca court of appeal suspended prison sentences of three and two months handed down in March 2001 to two journalists, Aboubakr Jamai and Ali Amar, both of whom work for the Moroccan weekly Le Journal Hebdomadaire. They had been charged in connection with a series of articles which accused Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohamed Benaissa of embezzlement while he was ambassador to the USA.
  • Several hearings were held in the appeal trial of Ali Lmrabet, editor of the Moroccan weekly Demain Magazine, who had been sentenced to four months' imprisonment and fined in November 2001 for "disseminating false information" in connection with an article on the possible sale of a royal palace to foreign investors. In December 2002 the trial was postponed until October 2003. Ali Lmrabet remained at liberty pending a final ruling on his case. If imprisoned, he would be a prisoner of conscience.
Polisario camps

Freedom of expression, association and movement continued to be restricted in the camps controlled by the Polisario Front, near Tindouf in southwestern Algeria. 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 government failed to bring to justice the perpetrators of abuses in the Polisario camps present on its territory.

In January the Polisario Front announced the liberation of 115 prisoners of war who had been detained in the Polisario camps, some for over 20 years. Hundreds more remained in detention despite an end to armed hostilities between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan authorities in 1991 following a cease-fire brokered by the UN.


In June and July AI delegates met dozens of families of the "disappeared" and former "disappeared" in Rabat, Casablanca, Laayoune and Smara.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.