Cablegate: Moroccan Human Rights Activists Discuss Challenges

Published: Fri 30 Dec 2005 04:10 PM
DE RUEHRB #2604/01 3641610
R 301610Z DEC 05
E.O. 12958: N/A
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2. (SBU) Summary: Five Moroccan human rights advocates,
including a member of Morocco's Equity and Reconciliation
Commission, offered views on Morocco's accomplishments and
shortcomings in the field of human rights during a December
14 roundtable for visiting DRL officer Martinez. With the
final report of the Equity and Reconciliation Commission
(Instance Equitie et Reconciliation -- IER) just submitted to
the Palace, discussion of the IER was a focus, with one
activist arguing that the IER was an important step forward
but only a partial one. While refraining from specific
comment on the human rights situation in the Western Sahara,
one participant rued that the Western Sahara conflict
continued to eat up scarce Moroccan resources. The advocates
agreed that most Moroccans did not have enough information
about the US-Morocco Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to have an
informed opinion, and consequently there was a negative
undercurrent toward the FTA in Morocco. They identified
illegal migration as an emerging area of concern for human
rights. The activists were vague about areas in which US
assistance could best support their efforts, though all
welcomed it in spite of international debate on some current
US human rights practices. End Summary.
3. (SBU) On December 14, Polcouns hosted a roundtable
discussion on human rights for visiting DRL officer Martinez
to review the human rights landscape in Morocco. In addition
to emboffs and DRL, present were:
-- Rachida Afilal, Leadership Feminin and MEPI-funded World
Learning project implementer;
-- Dr. Abdelhay Moudden, Professor of Political Science,
Director of the Center for Cross Cultural Learning, and
member of the IER;
-- El Habib Belkouch, Director, Center for the Study of Human
Rights and Democracy;
-- Abderahmane Bourhim, Association of the Amnesty
International Groups of Morocco; and
-- Mohamed Abouhani, Helen Keller International (HKI)
Equity and Reconciliation: A Start
4. (SBU) After providing background on DRL-funded activities
in Morocco, with DRL Martinez outlining the process for USG
funding of human rights projects, Polcouns turned to Moudden
for an update on the IER. Moudden said that the IER had
completed its mandate and shut its doors following the
submission of its final report and recommendations to the
Palace on December 1. Moudden, clearly proud of the
accomplishments of the IER, said he had every reason to
believe that the recommendations in the report would be
5. (SBU) Moudden emphasized that the IER was a commission,
not a court, and was charged with telling the King the truth
about past human rights abuses and recommending the types of
compensation due to victims. He said the King would also
decide about how much of the final report would be made
public. (Note: Since the roundtable, the King has
reportedly decreed that the entire report will be made
public. End Note.)
6. (SBU) While the participants agreed with Moudden about
the IER's mandate, the shortcomings of the mandate were
discussed. Belkouch argued that some negative practices of
the past continue, and members of the security forces
frequently disregard the law. Bourhim echoed this sentiment,
pointing out that human rights abuses committed under the
reign of King Mohamed VI were not covered by the IER's
mandate. While appreciating the work of the IER, Belkouch
said the commission represented only one aspect of the human
rights landscape in Morocco. Given that the IER's mandate is
limited to human rights abuses that occurred between 1956 and
1999, how were abuses post-1999 to be handled, he asked?
Issues such as constitutional reform and separation of powers
were outside the scope of the IER and remained urgent
priorities for the country, in his view.
7. (SBU) Moudden said the completion of the IER's work
should be regarded as a "first phase" of "equity and
reconciliation in Morocco." In the second phase, the
present, Moudden said human rights violations would continue,
but they would be marginalized. That represented a major
step forward, he felt.
8. (SBU) Belkouch agreed the commission's work allows
Morocco to move into the future. Afilal believed the IER
fulfilled the King's desire "to heal Morocco's wounds" and
emphasized that the report is "about more than laying history
to rest;" rather, she said, it served as a "guarantee for the
future, a guarantee that human rights will be respected in
9. (SBU) While not sure of details, Moudden said there could
be a role in the coming year for outside donors to assist
with the implementation of the recommendations -- for
example, to turn the notorious Tazmamart prison into a
cultural center, to establish a center for the study of human
rights, or to assist with compensation for the victims of
Gaps between Words, Action, and Resources
10. (SBU) Belkouch stressed that, in spite of improvements
in some areas, a gap remained between the state's openness to
airing human rights concerns and its commitment to
implementing changes that would minimize abuses in the
future. He stressed there was further need for "training."
Rachida Afilal agreed that passing new laws to protect human
rights was important, but the application of the laws was the
key. Belkouch said the majority of Moroccans, "the King
among them," wanted a democratic state, but there had to be
follow-through to bring it about; a lack of commitment to
implementing change suggested that the commitment at the top
to ending human rights abuses was weaker than it appeared.
11. (SBU) Bourhim said he thought a glaring weakness in
Morocco was the lack of a national human rights strategy for
police. He was concerned about the extent of impunity of the
security forces and the lack of judicial independence
(Comment: All of these areas are identified in the mission's
annual human rights report. End comment). He felt the GOM
needed to devote more resources to protecting human rights.
One example was the office of the ombudsman; by providing a
channel for the people to air views and concerns directly to
the Palace, it filled an important function, but no one knew
about it (comment: despite its fancy website), so what good
was it? The Moroccans were also somewhat critical of their
own ranks, agreeing with Belkouch's comment that many human
rights organizations in Morocco were "doing basically the
same thing."
Watch Out for the Islamists
12. (SBU) Abouhani saw Morocco's Islamists as adversaries
when it came to human rights. "Radical Muslims have the ear
of the masses" in some parts of Morocco, he said, which he
worried held back the social and economic development of the
country. Literacy was an essential component of an improved
human rights climate, he said. Because of widespread
illiteracy in Morocco, Abouhani said human rights concerns
were more strongly pushed by NGOs and the elite than the
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Human Rights and the National Development Initiative
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13. (SBU) While not specifically a human rights initiative,
all of the activists viewed the King's National Human
Development Initiative (INDH) as a positive step. Afilal
believed the INDH's emphasis on poverty reduction would have
a leavening effect on human rights. Abouhani noted that
given the high rate of illiteracy and misery in the country,
human rights could not become entrenched without social and
economic development. Belkouch also linked human rights
issues to political and economic development in the country.
14. (SBU) When asked about the potential impact of the
US-Morocco Free Trade Agreement, which will take effect
January 1, 2006, the participants were ambivalent about
whether it represented a step forward for Morocco. Moudden
said very little was known about the FTA in Morocco, and
there was little discussion of the FTA beyond the elites.
The reaction of "ordinary Moroccans," he said, is primarily
negative, and there is a sense that Morocco is "not really
ready" for an FTA with the US. "If you talk to small
business owners in Morocco," Moudden said, "there is no
understanding of the FTA." He chided the GOM for a "lack of
communication" about the FTA and worried that Moroccans
lacked the "savoir faire" to take advantage of the agreement.
Other participants said there had been insufficient public
debate about the FTA. That said, the participants welcomed
any initiative that could provide jobs and promote economic
development in Morocco, which they reiterated were an
essential underpinning to protecting human rights.
Illegal Immigration
15. (SBU) Illegal migration to Morocco is creating new
human rights pressures in the country, according to the
participants. Without economic development and an increase
in jobs, Morocco cannot absorb sub-Saharan migrants. At the
same time, the participants agreed that European countries,
particularly Spain, cannot expect Morocco to police the
migrants on its own. The migration problem was giving
Morocco a bad name, they said, when Spain was also a human
rights violator in forcibly repelling intending sub-Saharans
from their land border with Morocco. While illegal migration
was not a new phenomenon for Morocco, Abouhani said "it just
landed on us as a human rights issue." The participants felt
Moroccan human rights organizations had little experience
with the migration issue.
Opportunities for US Assistance
16. (SBU) The five participants, two of whom work for
organizations that already receive US assistance, welcomed
further US assistance to support human rights work in
Morocco. They were unperturbed about reports dominating the
press about alleged US torture of prisoners. They said the US
had a great deal to offer "across the board." Abouhani said
the US was still relatively unknown to Morocco, and as such
Morocco was "dangerously dependent" on EU funding. He hoped
the US viewed Morocco as a "fellow Atlantic country." Beyond
a blanket welcome for US assistance, however, the
participants did not specify priority areas, apart from "more
hands-on training."
17. (SBU) DRL Martinez did not clear this cable.
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