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UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances concludes visit to Morocco

26 June 2009

The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances visited Morocco from 22 to 25 June 2009. This was the first visit of the Working Group to an Arab State or to an African country. The Working Group wishes to thank the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco (“Morocco”) for extending an invitation to the Working Group to visit the country and for its positive cooperation before and during the mission. The Working Group also wishes to thank the United Nations Development Programme in Morocco and the United Nations Secretariat for their invaluable support.

The purpose of the visit was to collect information which might lead to the clarification of outstanding cases of enforced disappearances in the country as well as to take stock of the experience of the Equality and Reconciliation Commission (IER, for its initials in French). During the mission, the Working Group held meetings with the Minister of Justice and other senior officials of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior, the Inter-Ministerial Body in charge of enforced disappearances, the President of the Chamber of Counsellors, a member of the Chamber of Representatives and the President of the Supreme Court. The Working Group also met with members of the national human rights institution, which is the Consultative Council of Human Rights (CCDH, for its initials in French), non-governmental organizations, family members and victims of enforced disappearances, lawyers and other civil society actors. The Working Group visited some former detention centres and cemeteries in Kelaat M’Gouna and Agdez, and the former detention centre of Derb Moulay Cherif in Casablanca.

Since its establishment in 1980, the Working Group has transmitted 249 cases to the Government of Morocco. It has clarified 191 cases, 144 on the basis of information provided by the Government of Morocco and 47 on the basis of information provided by the source; 58 remain outstanding. The Working Group is hopeful that the information gathered during the mission will lead to a resolution of the outstanding cases. The Working Group expresses its appreciation over the large number of cases clarified by the Government of Morocco. The efforts made by the Government should be an example to other countries.

The IER experience, which dealt with human rights violations from 1956 to 1999, is a commendable one that other countries in the region and elsewhere in the world can look to as an example, should they wish to adopt a transitional justice approach to dealing with the past.

It was extremely positive that the IER covered such a long period of time, heard testimony from thousands of victims, held public hearings and began the process of establishment of the archives.

The Working Group commends the gender focus adopted by the IER during its work.

The Working Group welcomes the fact that, according to the final report of the IER, its investigations have led to the elucidation of 742 cases of enforced disappearance. The Working Group looks forward to the publication as soon as possible of a consolidated list of persons and circumstances of the 742 cases, as well as the 66 cases which are still pending.

Official sources assured the Working Group that some alleged perpetrators testified before the IER. It is however unfortunate that the IER had no authority to subpoena alleged perpetrators of gross violations of human rights, including enforced disappearances. Some victims have raised concerns that the results of the investigations have not been given to individual victims in writing. The Working Group is aware of the fact that four years after the process ended, many of the recommendations of the IER have yet to be implemented and takes note of the commitment of the Government to implement them in the near future.

The Working Group welcomes the ambitious programme of individual and collective reparations. It includes preservation of memory sites which the Working Group witnessed during the above-mentioned visits. Nevertheless, the Working Group notes that some victims felt a lack of transparency about the implementation of the reparation and memory programme. The Working Group looks forward to the successful implementation of the preservation of those sites with adequate consultations with victims.

According to the Declaration, any state has the obligation to investigate the alleged perpetrators of enforced disappearances, to prosecute them and, if found responsible, to punish them with adequate penalties. During such investigations, alleged perpetrators should be removed from official duties. Official sources explained that the IER process was based on reconciliation and not prosecution. However, the Working Group remains concerned about the effect of this approach on impunity. Particularly, the Working Group was told by victims that they have attempted to ensure that the justice system takes up such cases. The Working Group also received allegations that alleged perpetrators remain in service.

In terms of the 1992 Declaration on the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearance (“Declaration”) “all acts of enforced disappearances shall be offences under criminal code punishable by appropriate penalties which will take into accounts their extreme seriousness”. The Working Group noted that there are provisions in the Criminal Code currently in force that impact on the crime of enforced disappearances, but there is no specific article which criminalizes enforced disappearances. The Working Group takes note of the information provided by official sources that the new Criminal Code is being drafted, which reportedly includes enforced disappearance as an autonomous crime.

In general it encourages the State of Morocco to undertake constitutional and criminal procedure reforms to harmonize them with international human rights standards. The Working Group underlines that under the Declaration, no circumstances whatsoever may be invoked to justify enforced disappearances. International human rights law should always be respected in dealing with terrorism. The Working Group notes with satisfaction the commitment by Morocco not to tolerate or permit any form of enforced disappearance or secret detention for even short periods. While the IER dealt with the period until 1999, there have been allegations of other human rights violations committed after that time, and more should be done to deal with these violations by the State.

The Working Group commends the Government of Morocco for the important role played in actively drafting and promoting the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Morocco was one of the first States to sign this instrument. The Working Group looks forward to Morocco ratifying the Convention and accepting the competence of the Committee in terms of articles 31 and 32 of the Convention, as well as ratifying other international instruments which impact on enforced disappearances, such as the First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Second Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture. The Working Group also calls upon Morocco to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which includes enforced disappearance as a possible crime against humanity.

The Working Group looks forward to the entering into force of the Convention and working in close cooperation with the Committee to be established and believes that the two institutions will play complementary roles, as is true of other mechanisms and mandates in the broad international human rights system.

The above-mentioned preliminary findings and some other issues arising from the information-gathering activities during this mission, as well as a series of recommendations and observations, will be elaborated on in detail in the report to be presented to the Human Rights Council.

The Working Group is comprised of five independent experts from all regions of the world. The Chairman-Rapporteur is Santiago Corcuera (Mexico) and the other Expert-Members are Darko Gottlicher (Croatia), Olivier de Frouville (France), Saied Rajaie Khorasani (Iran) and Jeremy Sarkin (South Africa).

For additional information on the mandate of the Working Group: