2009 will never come this way again. Yet, next year at this time, we’ll be saying the same thing about 2010. Here’s what I’m hoping we’ll also be saying: I hope we’ll be patting each other on the back, saying: “Look how quickly justice reforms passed!” or “Look how quickly unfair trials were corrected and Zahra Boudkour is now free.” Errors of the past can be corrected, in fact, they are even avoidable.
Justice should be at the heart of it during 2010.
I recognize the difficulties of many countries to build effective justice systems and reconcile divided societies after years of authoritarianism and conflict. Powerful forces can become accustomed to acting above the law to protect their interests.
Some actions were taken, and I must admit, courageous ones. A great hope aroused with the Equity and Reconciliation Commission (ERC) established in 2004 by King Mohammed VI. It was seen as the first of its kind to be established in the Arab World following a period of internal strife. In contrast with other countries in the region, Morocco chose to confront its problems and to face the ghosts of its past.
In 2006, the ERC released a report and recommendations in which it asserted that in order to promote rule of law, there must be reforms in the security, justice, law, and penal policy.
The commission specifically recommended, firstly: “…in addition to the recommendations related to the constitution, a reassessment of the statutes of the Higher Magistracy Council, by way of a functional law reviewing its constitution and mission” and secondly “…strengthening the legal and procedural guarantees against human rights violations (…) It also necessitates developing a clear and precise definition of violence against women, in conformity with international norms…”
Yet, years after the end of the ERC work, Morocco still faces terrible, inequitable and unfair trials. The Zahra Boudkour case is one of them. A young woman from Marrakesh studying law (what an irony!) at the Cadi Ayyad University of Marrakech, Zahra happens also to be an activist and participated back in May 2008 in a peaceful demonstration demanding better education conditions. Police charged the demonstration and Zahra and some comrades were taken to the police station, where they faced humiliating detention conditions. They were detained for five days illegally before they were charged. Weeks later, Zahra was sentenced to two years of jail. She faced an unfair trial, her family was forbidden from attending some court sessions. While Zahra is waiting for her appeal trial session (two, in January and February, have been postponed) planned on March 19th, she’s resuming her law studies from prison and still describes herself as an activist.
What message is sent to the youth of our nation through Zahra’s story? It is something like this: “Be a citizen, ask for better conditions of life, health and education and you’ll face humiliation. Believe in justice, ask for it and you’ll face unfairness and arbitrary. Be dedicated to your studies, have dreams and seek success but you’ll face insecurity of the future”?
Of course, not. At least, I hope not.
Justice is about ensuring dignity, equality and security for all. These three notions should also be at the core of our nation’s standards. They are closely interlinked. Dignity, which reflects both autonomy and responsibility, concerns the individual. Equality is the cornerstone of effective and harmonious relationships between people; it underpins our common systems of ethics and rights, whether we are discussing equality before the law or the need for equity in how States and international systems conduct their affairs. Neither dignity nor equality, of course, can take root in the absence of security.
These notions are not ideals and aspirations that are impossible to achieve. They translate into benchmarks to measure conduct. More than half a century of collective work has provided us with norms that provide content to these notions. We have a universal human rights framework embedded in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the two International Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and on Civil and Political Rights, as well as other core human rights treaties. Those have all been approved by our country. These instruments have inspired provisions in many national constitutions and laws and led to the creation of long-term national infrastructures for the protection and promotion of human rights.
Dignity, equality and security require systems of justice that can maintain and uphold these values. Law should operate as an instrument to protect the dignity and worth of the human person, not as a tool to permit arbitrary rule or cruelty or an abdication of a State’s basic responsibilities towards its citizens.
We need to bring security to all individuals and organizations of our nation by protecting their rights to life, to liberty, to think freely and believe whatever they want; their rights not to fear torture or exile or arbitrary detention; their rights to express themselves, to associate peacefully, to move freely within their country and return to it; their basic right to development; their rights to primary education and to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being.
It is in our interest as a people, as a nation, to tackle every case like Zahra’s because, as said Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”