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Moroccan Activist Driss Benzekri

By John Thorne
Associated Press
Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Driss Benzekri, a former political prisoner who later headed a truth commission in Morocco, has died, a former colleague and fellow detainee said yesterday. He was 57.

Mr. Benzekri died in Rabat, Morocco, on May 20 of complications of stomach cancer, said Abdelhamid Amin, a former president of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights.

Mr. Benzekri was president of the Equity and Reconciliation Commission, founded in 2004 by Morocco's King Mohamed VI to look into past human rights abuses -- including under the monarch's father, King Hassan II.

It was the first such truth-seeking body in the Arab world and has been praised as a model for other Arab countries confronting dark pasts.

A former Marxist, Mr. Benzekri was one of many Moroccans illegally detained, imprisoned, tortured or forcibly "disappeared" by state security forces from the 1950s to the 1990s.

The commission put the number of victims in the hundreds; most human rights activists say it is in the thousands.

"Benzekri's struggle, first in prison and later in all he did for justice in this country, was an important achievement," said Amin, who was imprisoned with Benzekri from 1979 to 1984 and later worked closely with him in several human rights organizations.

"We mourn his death all the more because his work remains incomplete," Amin added.

Last year, the commission issued a report naming those they judged perpetrators of abuses, outlining a reparations plan for victims and calling for institutional and legislative reforms to prevent further human rights violations.

Moroccan and international human rights groups have said the commission's efforts might be undone if the Moroccan government fails to act on the report's recommendations.

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