Years of Lead (Morocco)

For other uses, see Years of Lead.
Hassan II

The Years of Lead (Arabic: سنوات الرصاص Sanawāt ar-Ruṣāṣ, French: années de plomb) is the term used to describe a period of the rule of King Hassan II of Morocco (mainly the 1960s through the 1980s) marked by state violence against dissidents and democracy activists.


Hassan II was king from 1961 until his death in 1999. His reign was marked by political unrest and a heavy-handed government response to criticism and opposition. While some perceive the Years of Lead to have begun with Moroccan independence in 1956 under Mohammed V, political oppression plateaued in the 1960s and wound down only in the early 1990s.

During the 1990s, Morocco experienced a slow but notable improvement in its political climate and human rights situation. The pace of reform accelerated with the accession to the throne of Mohammed VI in 1999.

Repression and its victims

During the Years of Lead, dissidents were arrested, executed or "disappeared", newspapers were closed and books were banned. There are few reliable lists of victims for the time, but there were hundreds of political killings and forced disappearances. Arbitrary arrests and torture affected many, including some of those outside the usual opposition networks.

Some examples of government repression include:

ERC: Looking into the past

As the more liberal-minded Mohammed VI succeeded his father on the throne in 1999, the period was definitely over. While Morocco is still not considered a democracy in the western meaning of the term and human rights abuses still frequently occur according to rights groups (especially against suspected Islamists and Sahrawi independence seekers), important reforms have been instituted to examine past abuses. The press is considerably freer than before and debate on many subjects is intense, although the monarchy, political Islam and Western Sahara remain more or less untouchable. Parliament still holds no power over the King, but elections are semi-fair, whereas they were blatantly rigged or suspended for many years during the 1970s and 1980s. Several independent human rights organizations have formed to investigate the impact of state repression during the years of rule and to press claims for damages suffered.

One of the most significant developments was the setting up of the Equity and Reconciliation Commission (ERC, French acronym IER) in January 2004. The ERC is an official government human rights committee authorized to examine human rights abuses committed by the government and administer compensations for victims of unfair policies. While this is almost unprecedented in the Arab world, the ERC's actual independence from the current administration and its ability to reach culprits in the Moroccan elite, known as the "makhzen", has been seriously disputed. The ERC is not mandated to identify or prosecute discovered human rights offenders and there has been no trials against government employees for their actions during the Years of Lead. The situation in Western Sahara, a neighbouring territory that was controversially militarily annexed by Morocco in the 1970s, has been mentioned by rights groups as especially serious. There are complaints that the ERC either cannot or will not examine the cases of disappeared or killed Sahrawis with the same forcefulness as with Moroccans.

On January 6, 2006, King Mohammed VI expressed regret for the human rights abuses that had occurred during his father's reign and spoke of the need for lessons to be drawn from the past.

The commission's work, and the emotional legacy of the Years of Lead on four families, is also explored in the 2008 documentary film Our Forbidden Places (Nos lieux interdits).[1]

Further reading

See also


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