Human rights champion Driss Benzekri dies
By Imane Belhaj for Magharebia in Casablanca – 25/05/2007
The Moroccan people suffered a heavy loss with the death on May 20th of Driss Benzekri, a prominent figure in the field of political struggle and the defence of human rights. He succumbed after a prolonged battle with stomach cancer and with his passing Morocco lost an activist whose unique personality brought together the political, legal and social forces of the country to lay the foundation for a modern Morocco that respects international principles of human rights.
Benzekri was born in 1950 in the village of Ait Ouahi at a new stage in Moroccan history. Society had begun voicing its demands for independence from colonial rule, and in his early years, Benzekri was at the forefront of a generation of young people calling for change. The son of an impoverished rural family, Benzekri enrolled in school, which offered his only hope of breaking with tradition and achieving prosperity outside the village.
Benzekri studied French literature, and pursued forbidden political activities in secret. His participation in founding the Ila al-Amam organisation marked the beginning of a cycle of political struggle and imprisonment that would dominate his life until his release after 17 years behind bars in 1991. At that time Benzekri began a new career with fresh convictions. He was never free from criticism, but he knew how to respond with great charisma and confidence.
Benzekri was detained for more than 17 years during his life, and friends and comrades in prison have memories of his courageous stands on many occasions, and his great insight during debate and keen analysis of the social and political climate of his country.
Benzekri spent 1974-75 secretly detained in the Derb Moulay Cherif facility in Casablanca, after which he was transferred to the central prison in Kenitra. Towards the end of his detention, he distanced himself from his Ila al-Amam organisation, realising that political change was already afoot in the country and throughout the world.
In prison he continued with his studies, obtaining diplomas in linguistics and literature from Mohammed V University in Rabat and the University of Aix-Marseille in France. Following these degrees he turned his attention to legal studies and upon his release from prison, he obtained a master's degree in international law, specialising in human rights, from the University of Essex, England, in 1997.
Benzekri and number of other victims of human rights violations founded the Forum for Truth and Justice. In 2001 he was named chairman of the Consultative Council for Human Rights (CCDH), where he expanded the issue of human rights beyond simple politics, into the spheres of economics, society and culture.
Benzekri was appointed head of the Peace and Reconciliation Commission which King Mohammed VI established in 2004. His work with the Commission concerned gross violations of human rights and the location of missing persons.
Mohammed Sektaoui, Director-General of the Moroccan branch of Amnesty International, described Benzekri’s death as "a tragedy for…those who struggle for human rights in Morocco".
According to Abraham Serfaty, one of the leftist activists whose name is connected with the Ila al-Amam organisation, Benzekri was "courageous and untainted, and impossible to manipulate. It was his right to accept the leadership of the Commission."
Amina Bouayach, President of the Moroccan Human Rights Organisation, said that Morocco had lost a tower of strength for the forces of justice, as well as a broad-minded man open to all opinions, even those contrary to his own.
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