It is a key role of any government to maintain law and order on behalf of the whole society; to hold people to account for crimes they have committed and to ensure that justice is done – and seen to be done. But this carries with it a grave responsibility, because convicting someone of a criminal offence and potentially taking away a person’s liberty is one of the most serious steps any government can take against an individual. This step can only be justified after the person has been given a fair trial.
The right to a fair trial means that people can be sure that processes will be fair and certain. It prevents governments from abusing their powers. A fair trial is the best means of separating the guilty from the innocent and protecting against injustice. Without the upholding of this right, the rule of law and public faith in the justice system collapse. The right to a fair trial is one of the cornerstones of a just society.
The United Nations set out the fundamental rights of human beings in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Right to a Fair Trial was at its heart:
“Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of … any criminal charge against him.”
Thus the international community proclaimed the right to a fair trial to be a “foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.
The right to a fair trial is recognized internationally as a fundamental human right and countries are required to respect it. Different countries have developed different ways of doing this, but regardless of how a particular legal system operates, one thing is for sure, due process is a foundation of any legitimate system.
One recent case that tested the actual application of due process in Morocco was the Gdeim Izik trial. At the request of the National Council for Human Rights, nine French jurists, lawyers and law professors, attended as observers the trial of 24 Sahrawis prosecuted for the murder of 11 members of the Moroccan security forces when dismantling peacefully the Gdeim Izik camp in November 2010. Three delegations of this association have successively followed the sessions on February 8, as well as from 12 to 17 February.
Christophe Boutin, university professor, welcomed “the commitment to transparency of the Moroccan state”. The trial was open to associations, observers, journalists and NGOs who made no secret of their support for the Polisario thesis. He also noted the court’s efforts to translate the proceedings into several languages ??- English, French, Spanish and dialect Sahrawi Hassanya to allow both the audience and the observers to follow the trial.
Michel Guillenschmidt, State Councilor and lawyer stated that the rights of the defense had been respected and that “the conditions of a fair trial had been exemplary.” Several times during the press conference, several members of the delegation indicated that some defense lawyers have welcomed the attitude of the presiding judge.
Charles Saint-Prot, Director of the Observatory of Geopolitical Studies, said that demonstrations of support for the families of victims, as well as those of the defendants had been organized freely before the military tribunal. “There are few countries in the region that have allowed such freedoms” noted Charles Saint-Prot. “Morocco is a constitutional state strong enough to let them express themselves in acts of propaganda.”
Members of the delegation also responded to criticism from some NGOs, such as Amnesty International, FIDH, or the spokesman of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the UN, Rupert Colville who criticized the use of a military court to try civilians. “It is not an ad hoc tribunal, an exception is provided by the Moroccan texts. The term ‘military court’ has worrisome connotations to it, but we found ourselves facing a court that allowed to exercise the rights of the defense” said Christophe Boutin, a constitutional expert.
With regard to the allegations by some of the accused of torture and ill-treatment during their detention, Mr. Boutin noted that “the public prosecutor noted that at no time of trial the defendants had raised this question. The court deliberated – we were not present at the deliberation – and it found that the allegations were unfounded, or at least that there was not enough evidence.”
The only criticism expressed at the press conference concerned the place given to the families of victims. “The only thing that surprised us in this process is the fact that the families of the victims have not been able to build in damages. But it is the Moroccan legislation” noted Guillenschmidt. He said that these families could now seek redress and compensation in civil court. Convicted persons may in turn open an appeal.
Their findings were also confirmed by Belgian and Italian law experts, who confirmed the fairness of the trial, asserting that it has complied with the adversarial principle and freedom of the defense. “The debates have not been shortened, the defendants’ lawyers were able to freely present their defenses,” they noted.
The justice system in Morocco, like other countries, needs to always uphold due process as a fundamental pillar. At least in this case, it appears justice has been done.
By Said Temsamani
Morocco World News