The Court of Appeal and Gdeim Izik

Morocco’s Supreme Court of Appeal, the highest civil judicial authority, is hearing evidence from those accused of committing criminal activities, including murder and desecration of the dead, at Gdeim Izik in November 2010 in Morocco’s Southern Provinces.

Gdeim Izkik was the site of a temporary camp which was being closed by the authorities as its occupants were being rehoused in permanent accommodation.  During the evacuation, political agitators and disaffected individuals arrived at the camp with weapons and fought the civilian authorities.  This resulted in horrific scenes of violence and destruction, with numerous people injured and thirteen people murdered, including nine cadet soldiers, a policeman, a fireman and two civilians.  What shocked Moroccans even more than the deaths was the desecration of the victims’ corpses.

Arrests were made and those accused were tried before a military tribunal in February 2013, with the guilty being sentenced to prison terms stretching from two years to life imprisonment.

In 2011 Morocco adopted a new Constitution founded upon human rights, which included new, fundamental legal reforms.  In July 2015, building upon the new Constitution, military tribunals were banned from trying civilians.  In response to this change in the Law, Morocco’s Supreme Court of Appeal decreed, on 27 July 2016, that the 25 men accused of committing the Gdeim Izik crimes should be retried by a civilian court, leading to their current appearance before the criminal division of Rabat’s Court of Appeal.

On 26 December 2016 Morocco’s Supreme Court of Appeal began hearing evidence.  The President of the Court is an experienced practitioner, and according to international observers following the trial, has provided the defence barristers with generous opportunities to set out their cases, to the extent that the families of the deceased were concerned that their interests would not be sufficiently considered.  

International legal practitioners and experts, from both a French/Belgian and English/Anglo-Saxon background, have been astonished to see the Supreme Court of Appeal allow the legal representatives appearing before the Court to exercise extensive freedoms in putting forward legal challenges and in their cross-examinations.  Barristers have been given substantial opportunities to interrupt the President and the Director of Public Prosecutions, to challenge and question them upon points of procedure and about the extent to which they have worked out the different stages of the trial.   

These international jurists have been especially impressed by the robust nature of the legal exchanges between the parties, especially between the Director of Public Prosecutions and the teams of barristers representing the dead and wounded, as well as the defence barristers representing the accused.  The international observers believe that the trial will be lengthy due to the detailed and wide-ranging legal discussions being heard.

The international legal practitioners and experts observing the trial have been impressed by the President as he both directs and co-ordinates the trial’s proceedings.  They have noted how the Director of Public Prosecutions, representing the guardian of society’s interests and values, has emphasised how such crimes must be punished, while the legal representatives of the wounded and deceased have stressed how much they have been affected by the loss of their loved ones in particularly horrendous circumstances and how the victims must be remembered and the offenders rehabilitated, while the defence teams have continued to engage in political ideas and debate.  The President of the Supreme Court of Appeal must seek to unite these three different elements while upholding the Rule of Law and ensuring a fair trial for the accused and those who have lost family and friends.

March 2017

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