FORGIVENESS AND THE ACT OF FORGIVING – THE MOROCCO CASE
From the direction of ACHR
Montaigne once said that the legitimate is nothing but a fiction that serves to found the truth of justice.
“..et notre droit meme a, dit-on, des fictions legitimes sur lesquelles il fonde la verite de sa justice.”
In 1964 the French parliament adopted a law on the non-limitation of crimes against humanity (imprescriptibilie). Crimes against humanity, as defined in international law, became exempt of the status of limitation. Before the French parliament’s decision to adopt the new law, the statute of limitation used to be set at 20 years. In other words, after 20 years the crime is no longer prosecuted. “There is a sort of moratorium,” as Derrida once said, “not forgiveness but moratorium, annulment of the judicial process.” The new decision ended the moratorium and made it “possible for all eternity to judge and condemn the perpetrators of crimes against humanity,” putting an emphasis on what became called retributive justice. But retributive justice has proved its limitation for countries that are entering a new phase and seek negotiated transitions.
The Moroccan legal system still does not recognize l’imprescriptibilie, but begin to publicly address the violence that characterized the political life of the post-independence Morocco for decades. It is the second experiment in Africa, following the South Africa’s Truth Commission and the airing of abuses committed not only by the apartheid regime but also by the African National Congress, and the first in the Arab world. The purpose set for such activity was for a society entering a new political era, or what became known in the political jargon as the transition period, to begin to heal. Societies, we are told, won’t be able to turn the dark pages of their past before they collectively can read it. But healing requires voicing of grievances, allowing the victims and their families to have their state of victmhood recognized not only by the society at large but also by those who caused the pain and suffering. Victims and their families might be able to begin entertaining the idea of forgiveness. It is this freedom that allows yesterday’s enemies’ of the State to publicly share their stories and be recognized as victims of illegitimate acts that can testify of the willingness of a country to turning the page.
For victims of human rights violence in Morocco, their grievances not only marked their memory but redefined their existence. The crime became a singular event in their lives. They begin talking in terms of a before and after “the incident.” Any event or crime is certainly unique but to the many victims their “event” will always constitute a singular uniqueness in their lives.
While Morocco avoided the legal limitation reform of the penal procedure code of 2002, it chooses to initiate a process of restorative justice. Many of the victims have had their plight heard in closed doors during the 1990s, and many were compensated for those years, but to many the financial compensation lacked the State’s recognition of the crimes committed. Victims felt that they not only needed an official apology for the years spent in the abyss but were entitled to demand recognition. They called for a State that is willing to publicly say we’ve illegally wronged you and for that we are sorry.
While the limitation discourse is still not approached by the State and the current government, the question for forgiveness and forgiving might be raised.
But “pure or unconditional forgiveness must be the event or the act of a grace that cannot be commanded.”(Derrida) Are the many victims in a state to forgive, and who should they forgive? Forgiveness is not connected in any way to limitation and limitability.
The legal and political questions of limitation are quite different from those of forgiveness. There are other questions to grapple with, who can forgive, is it only the victim, or their families as well, or is it the society at large, since ses annees de plomb have left a tremendous economic, social, and psychological impact on society as whole? Does the enormity of the crime define the meaning of forgiveness? Does our cultural heritage lend support to forgiveness as such? These are all questions that we, as a society should grapple with while watching our small screens and listening to testimonies of the victims.
Forgiveness is rooted in its own impossibility, ‘forgiveness forgives only the unforgivable,’ and ‘forgiveness must announce itself as impossibility itself’ (Derrida). A forgivable crime does not need the act of forgiveness. A crime that warrants forgiveness could be classified as a radical evil; an evil defined by Kant as ‘the propensity not to do what duty requires, not to follow the moral law.’ Arendt’s understands it as something that ‘confronts us with its overpowering reality and breaks down all standards we know.’ For Derrida, the perpetrator must have committed an act that is unforgivable by its very nature.
After two or three decades since the occurring of crimes, there will, undoubtedly be differences in attitude and feelings toward these crimes. It is not only the time from one generation to another that can help attenuate the psychological impact, a time “during which the personal, the collective and the political unconscious works,” but also the time that elapsed during the victimized generation. The time elapsed since release of the Tazmamrt group in the 1980s and of other groups thereafter could perhaps attenuate their suffering and that of their families, and perhaps helps to bring closure closer. It is a “distancing of the suffering which is not a forgetting, but which is nevertheless a sort of weakening of the pain that permits other gestures.”(Derrida).
The other gestures, if not forgiveness could be “excusing, reconciliation,” which are still “not forgiveness pure and simple.” But with the distancing from the time of the horror, “modes of reconciliation, of re-appropriation, of mourning become somewhere easier.”
The current authorities while not assuming the responsibility or the guilt for the crimes against political activists and innocent civilians are redefining their legitimacy and a distancing from the very recent past. The regime is in a way transforming itself from within, not an easy task since a collective realization of the horror of the past crimes might be costly. It is a gamble that could provide legitimacy or collective condemnation.
The “public airing of grievances” will provide what Derrida called the irreplaceability of the event. It will say this has taken place in a time and a space, and would contribute to future generation being able to know a different history, that is rarely written in the schoolbooks of our country. But as time goes by, it will become an episode, among others, of the irrationality and violence that characterized our hommes d’Etat. It will also help relativize the event it will document.
The documentation or as Derrida calls it the act of “archiver” the incidents would contribute to “classification, relativization and forgetting.” Archivization undoubtedly preserves the memory and keeps it alive, but “it also begins the process of forgetting.” It consign the stories to “the exteriority of archives..”
What the current approach tries to accomplish, besides the social healing, is a sense of restorative justice, collective acknowledgement of the state of victimhood of the victims, the crimes committed, and to a lesser extent, the recognition of an absent/present perpetrator. But justice, as Arendt puts it, be it moral or political, is “a highly individual matter.” It should not serve other interests since this will only achieve a corruption of the process and perverts justice because it subsumes questions of justice for a specific event under political and social questions, which are not immediately “relevant to the principal reason of the recognition.”
In Aeschylus’s play The Oresteia the gods assure us that a community which establishes justice properly and carries it out with integrity and respect will flourish. Oresteia informs us that humans are able to rule each other in a just way and thrive, but warns that they can also perish of they ignore their responsibilities or upsets the balance upon which justice depends.