April 14, 2010

His Majesty King Mohammad VI
The Royal Palace
Rabat, Morocco

Dear King Mohammad VI,

We are writing to express our concern about Morocco's apparent delay  in lifting its reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). 

During your speech on December 10, 2008, on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, you made a commitment to remove all reservations to CEDAW, indicating that they were no longer necessary and were in fact obsolete as far as  Morocco was concerned, given various domestic legislative reforms that promote and protect women's rights. Sixteen months later, though, this decision has yet to be formally communicated to the United Nations Secretary-General in his capacity as the depositary of CEDAW. Consequently, the reservations remain in place and continue to undermine the human rights of women in Morocco.

Morocco ratified CEDAW in 1993, with reservations to articles 2, 9 (2), 15(4), 16, and 29. These reservations deal with legal and constitutional equality between men and women, equality within the family, the right of women to pass on their nationality to their foreign-born spouses and children, and women's right to freedom of movement.

These reservations to specific provisions in the Convention undermine women's equality with respect to matters of marriage and divorce. In Morocco today, these reservations find their parallels in laws and practices that prolong and reinforce  gender discrimination.

For instance, article 16 (c) of CEDAW gives men and women equal rights within marriage and its dissolution. By contrast, Morocco's 2004 family law or moudawana gives women and men unequal access to divorce. Men can still repudiate their wives without cause, yet wives can repudiate their husbands only through the khul process, offering  their husbands financial or other  compensation. When it lifts its reservation to this article, Morocco would in effect pledge to amend its discriminatory domestic laws to ensure their compatibility with international legal standards.

Article 2(d) of CEDAW urges states parties to refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation."  But in Morocco today, even though the law sets the minimum age for marriage at 18 for males and females, it gives judges discretion to waive the minimum age and allow minors to be married. Because girls tend to be married to far older men  and often are married when they are minors, this discretion given to judges has a disproportionate impact on young girls. These girls often  are denied an education and are forced to assume  responsibilities of marriage and childbearing at too early an age.  Lifting this reservation and others will provide a legal framework for starting to address discriminatory laws and practices such as this one.

We recognize that Morocco has taken significant steps to reform laws to promote gender equality and urge Morocco to continue to improve its record on women's rights.  The 2004 updating of the moudawana made it one of the most advanced legislative frameworks in the Middle East and North Africa for promoting gender equality. The moudawana gave equal rights and responsibilities to husbands and wives and gave women more rights in divorce matters.

Other legal reforms in nationality laws, for instance, include the right of Moroccan women married to foreign-born men to pass on their nationality to their spouses and children.  This issue remains a significant challenge for women in other parts of the region who have yet to gain full citizenship rights.  However, Morocco has still not removed all discriminatory laws and practices - both in divorce, as described above and in the fact that women cannot pass on their nationality to their children if their husbands are not Muslims.

 Morocco sought to improve women's access to justice in 2002 by reforming its code of criminal procedure (CCP).  Article 336, which previously only allowed women to take civil action against their husbands with prior authorization from the court, was repealed, permitting equal access to the courts.  Also in 2002, Morocco's Parliament established family courts to contribute to the effective enforcement of the moudawana. In 2003, certain articles within the penal code were also altered to impose heavier penalties on a spouse who injures the other spouse. Article 446 of the penal code was also redrafted to authorize  health care workers  to waive professional confidentiality rules in cases of suspected violence between spouses or gender-based violence, and to report such incidents to judicial or administrative authorities.

Morocco has also sought to reform its labor laws, and in 2003 the principle of non-discrimination between men and women was codified in Morocco's new Labor Code, including such measures as equality in pay, access to employment, and promotions.  Paid maternity leave was also increased to 14 weeks for women working in both the private and public sectors.

In light of your efforts to curtail gender discrimination, we urge you also to ratify the Optional Protocol to CEDAW.  The Optional Protocol will allow the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to receive complaints from individuals and groups.  This establishes a communication mechanism for groups or individuals to seek redress if all domestic remedies have been exhausted.  Ratifying the Optional Protocol will be yet another example of your commitment to strengthen women's rights.

We welcome the steps that Morocco has taken to help eradicate discrimination against women and to improve gender equality. A decision to lift formally  the reservations to CEDAW would be an immensely important  part of Morocco's efforts to improve and strengthen women's rights and would  serve as an example for many countries in the region that still have reservations to core articles to the Convention.  By ratifying the Optional Protocol to CEDAW, Morocco can also set a great example in the region for  countries which have yet to ratify this important Protocol. 

We thank you in advance for your kind attention to this matter and hope to hear from you soon on these considerations.

Yours Sincerely,  

Liesl Gerntholtz, Director

Women's Rights Division

Human Rights Watch