November 11, 2013

Abdelilah Benkirane
Prime Minister
Kingdom of Morocco
Rabat, Morocco

 

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

As you know, Morocco again stands as a candidate for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council in elections on November 12. Under UN General Assembly resolution 60/251, members of the council are expected to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” With that requirement in mind, we urge Morocco to take concrete and visible steps in four key areas to improve human rights conditions in the country.

  1. Ensuring Fair Trials by an Independent Judiciary

We are aware that the 2011 constitution contains several provisions designed to enhance judicial independence, and that King Mohammed VI appointed a high-level commission on judicial reform, which held wide consultations and in September 2013 proposed a series of reforms.  However, no laws implementing the human rights provisions of the new constitution have yet been adopted.

We are also concerned that scores, if not hundreds, of Moroccans remain in prison after being convicted of crimes in unfair, politically charged trials. These include 23 Sahrawis, some of whom received life sentences from a military court in the 2013 Gdeim Izik trial, and many of the 29 defendants convicted, along with six political figures later freed, of being part of an alleged terrorist network in the 2009 Belliraj case. In both cases, the courts convicted the defendants of serious crimes absent any real evidence besides their confessions, despite the defendants’ claims that the police had used torture to elicit their signatures on false statements.

We urge Moroccan authorities to either release or promptly grant new trials to the defendants convicted in these two trials, and all other unfair trials. Any new trials should ensure respect for defendants’ rights, including a thorough and impartial examination of any complaints of torture.

As part of the project of judicial reform, Morocco should also revise laws and judicial practices to strengthen safeguards against the admission into evidence of testimony obtained through illegal coercion.

  1. Enhancing Press Freedom

Morocco’s independent print and online media continue to face red lines that inhibit reporting and commentary on certain sensitive subjects, reinforced by laws that impose prison terms for nonviolent speech offenses. Your government has pledged to reform the 2002 press code to reduce or eliminate offenses that carry prison terms, but has not yet changed the law. Journalists and others have served prison terms in recent years for defamation and disseminating “false information.” Article 41 of the press code imposes up to five years in prison for speech that would “cause harm” to the monarchy, the person of the king, Islam, or Morocco’s “territorial integrity” (meaning Morocco’s claims over the contested Western Sahara).

The recent prosecution of prominent journalist Ali Anouzla exemplifies many of these problems. Anouzla spent 37 days in pre-trial detention for reporting on www.lakome.com that Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) had for the first time focused its wrath on the rule of the Moroccan king in a new video. Officials have charged Anouzla under the counterterrorism law with encouraging and supporting terrorism, crimes that carry a long prison term.

Moroccan authorities should drop Anouzla’s prosecution and overhaul repressive laws to bring them into conformity with the 2011 constitution’s affirmation of freedoms of expression and of the press. The revisions to the press code, the criminal code, and the counterterrorism law should abolish prison terms as punishment for “defamation,” and all other forms of nonviolent speech, in keeping with affirmations of the right to freedom of expression found in the 2011 constitution.

  1. Respecting Civil Rights in Western Sahara

Moroccan authorities restrict discussion of Sahrawi self-determination by means that include laws that prohibit questioning Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara. Morocco should abolish laws that effectively criminalize advocacy for Sahrawi self-determination and allow all Sahrawis to express their views, demonstrate peacefully, and create legal associations, regardless of their political outlook. In particular, authorities should grant legal recognition to associations led by Sahrawi activists, such as the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Human Rights Violations (ASVDH) and the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA).

  1. Protecting Children Illegally Employed as Domestic Workers

Six years ago the government introduceda draft law to extend labor rights to domestic workers. It has not yet been adopted. In the absence of such legislation, domestic workers have no legal right to a minimum wage, a weekly day off, or limits on their hours of work. In addition, estimates indicate that thousands of children work in private homes as domestic workers, or “petites bonnes,” in violation of Moroccan law, which prohibits the employment of children under age 15. Human Rights Watch has found that girls as young as 8 work up to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for as little as 100 dirhams per month. Some are also beaten and many are denied schooling. 

Morocco should adopt a comprehensive law extending labor rights to domestic workers, amending the current draft to ensure compliance with the 2011 ILO Domestic Workers Convention (Convention 189). Moroccan authorities should also strictly enforce the minimum age of 15 for all employment, including domestic work, and create an effective system to identify and remove child domestic workers who are illegally employed or subject to abuse, and ensure appropriate assistance and re-entry to school.

Cooperation with Human Rights Council-Appointed UN Experts
Morocco has received several visits by UN experts in recent years, and officials have agreed to, but not yet scheduled, additional visits by three rapporteurs (for adequate housing, safe drinking water and sanitation, and health). Morocco should continue its cooperation with the Human Rights Council by arranging those visits promptly, and should immediately respond to the visit request of the special rapporteur on freedom of association and assembly, which has been outstanding since 2011. Earlier this week, more than 40 civil society groups wrote to you and all other UN member states emphasizing the importance of this commitment, and their expectations for states seeking elections to the Council.

The upcoming Human Rights Council election provides an important moment for Morocco to demonstrate an enhanced commitment to addressing human rights concerns.

Sincerely,

Hossam Bahgat
Executive Director
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights

Maja Daruwala
Director
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

Hannah Forster
Executive Director
African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies

Hannah Forster
Executive Director
African Democracy Forum

Philip Lynch
Director
International Service for Human Rights

Hassan Shire Sheikh
Executive Director
East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project 

Ziad Abdel Tawab
Deputy Director
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies 

Sarah Leah Whitson                     
Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa division
Human Rights Watch