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(Rabat) – Moroccan authorities in 2013 promised more human rights improvements than they delivered, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2014. Courts sent dissidents to jail after unfair trials, police used excessive force to break up peaceful demonstrations, and in the contested territory of Western Sahara, officials repressed supporters of self-determination.

In the two-and-a-half years since Morocco adopted a new constitution, the government has passed no laws to give legal force to the constitution’s strong human rights protections. King Mohammed VI’s 2009 plan to overhaul the judiciary and enhance its independence has so far produced only recommendations from a high commission. Prison terms for speech offenses remain in the press code, despite a pledge from the communications minister two years ago to work to eliminate them. A 2006 draft law that would for the first time protect domestic workers has yet to be adopted.

“When it comes to human rights, Morocco is like a vast construction site where authorities announce major projects with much fanfare but then stall on finishing the foundations,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director.

In the 667-page world report, its 24th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. Syria’s widespread killings of civilians elicited horror but few steps by world leaders to stop it, Human Rights Watch said. A reinvigorated doctrine of “responsibility to protect” seems to have prevented some mass atrocities in Africa. Majorities in power in Egypt and other countries have suppressed dissent and minority rights. And Edward Snowden’s revelations about US surveillance programs reverberated around the globe.  

Moroccans and their vibrant civil society nevertheless enjoyed some freedom to criticize and protest government policies in 2013 – as long as they avoided the sensitive subjects of the monarchy generally, the king and the royal family specifically, Islam, and Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara. Authorities cooperated with United Nations human rights experts who visited the country and Western Sahara, but rejected a United States proposal to enlarge the mandate of the UN peacekeeping operation in that territory to include observation of human rights.

Moroccan courts convicted defendants in politically sensitive cases solely on the basis of their confessions, without investigating claims that the police extracted the confessions through torture and ill-treatment. The Rabat Military Court in February sentenced 25 Sahrawi defendants to prison terms mostly ranging from 20 years to life in prison for their alleged participation in violent clashes in the Gdeim Izik protest camp in Western Sahara two years earlier. The clashes cost the lives of 11 members of the security forces.

King Mohammed VI should keep the pledges he made in 2013 to support ending military trials of civilians and reforming the system for reviewing asylum claims. Authorities should also ensure that laws are passed to give legal force to constitutional rights. This includes article 133 of the constitution, which grants the right to any person appearing before any Moroccan court to challenge the constitutionality of the laws officials are applying in their case.

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