Human Rights Developments
Procedural safeguards introduced in 1991 contributed to reduce the degree and number of abuses during incommunicado detention, but torture, ill-treatment and due process violations still occurred with disturbing frequency. There were at least two deaths in detention in 1995. Mohammed Ahmadi died in the police station of Nador, reportedly due to ill-treatment, and Hamza Dagdoug died the day after his arrest on January 18, 1995. According to the police, Dagdoug had committed suicide in the central police station of Tangiers, using a tie that had "inadvertently" been left in the toilets. Investigations that had been opened in at least half a dozen of the twenty-five deaths in detention since 1989 did not yield any results.
In addition, the forty-eight hour maximum normally permitted for incommunicado detention was illegally prolonged in many cases. The police at times falsified their records to indicate incorrect arrest dates, in order to give the impression that they were complying with this provision. The "procès verbal," or official statement taken by the police during incommunicado detention, was often coerced or fabricated, but often constituted the basis for a conviction. As in the past, most abuses, particularly ill-treatment and torture, tended to occur during incommunicado detention, when lawyers were absent. However, procedural violations also took place during the subsequent "preliminary interrogation," where lawyers were present, but were often not permitted to ask questions or include their observations or objections as part of the official record.
Human rights abuses occurred in a number of high-profile arrests and trials. For example, Khadija Benameur, a young labor union activist who was beaten and arrested during a peaceful factory strike in March 1995, was subsequently kept in pre-trial detention in excess of the permitted forty-eight hour period, denied the right to call witnesses at trial and refused a legally required medical examination, despite signs that she had been tortured. In another case, defendants charged with carrying out a series of armed attacks during 1993 and 1994 on behalf of militant Islamists were convicted in flawed proceedings on January 28, 1995. They were held in incommunicado detention for an illegally prolonged period, the investigating judge refused to order a medical examination to investigate signs of torture, and interrogations and confessions were made in Arabic, although several of the defendants had been raised in France and reportedly did not speak fluent Arabic.
Torture and ill-treatment continued in 1995, albeit with less frequency than before. Such abuses occurred not only in political or security cases, but also in ordinary criminal cases, and were most acute in rural areas. Inadequate investigations and the failure to prosecute law enforcement officials responsible for abuses during detention created little incentive for change. Moreover, law enforcement officials who had been accustomed to committing torture and ill-treatment with impunity for decades, received little, if any, training and education regarding international human rights standards or Moroccan law. Finally, Morocco did not take the required steps to make the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which it had ratified in June 1993, enter into the country's official laws. Nor did Morocco take the legislative and administrative steps required to meet its affirmative obligation to place domestic laws in compliance with the convention.
Prison conditions in Morocco remained poor, due to severe overcrowding, ill-treatment of prisoners and a lack of medical attention. When a rebellion broke out in Khenifra prison on January 29, 1995 to protest conditions, prison officials responded with firearms, wounding prisoners and causing a number to be hospitalized. Following the rebellion, the Moroccan Organization for Human Rights demanded, and was authorized, to conduct an unprecedented visit to the prison site. The group released a report concluding that the policy followed in the prison was one of punishment and repression, and that ill-treatment, malnutrition and inadequate medical treatment were rampant. Moreover, although the government reported that prison deaths in 1994 and 1995 were all attributable to natural causes, many were actually due to poor detention conditions, including four deaths in the span of a single week in the civil prison of Oukacha in March 1995. Several prisoners went on lengthy hunger strikes to protest their conditions.
On April 18, 1995, government spokesperson Driss Alawi announced that the government had decided to take steps to improve the prison situation. Human Rights Minister Mohammed Ziane accompanied journalists on visits to several civil prisons in April, May and October 1995. While the public acknowledgment of the gravity of prison conditions was an important step forward, the government failed to follow these statements with concrete actions. For example, by November the government had still not presented to parliament proposed modifications to the outdated prison code. The government had received draft amendments from the Consultative Council on Human Rights in March 1994.
The government did not address the issue of at least fifty prisoners who had been arrested on political charges but were arbitrarily excluded from a general amnesty in July 1994. Abdessalam Yacine, the leader of the outlawed Islamic group al 'Adl wa al-Ihsan, was held under house arrest for the fifth year. Yacine had been arrested pursuant to an extrajudicial, administrative order and no criminal charges were brought against him. The government also failed to resolve the issue of forced disappearances in Morocco. With the exception of a small stipend provided by the armed forces to twenty-eight former military officers who survived the notorious "Tazmamart" secret detention center, none of the over three hundred other victims of forced disappearances released in June 1991, or the families of victims who did not survive, received reparations for the suffering endured in up to two decades of secret detention. Hundreds of Moroccan and Western Saharan families continued to search for missing relatives, many of whom had "disappeared" into Moroccan custody over two decades ago. Moreover, the government made no efforts to provide details on these cases or investigate human rights abuses in the secret detention centers; as a result, those guilty of committing torture and "disappearance" were not held accountable for their crimes.
Many former prisoners and those who had been "disappeared" continued to be denied passports and national identity papers following their release, preventing them from exercising their right to freedom of movement. Abraham Serfaty, one of the most well-known of Morocco's former political prisoners, who was stripped of his Moroccan nationality following his release from prison in 1991, remained in exile in France. The supreme court did not act upon an appeal that had been submitted by Serfaty's attorney in November 1991. The authorities repeatedly harassed Ahmed Marzak, who was released from Tazmamart in 1991 after more than eighteen years of secret detention, and confiscated his passport when he attempted to travel to France for medical attention in July 1995. Marzak was reportedly kidnaped by the police and taken to the outskirts of Rabat, where he was subjected to ill-treatment for thirty-six hours and interrogated, particularly about his relations with foreign nationals.
The Moroccan judiciary did not function independently and was susceptible to bribes and influence from high government officials. Judges also refused to order medical examinations, although the right to such examinations was provided in the Code of Penal Procedure, or to investigate allegations of torture, even when detainees showed visible signs substantiating their claims. Members of the judiciary were able to engage in illegal acts with impunity, as the judiciary was not generally subject to controls, supervision or penalties. The fact that judges were under qualified and the judiciary was insufficiently funded further undermined the judicial system. As it had done with respect to prison conditions, the government acknowledged these shortcomings. On April 18, 1995, government spokesperson Driss Alawi announced plans to carry out a structural reorganization of the Ministry of Justice in order to enhance the independence and credibility of the judiciary. On April 24, 1995, the king gave a speech addressing the serious problems facing the Moroccan judicial system and noted, in particular, the problem of low salaries and corruption. However, the government ultimately took no public steps to improve the judicial system.
Laws that discriminated against women remained on the books, including commercial and criminal laws and provisions of the Moudawana or Family Code regarding matrimonial tutelage, marital repudiation and physical and legal guardianship over children of divorced women. Cultural, economic and family pressures often prevented women from knowing their legal rights or seeking redress, even when their rights were protected by law. In the workplace, women complained about unequal salaries and their lack of representation in managerial positions, whether in the private or public sector. Domestic violence remained prevalent but went unaddressed by the government, which failed to adopt specific measures to protect women or ensure that violators were prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Police and judges failed to treat domestic violence as a serious problem, and showed a reluctance to assist women who had been physically assaulted in exercising their legal rights.
The press continued to test the new, open climate in Morocco and political discourse took place openly. However, the government still controlled the public media, including the Maghreb Arabe Presse news agency, which only reflected official positions. In addition, restrictive press laws remained on the books, such as overly-broad defamation laws, and Article 77 of the Press Code, which permitted the minister of the interior to order the seizure or suspension of a publication without a judicial decision. On January 6, 1995, for example, an issue of the weekly Maroc Hebdo, which had excerpted a speech given by a Moroccan prince at an American university, was seized pursuant to this law. In addition, three subjects remained "taboo" in Morocco: criticizing the king or Islam, or challenging Morocco's claim to sovereignty over the Western Sahara_an issue of utmost sensitivity in Morocco (see the Western Sahara section). For example, Abdelkadir Chidoudi was sentenced to three years on June 30, 1995, and Ma'ghi Hicham, was sentenced to six months on July 28, 1995, both for having allegedly insulted the king.
Despite constitutional guarantees of the right to free assembly and association, the government frequently interfered with the activities of a range of legally-existing organizations, including labor unions and Berber organizations. Throughout the year, the authorities also banned public performances of the enormously popular singer and humorist Ahmed Snoussi ("Bziz"), who often parodied governmental figures and policies.
In addition to a number of pro-government political parties, several opposition parties continued to operate and were represented in parliament, including Istiqlal and the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP). However, Le Parti Maghrébin, a new political party, was denied authorization in March/April 1995. In addition, a de facto ban on Islamist political parties continued. Islamist groups kept most of their activities underground, but a publicized Islamist conference on Chechnya was banned in February.
The Right to Monitor
After nearly four years of denying permission to Human Rights Watch/Middle East to conduct a fact-finding mission to Morocco, Moroccan authorities agreed to this request in April 1994, and a Human Rights Watch/Middle East mission took place the following spring. We were able to meet freely with government officials, members of the political opposition, human rights groups and other citizens. Amnesty International began the process of organizing groups of local members throughout Morocco. However, in accordance with Amnesty International policy, these groups would not work on Moroccan cases.
The Role of the International Community
France was Morocco's largest trade partner during 1995, engaging in both commercial and military sales, and the two governments enjoyed very good relations. The French government was silent regarding recent human rights violations in Morocco. Commercial interests also dominated the relationship between Morocco and the European Union (E.U.). In April, for example, the E.U. made two loans for infrastructure investments, totaling ECU 135 million. The E.U. did call for stepping up the dialogue on human rights with countries with which it had economic cooperation agreements, such as Morocco, and placed human rights, which are always part of E.U. policy, on the agenda for the November Barcelona conference, aimed at creating a Euro-Mediterranean partnership. In July, Moroccan Prime Minister Abdellatif Filali criticized the E.U.'s preparatory document for the conference, saying that it overemphasized political relations, while only superficially discussing economic cooperation, partnership and social problems.
The Work of Human Rights Watch/Middle East