HRW released its 2019 report on the state of human rights in Morocco, listing freedom of expression, the law on violence against women, LGBT freedoms, and migrants’ rights as issues.
Human Rights Watch has released its 2019 report, saying Morocco is growing increasingly intolerant of dissent and listing all the human rights violations it found in Morocco in 2018.
The NGO found multiple instances of Moroccan law enforcement using “excessive force in breaking up protests, as well as arrests of peaceful protesters,” noting protests about mining deaths in Morocco’s eastern town of Jerada.
HRW also related developments in the case of Hirak Rif activists whom Morocco had detained since protests which took place in the Al Hoceima province in 2016 and 2017 to condemn social disparities. HRW said that the protesters were subject to “unfair trials” before a court in Casablanca handed down sentences ranging from 1 to 20 years in prison.
Four leaders of the Hirak Rif protests, including Nasser Zafzafi, received 2o-year prison sentences in June 2018.
HRW said that although their staff were “able to operate in Morocco and Western Sahara in a relatively free manner,”authorities obstructed some of the other biggest human rights organizations throughout the year, including the Moroccan Association for Human Rights.
Regarding human rights in Western Sahara, HRW focused on three prisoners who requested a prison transfer but were denied. The three were convicted of and sentenced for the murders of 11 Moroccan officers in the 2010 Gdeim Izik incident.
According to HRW, they were convicted “in unfair trials in 2013 and 2017.” The three individuals received sentences of 30 years to life in prison. Confessions from the three were the primary source of evidence, although the HRW report says “the defendants repudiated those confessions and said they signed under torture without being permitted to read them.”
In 2018, the prisoners conducted hunger strikes from prison in Kenitra, north of Rabat, demanding Moroccan authorities transfer them to prisons near their families in the southern provinces.
“The demand was not met at the time of writing,” said Human Rights Watch.
The NGO also said that Moroccan authorities in Western Sahara “beat activists and journalists in their custody and on the streets.”
While discussing human rights in Western Sahara in the Moroccan report, the NGO’s 2019 report for Algeria did not mention living conditions for Sahrawis in the Tindouf camp.
Several reports, including a report from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in 2018, mentioned the lack of nutrition and insufficient international aid for Sahrawis.
Law to eliminate violence against women has loopholes
Regarding the rights of women and girls, child marriage was a focal point for HRW.
According to the NGO, underage marriage is still a major issue in the country although Morocco’s family code sets the minimum age of marriage at 18.
The NGO said that judges still allow children to marry below the legal age in certain circumstances.
A report issued by Morocco’s High Commission of Planning (HCP) confirmed that cases of child marriage are actually on the rise despite the country’s attempt to end the phenomenon.
Child marriage can be legalized if the family gets a waiver for the minor. The number of waiver requests for minors increased to 41,669 in 2015, compared to 38,331 in 2007, according to HCP statistics.
HRW report also criticized Morocco’s law criminalizing violence against women for not being effective enough. The law, which took effect in September 2018, does not “set out duties of police, prosecutors, and investigative judges in domestic violence cases, or fund women’s shelters,” according to HRW.
Moroccan and international activists agreed with HRW in this issue.
Stephanie Willman Bordat, an international human rights lawyer, said the struggle for women’s rights in Morocco does not end with the adoption of Law 103-13 on gender-based discrimination. She told MWN that a reporting procedure for women wishing to file complaints of gender-based discrimination must be facilitated.
Despite the government’s attempts to integrate migrants, HRW said that the government has not yet adopted the right to asylum.
The NGO said that Morocco gave over a thousand recognized refugees access to “essential public services, such as education and health, but not the right to work.”
The NGO also recalled a September report from Amnesty International claiming that the government launched a “large-scale crackdown on thousands of sub-Saharan migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees without due process.” Amnesty International also reported that Moroccan authorities bussed sub-Saharan Africans who were in northern Morocco to cities in the interior and released them there.
The Moroccan government responded last year, saying that the migrants should be moved from northern cities like Tangier, Nador, and Tetouan, in order to keep them away from illegal migration networks operating in the region.
The government, however, does not allow the involuntary deportation or extradition of migrants to their countries, in accordance with UNHCR standards.
LGBT community still facing oppression
Morocco also faced criticism regarding the freedom to express sexual orientation and gender identity.
According to HRW, Morocco’s penal code “still discriminates against LGBT persons.”
Article 489 of the Penal Code stipulates prison terms of six months to three years for “lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex,” as quoted by the NGO.
Most LGBT people in Morocco feel coming out is unsafe and fear unfriendly reactions from their relatives and friends.
The Moroccan government is expected to get back to HRW on its report in the press briefing on Thursday after the weekly cabinet meeting.