The UN Commission for Human Rights warned that the COVID-19 lockdown could be exploited.
Morocco’s permanent ambassador to the United Nations office in Geneva Omar Zinber clarified yesterday that Morocco’s lockdown measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 are in line with UN Human Rights Guidelines.
The ambassador spoke out after a number of media outlets printed allegations of human rights abuse in Morocco amid the lockdown. The reports are “devoid of any foundation,” he told Maghreb Arab Press (MAP) on April 28.
The clarification comes after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, released a statement on April 27 to emphasize the importance of transparency as countries across the globe have been forced to implement lockdowns to protect the population from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The release of a document giving guidance to governments on emergency measures during the COVID-19 pandemic accompanied the statement.
She warned that some governments are in danger of “violating fundamental rights under the guise of exceptional or emergency measures.”
Emergency powers “should be used to cope effectively with the pandemic—nothing more, nothing less,” she concluded.
Several media outlets, however, alleged that Bachelet cited Morocco as a human rights cause for concern.
The reports surfaced after Director of Operations and Technical Cooperation at the UN Commission Georgette Gagnon held a video conference to give more detail on the issue.
The UN official said that 80 countries across the globe are enforcing lockdown measures and have made arrests to maintain public safety measures. Morocco is among the 80 countries.
International lockdown measures
Spain, France, the UK, and Italy have all imposed lockdowns to protect the population from the spread of the virus. The UK, like Morocco and countless other countries across the globe, has introduced fines and potential prison sentences for people who break public safety measures.
Gagnon then flagged countries where public safety measures are infringing human rights. She cited South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya.
She added that in some sub-Saharan African countries, “those who cannot pay bribes, poor people, are taken to mandatory quarantine centres although there is no indication that they have come into contact with someone testing positive to COVID.”
“Shooting, detaining, or abusing someone for breaking a curfew because they are desperately searching for food is clearly an unacceptable and unlawful response. So is making it difficult or dangerous for a woman to get to hospital to give birth. In some cases, people are dying because of the inappropriate application of measures that have been supposedly put in place to save them,” Bachelet underlined.
She warned that prisons are prime breeding grounds for the virus and adding more detainees to already under-pressure facilities could be dangerous.
“In some countries, thousands have also been detained for curfew violations, a practice that is both unnecessary and unsafe. Jails and prisons are high risk environments, and states should focus on releasing whoever can be safely released, not detaining more people.”
Morocco’s lockdown measures
Morocco’s General Directorate of National Security (DGSN) has maintained a policy of transparency during the COVID-19 crisis. The agency releases regular statements and statistics on arrests and fines during the lockdown.
To date, Moroccan police have arrested 81,489 people for defying lockdown measures during the pandemic.
Less than 5% of cases have led to prison terms in order to prevent overcrowding in jails, as per UN guidance.
On April 16, the acting MENA director at Human Rights Watch, Eric Goldstein, released a statement on causes for concern in the region amid the COVID-19 crisis.
The report cited Morocco as an example of good practice after the North African country undertook measures to protect detainees and prison workers during the pandemic.
Earlier in April, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI pardoned 5,654 prisoners in order to ease pressure and overcrowding in the North African country’s jails amid the pandemic.
The justice ministry selected the prisoners for release based on age, health, good behavior, and time served.
The Moroccan government’s decision to release a number of detainees and convicts is a positive one since “prisons are notoriously overcrowded in just about every country, and it would be hard for inmates to practice social distancing.”
King Mohammed VI also told prison governors and police to take “all the necessary measures to reinforce the protection of detainees in prison.”
The General Delegation for Prison Administration and Rehabilitation (DGAPR) reacted swiftly to protect inmates and staff after over half of the workers at Ouarzazate prison tested positive for the virus.
The DGAPR expressed concern for the potential psychological impact COVID-19 could have on detainees. The directorate has launched online services to support prisoners suffering from psychological stress during this time.
Inmates and prison officials at Ksar El Kebir and Loudaya prisons have also tested positive for COVID-19.
The fake news circulating in the international press and the misquoted comments from Bachelet came after the UN released a report titled “COVID-19 and Human Rights: We are all in the together” on April 23.
The report and accompanying statement from Secretary-General of the UN Antonio Guterres calls on world leaders to work together amid the global crisis.
In the closing statements, Guterres reminds governments to “ensure that any emergency measures, including states of emergency, are legal, proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory, have a specific focus and duration, and take the least intrusive approach possible to protect public health.”
The guidance also recommends security services make sure “emergency powers are not used as a basis to quash dissent, silence human rights defenders or journalists, or any other steps taken that are not strictly necessary to address the health situation.”