Respect for the rights of detainees in Moroccan prisons featured heavily in CNDH’s pandemic response.
Morocco’s National Human Rights Council (CNDH) has been actively monitoring human rights during COVID-19 confinement, but its operations extend well beyond any one moment or any one concern.
The CNDH is located in central Rabat. A tall building with an imposing and beautiful white entrance, it opens up to a courtyard with potted plants, posters of various public health initiatives, and an elevator.
Within the building, individuals who have been granted entry can file complaints and appeals to the CNDH. Employees meet with international bodies such as the United Nations, International Office of Migration, and other national human rights institutions. Whenever necessary or whenever an event has come to the CNDH’s attention, the experts within the institution communicate between institutions and release public statements and recommendations for governing bodies.
CNDH on human rights during COVID-19 confinement:
One of these events is the condition of people in places of “deprivation of liberty” prior and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For many, not being allowed to leave their homes was a shock to daily life. For those in prisons, border, facilities, and detention centers, though, the pandemic was an entirely new challenge.
Though the CNDH stands with the Moroccan government’s decision to forcibly confine the country during the COVID-19 public health emergency — according to a May statement regarding human rights during confinement — CNDH President Amina Bouayach has called for the maintenance and protection of human rights both within and without places of deprivation of liberty.
In the statement, Bouayach also advocated for equitable protections for vulnerable populations — including children, persons with disabilities, migrants, displaced persons, and women — during and after confinement.
Most notably, Bouayach issued communications regarding the situation of detainees during Morocco’s COVID-19 confinement and stressed the importance of fair trials and all legal procedures regarding arrests during confinement.
In regards to individuals already imprisoned or kept in places of deprivation of liberty, Bouayach announced that the CNDH has been exercising its right as the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture (NPM) by monitoring prison populations in Ksar El Kebir, Tangier, and Ouarzazate.
Through these services, the “Council has ensured the stability of the epidemiological situation in these prisons.”
National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture
The CNDH serves in the position of ombudsman, which allows individuals to make complaints against maladministration and serves at the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture.
Within the NPM, the CNDH is able to contact government officials and offer advice, educate the public, and engage with other national institutions and political bodies on issues related to forced detention.
The CNDH is also able to visit “places of deprivation of liberty,” including police stations, prisons, border police facilities, immigration and asylum seekers’ detention centers, security and intelligence service facilities, unofficial places of detention (such as those operating secret detentions), and others.
CNDH and the coronavirus
On June 17, the CNDH met with members of the Regional Group of the Sub-Committee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT) and nine different members of national parliaments from all over the African continent.
The meeting took place online to meet the requirements of social distancing and occurred as part of the 41st SPT meetings, which ran from June 15 to 19, 2020.
Throughout the meeting, the Moroccan National Human Rights Council shared experiences on detainment, political powers, and public health precautions before and during the coronavirus.
During the meeting, Dr. Mohamed Benajiba, the coordinator of the Moroccan NPM, also declared that its team had conducted field visits to places of deprivation of liberty during the lockdown.
Recommendations on forced confinement
Although the CNDH has not yet released an official statement regarding what occurred during these visitations, it has issued “Advice” as well as a statement on the confinement.
The Advice follows the hunger strikes that protest leaders Nabil Ahamjik and Nasser Zefzafi launched on February 22 over the abuse and mistreatment of individuals in prisons.
The protestors demanded better prison conditions, adequate medical care for both COVID and non-COVID care, and visitation rights. Ahmajik and Zefzafi ended their strike on March 17 due to fears of the spreading coronavirus.
The CNDH adopted the Advice on March 25. Officially titled the “Advice of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture to States Parties and National Preventive Mechanisms relating to the Coronavirus Pandemic,” this paper lays out the CNDH’s concerns on human rights abuses for individuals confined in prisons and detention centers, as well as at home.
The full report is available on the CNDH website.