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Opening remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at a press conference in Rabat, Morocco, 29 May 2014

Good morning and thank you for joining us here today.

As you know, this is my first official visit to Morocco as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. I would like to thank His Majesty King Mohamed VI for his invitation and for all the courtesies and hospitality that I have enjoyed over the past three days. I have had an audience with His Majesty the King and met with the Prime Minister, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Justice and Freedoms, Interior, and the Inter-Ministerial Delegatation for Human Rights. I also met with the Speakers of both Houses of Parliament, a number of women judges, members of the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH), the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, as well as civil society representatives.

The purpose of my visit was to deepen the cooperation between my Office and the Government of Morocco and to gain a better understanding of the current human rights situation in the country.

In the 13 years since the last visit to this country by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Morocco has clearly made great strides towards the better promotion and protection of human rights. The Equity and Reconciliation Commission, established in 2004 to investigate past human rights violations, served as a catalyst for many of the wide-ranging human rights reforms that have taken place since.

Among these reforms is the 2011 Constitution of Morocco, a progressive constitution which gives primacy to international conventions. A number of key independent national institutions have also been strengthened, including the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH) and the Ombudsman. Several members of the opposition, previously political detainees, are now a part of the Government, and the creation of the Inter-Ministerial Delegation on Human Rights is also a welcome development. All of these positive changes, coupled with Morocco’s vibrant civil society, have resulted in a broad range of human rights issues being aired and addressed.

Several other key reforms, including legislation that will enable the enforcement of the rights set out in the Constitution, remain pending either in the executive or legislative arenas. As such, many of the promising protections under the Constitution have yet to be translated into reality for the people of Morocco.

The package of draft laws on gender equality and gender-based violence, on military justice and on judicial reform should all be swiftly presented in parliament. I understand that the military justice reform package is due to be considered by the parliamentary Chamber of Representatives shortly. I also urge the authorities to promptly adopt the national plan for democracy and human rights, formulated by the CNDH more than two years ago. The promised draft law on the press should also be expedited. In all of these areas there are high expectations about the positive impact of reforms, but these cannot be met until the laws are promulgated.

In other cases, where new laws to protect human rights have been enacted, implementation and enforcement need to be more robust.

For example, we have received reports that exceptions are often granted by judges to the age limit of 18 years in the law on early marriages in contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Civil society organisations have also complained that the law on registration is not consistently applied – and this is particularly the case in Western Sahara, where administrative delays and other tactics are reportedly used to obstruct registration for some organisations.

Much work also remains to be done to engender the culture of respect for human rights among all institutions of the State, in Morocco and Western Sahara, including among judicial officers, law enforcement and corrections officers and administrative officials at the national, regional and local levels.

Old habits and harmful traditional practices can never justify violations of human rights and should not trump international law and Morocco’s own Constitution and laws.

In this context, both the Special Rapporteur on Torture, who visited Morocco and Western Sahara in 2012, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which visited in December 2013, expressed concern over the use of torture and ill-treatment as well as the admissibility in court of confessions obtained under torture or other ill-treatment. The UN Committee Against Torture has also addressed similar, serious concerns to the Government of Morocco.

His Majesty King Mohamed VI informed me that he will not tolerate torture, although he could not rule out that there are isolated cases. Other officials acknowledged that torture was not State policy but that “bad habits” will take time to eradicate. Measures, including the installation of CCTV in police stations and training for officers, have been proposed.

The litmus test of such commitments is accountability. Impunity is the most powerful fuel for human rights violations. But a single high-level prosecution of perpetrators of torture or ill-treatment will send a big signal to State officials and the wider public that Morocco will, in deed, not tolerate the use of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Allegations of torture must, without fail, be immediately investigated and evidence obtained under duress must be excluded, as clearly required by international and Moroccan law. The case of the 21 prisoners of Gdiem Izik is one such case, in need of thorough investigation.

I was pleased to hear that the Optional Protocol on the Convention Against Torture has been ratified by the Government and parliament and I look forward to Morocco’s swift completion of the formalities and the establishment of the National Preventative Mechanism required by the Optional Protocol.

Reports of the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers are also of concern.

Demonstrations in Morocco take place regularly, without incident, including during my visit. However there are instances where law enforcement officials have allegedly used excessive force against peaceful protestors. In one such incident, on 2 August 2013 in Rabat, police beatings were reportedly caught on video. These must be investigated.

Grave allegations have also been made on violence against sub-Saharan migrants by Moroccan law enforcement officials. These allegations must also be thoroughly investigated and the authorities should ensure respect for the fundamental rights of sub-Saharan migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

While freedom of expression is generally respected in Morocco, it is disturbing that journalists and bloggers are targeted and subject to fines, withdrawal of registration and even imprisonment on allegedly trumped up charges for airing sensitive issues. The case of Ali Anouzla is an example of the application of the overly broad anti-terrorism legislation to penalise free expression.

In preparation for my visit, a technical team from my office visited Western Sahara and briefed me on the human rights situation. I have raised both the progress that has been made and human rights concerns in the region during my meetings here in Rabat.

My team witnessed first-hand the development projects and enormous investment made by the State in economic, social and cultural spheres. However, when it came to the exercise of freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, they noted a heightened scrutiny by the State, which is hampering the full enjoyment of these rights. I strongly encourage the Government to ensure that human rights and fundamental freedoms are equally protected in Morocco and Western Sahara.

I welcome the invitations that have been extended to UN independent human rights experts to visit Western Sahara, to enable them to provide advice and technical expertise towards better human rights protection in the Territory.

The role played by the regional commissions of the CNDH in Western Sahara is encouraging. For the CNDH to be able to effectively promote and protect human rights in Western Sahara, it needs the full support of local and national authorities who must reply promptly to complaints. My office stands ready to provide assistance in these areas, through technical assistance and capacity building, for the regional commissions of the CNDH.

Morocco is undergoing an important transition and is setting high standards through its Constitution and laws. In my exchanges with the authorities, including His Majesty King Mohamed VI and various ministers, it was clear that there is the political will at the highest levels to continue efforts to set a firm human rights foundation for Moroccan society. My office looks forward to supporting Morocco in vigilantly ensuring that these high standards are realised through the protection of human rights for all, including in Western Sahara.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact:

In Rabat: Hind Aboufalah (+212 6 61 29 71 89 / hind.aboufalah@unic.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (for the duration of the mission: +41 79 201 0115 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org )

In Geneva: Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org ) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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