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UN Independent Expert in the Field of Cultural Rights Visit to Morocco and Western Sahara, 5-16 September 2011 Preliminary conclusions and observations Rabat, 16 September 2011

The United Nations Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights, Farida Shaheed, thanked the Government of Morocco for inviting her to conduct a mission which took place from September 5th to 16th. She visited Rabat, Casablanca, Agadir, Marrakesh, Meknes, Khemisset and Fès and met with senior Government officials at the national, regional, provincial and commune levels, working in the areas of culture, education, human rights, women’s issues, religious affairs, and tourism. She also met with academics, representatives of civil society and religious communities. She expressed her gratitude to all those who have given her and her colleagues the benefit of their time and expertise and also for the warm hospitality, courtesy and openness extended. She was particularly grateful to the Office of the Resident Coordinator of United Nations for their support in the preparation and conduct of the mission.

The mission focused on issues Ms. Shaheed considers to be particularly important, namely: the right to participate in cultural life, the measures adopted to create an open cultural climate and to foster an intercultural understanding, to provide access to and the means of participating in cultural heritage, in particular through education, and to promote cultural rights within education and media systems. The Independent Expert has also looked into issues related to the cultural rights of particular communities, including minority groups, persons with disabilities, and women.

Ms. Shaheed commended Morocco’s remarkable work in the last decade to recognise, respect and promote human rights. She welcomed the adoption of the new Constitution in July of this year which provides a reinforced framework for protecting and promoting human rights, including those of the most vulnerable populations. The new Constitution places greater emphasis on cultural rights and diversity and confers an official status to the languages of the Amazigh population, and the Independent Expert called upon the government to operationalize these commitments by passing relevant bylaws without delay.

A human rights-based approach requires a long-term national plan of action with clear targets, benchmarks and indicators to evaluate progress and guide State priorities and actions. In this context,  Ms. Shaheed recommended that greater investments be made in strategic planning, the establishment of monitoring and accountability mechanisms, as well as providing trainings in new policies, regulations and laws with standard operational procedures.  It is also necessary to issue all decisions made by government officials in writing.  

In the context of institution building, the Independent Expert welcomed the reinforced mandate of the office of the ombudsman, and encouraged the government to confer upon this institution awareness-raising and monitoring prerogatives.

Ms. Shaheed welcomed the Government’s achievements in the promotion of Amazigh culture and language and the resources allocated for this. She also appreciated a number of excellent publications and manuals produced in three languages (Arabic, French and Amazigh) regarding human rights and international commitments in the area of gender equality and persons with disabilities, amongst other subjects. While it might be too early to assess the impact of these projects, the Independent Expert has been surprised to learn that such publications are not widely available in the different regions visited. She, therefore, called upon the government to improve coordination and dissemination mechanisms in order to ensure that youth centres, associations, libraries, schools, and all other relevant institutions and bodies receive such publications and manuals, and to take measures to further promote the use of Amazigh language at all levels of government and schooling. Ms. Shaheed further strongly encouraged the Government to ensure that cultural diversity is reflected in State narratives, school curricula, especially the history taught, and in the composition of all relevant committees dealing with the preparations, revisions and approval of textbooks.

During her stay, Ms. Shaheed received a number of testimonies from individuals who could not register names for their children when these were considered to be of Amazigh origin. It would seem that despite the issuance of a circular in March 2010 enabling parents to give their children names of their own choosing, in practice, civil registration offices continue discriminatory practices in denying persons such a right. She has been reassured that these are likely to be isolated cases, but the Independent Expert urged the authorities to take all necessary measures to ensure that such practices cease with immediate effect.

Efforts undertaken in the promotion of Amazigh language in audio and visual media, such as establishing an Amazigh language television channel and radio, are to be commended. At the same time the Independent Expert called upon the Government to continue to support this national channel, as well as to guarantee that 30% of programmes of other national channels are broadcast in the Amazigh language, as stipulated in relevant policy documents. Additionally, it would be important to extend the coverage of the  Amazigh language radio broadcasts which women in particular listen to more frequently in the more remote areas.

Significant efforts have been undertaken to integrate children into schooling and to combat illiteracy through informal education programs. Ms. Shaheed was concerned, however, about a high drop-out rates of children in schools despite these efforts, and in particular that of girls. She believed that initiatives such as the Ben Youssef cultural complex in Fès which offers extra-curricula creative art education for children living in the Medina and the youth centre of Aourir in the vicinity of Agadir, are good practices, and the Independent Expert strongly encouraged the authorities to further assist the establishment of such institutions in other regions.

An impressive government initiative is the work of the Centre Régional de Documentation, d’Animation et de Production Pédagogique in Marrakesh. The Center’s work has managed to halve drop-out rates in a short period of time, support the self-expression of students through various media, their engagement with cultural heritage and participation in cultural life in an imaginative and effective manner. Importantly, the work simultaneously engages with families, schools and the public sphere in synergy. This is an excellent model for other regions.

Ms. Shaheed visited a number of associations and projects supported by the Initiative Nationale de Développement Humain (INDH). Their efforts to support various cultural and social initiatives at the regional and municipal levels are to be commended. However, the Independent Expert was concerned that funds spent on infrastructure are much higher than those allocated to human development projects. Another issue of concern is that the application procedure is cumbersome, in particular for associations in rural areas. She encouraged INDH to invest more in capacity building projects, including in providing trainings to associations on how to prepare acceptable project documentation for INDH.

One of the community initiatives the Independent Expert was particularly impressed with was the work and the enthusiasm of the “filles cavalières” group in Khemisset supported by the local commune. This initiative not only preserves the culture of Moroccan society as a living tradition, but also gives a new impetus to women’s participation in cultural life and their contribution to a cultural heritage that was traditionally embodied by men. The project highlights the importance of community participation not only in terms of service-delivery, but also in decision-making, and in ensuring that policies and programmes are responsive to local priorities and aspirations.

In terms of gender and the participation of persons with disabilities and other groups in cultural life, the Independent Expert appreciated that Morocco has taken significant measures to document, promote and protect the cultural expressions and heritage of marginalized groups. Nevertheless, many people are still denied effective participation in cultural life, including in decision-making. Ms. Shaheed encouraged the government to strengthen efforts to ensure the effective participation of marginalized groups, particularly women, persons with disabilities and minority groups, in decision-making processes related to all aspects of culture and cultural life. One concrete suggestion is to put into place adequate measures to provide unhindered access to cultural events, and to cultural centres such as festivals’ venues, youth centers, theaters and libraries, to persons with disabilities and to facilitate their contribution to cultural life.

In addition to places visited in Morocco, the Independent Expert also travelled to Dakhla in Western Sahara where she met with local authorities and a number of associations working on issues related to the documentation and preservation of tangible heritage, such as manuscripts, and visited local handicraft centres. Ms. Shaheed learnt about numerous festivals taking place in Dakhla every year promoting the cultural heritage of Western Sahara. She was concerned however, at reports that some Saharawi artists were denied participation in festivals and cultural events because of the specific cultural references contained in their proposed performances. The Independent Expert was also concerned about the testimonies received of parents denied the possibility of registering Hassani names for their children. Impediments limiting the free expression of cultural rights are unacceptable and should be immediately revoked. Ms. Shaheed called for the reinforcement of existing confidence building measures to enable family reunions which are an essential and basic component of cultural life.

During her mission, Ms. Shaheed met many people of good will, expertise and commendable commitment, genuinely concerned about the protection of both cultural rights and the culturally diverse heritage of all. The exemplary coexistence of different cultures, together with mutual respect and tolerance, are essential for prosperity and should be encouraged and widely supported and promoted. In this respect, a special mention must be made of the unique and outstanding work of the Fondation du Patrimoine Culturel Judeo-Marocain in Casablanca.

If human rights are to be integrated in the cultural sector, it is crucial that more professionals - in the public and private sectors – learn about what these human rights are and how to make them a reality for all. Guaranteeing human rights protection through supportive legal and policy frameworks alongside practical, targeted interventions that place empowerment, and meaningful community engagement at their centre, are necessary to ensure the full enjoyment of cultural rights for all.