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Morocco: “Culture of human rights emerging, but more needed to eradicate torture” – UN Special Rapporteur

RABAT (22 September 2012) – United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez said* Saturday that a culture of human rights is emerging in Morocco, and hailed the establishment of the National Council of Human Rights as the most prominent institutional aspect of this emerging culture. The rights expert, nonetheless, urged the authorities to further their efforts to eradicate torture and ill-treatment.

“The situation on the ground regarding the practice of torture has generally improved from the past decades when there were widespread disappearances, secret detention and torture,” he said at the end of his eight-day visit to the country (the independent expert also visited Laâyoune, Western Sahara, on 17-18 September). “However, I received credible testimonies of undue physical and mental pressure on detainees in the course of interrogations. These events happen frequently enough to deserve attention and efforts to eradicate them.”

Mr. Méndez noted that, while the practice of cruel treatment persists in ordinary criminal cases, treatment amounting to torture is frequently linked to highly charged events such as large demonstrations, a perceived threat to national security or terrorism. “At those times a corresponding increase in acts of torture and ill-treatment during the detention and arrest process can be detected,” he said.

“It appears that there is a spike in occurrences of excessive force when the police or other authorities respond to incidents that involve assembly,” pointed out the Special Rapporteur, stressing that “whether the demonstrations are authorized or not does not give the authorities the right to exercise excessive force.”

Commenting on numerous accounts of the use of torture to obtain evidence or confessions during the initial stage of interrogation, Mr. Méndez found that prosecutors and investigative judges dismiss complaints of torture or fail to investigate such allegations. “The complaint system regarding allegations of torture and ill-treatment and investigation, prosecution and punishment of perpetrators, with the exception of a very few cases, seems to be in law only,” he said. “This gap between law and practice must be closed.”

The Special Rapporteur recognized efforts by the authorities to shut down some of the older prisons, construct new ones and expand and renovate others in order to improve conditions. “The institutions I visited had all benefited from substantial renovations, fresh paint, new bedding and blankets, and very clean sanitation areas,” he noted. “I strongly hope these improvements will remain in place and that improvements are made to all other prisons I could not visit.”

While acknowledging the difficult situation for the authorities regarding the flow of undocumented migrants, particularly in the north of the country, the rights expert expressed concerns about the increase of reported violence of security forces against this particularly vulnerable group.

“Severe beatings, sexual violence, and other forms of ill-treatment appear to be on the rise,” Mr. Méndez said. “I urge the authorities to take all necessary measures to prevent further violence and to investigate reports of violence against sub-Saharan migrants.”

During his visit, the Special Rapporteur held meetings with authorities, the judiciary, civil society, the national human rights institution, United Nations agencies, as well as with victims and their families. He visited Rabat, Salé, Skhirat-Témara and Casablanca.

The independent expert also visited Laâyoune, Western Sahara on 17 and 18 September. “I was overwhelmed with the vast number of requests to meet and the hundreds of cases received prior and during my two day visit. I was regrettably only able to meet with a sample of alleged victims and representatives of civil society but I will examine each submission in detail so that all information that falls within the scope of my mandate is considered.”

The Special Rapporteur will prepare a mission report with his observations and recommendations to be presented at a forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Juan E. Méndez (Argentina) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in November 2010. He is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. Mr. Méndez has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights, and has a long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas. Learn more, log on to:
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Torture/SRTorture/Pages/SRTortureIndex.aspx

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur:
English: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12569&LangID=E
French: http://www.ohchr.org/FR/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12569&LangID=F
UN Human Rights Country Page – Morocco: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/MAIndex.aspx

Check the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cat.htm

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Stephanie Selg (Tel.: +212 642 389 215 / sselg@ohchr.org or Ms. Sonia Cronin (Tel.: + 41 22 917 9160 / scronin@ohchr.org ) or write to sr-torture@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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