Criticism of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights

On July 8, 2019, the U.S. State Department launched the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights.[1] This new Commission deserves both commendation and criticism. Its positive points were discussed in a prior post. Now we look at the many legitimate criticisms of this new institution.

Erroneous Premise

The basic premise for the Commission was stated by Secretary Pompeo In his remarks at its launching, when he alleged, without proof, that “international institutions designed and built to protect human rights have drifted from their original mission” and that they and nation-states “remain confused about their respective responsibilities concerning human rights.” Therefore, the Secretary asserted that “the time is right for an informed review of the role of human rights in American foreign policy” and that the Commission was charged with straightening all of this out.

This premise, however, is erroneous. The body of human rights law today is very extensive as developed by U.S. and other national and international courts and institutions. For example, an edition of a major U.S. book on the subject, primarily for law students, has 1,259 well-documented pages plus a 737 page collection of selected human rights instruments and bibliography.[2] Like any large body of law developed by different courts and institutions over time, there will be an ongoing effort to eliminate or minimize inconsistencies. But an informed knowledge of this body of law and institutions would show that these international institutions have not “drifted from their original mission.” Nor are nation states confused about their responsibilities in this area.

Secretary Pompeo’s pious assertions of the need to ascertain what human rights mean were castigated by Roger Cohen, a New York Times columnist. “There is no need to reinvent the wheel, Mr. Secretary. A lot of bipartisan and international consensus, consolidated over the postwar decades, in the aftermath of the Holocaust and other horrors, exists as to what human rights are and what America’s role in defending them should be.”[3]

Pompeo also has claimed that the continued violations of human rights shows that there is confusion about the law. That is also false. Yes, there continue to be violations, showing the inherent weaknesses of human beings and institutions, but not confusion about the law. If this were a valid argument, then would ridiculously claim that the laws against murder and other forms of homicide were confusing because such horrible acts still occur.

Erroneous Reference to Natural Law

The U.S. Declaration of Independence refers generally to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” and states that men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This is the purported basis for the Commission’s Charter saying it will provide the Secretary with “fresh thinking about human rights and . . . reforms of human rights discourse where it has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” (Para. 3) (emphasis added).

Secretary Pompeo made this same argument in his July 7 article in the Wall Street Journal, where he said, “When politicians and bureaucrats create new rights, they blur the distinction between unalienable rights and ad hoc rights created by governments.”

Roger Cohen, a New York Times columnist, criticized this reference to the concept of natural law and natural rights, circa 1776, by reminding us that ”these ‘natural rights’ at the time, of course, included chattel slavery and the dehumanization of black people, as well as the disenfranchisement of women.” In short, “the ‘natural’ rights of 1776 are not the human rights the [U.S.] helped codify in 1948 [in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights].”

Moreover, Secretary Pompeo and others at the State Department apparently forgot to read the very next sentence of the U.S. Declaration: “That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (Emphasis added.) In other words, the U.S. government subsequently was established by the U.S. Constitution “to secure these rights [mentioned in the Declaration of Indepence]” and its later enactment of human rights statutes and regulations are based upon “the consent of the governed.” These are not “ad hoc” laws (a legal category not known to this attorney-blogger) as Secretary Pompeo dismissively calls them.

Similar language occurs in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “[H]uman rights should be protected by the rule of law” (Preamble); “Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms” (Preamble).[4] In other words, there will need to be additional treaties and laws to protect and secure these rights. This point was emphasized by the Commission’s Chair, Mary Ann Glendon in her book about the Universal Declaration: “The Declaration’s principles, moreover, have inccreasingly acquired legal force, mainly through incorporation into national legal systems.”

Indeed, the New York Times contemporaneously reported with the adoption of the UDHR in December 1948, “The United Nations now will begin drafting a convention that will be a treaty embodying in specific detail and in legally binding form the principles proclaimed in the declaration.” One such treaty was the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which entered into force on March 23, 1976, which was “three months after the date of the deposit with the Secretary-General of the United Nations of the 35th instrument of ratification or instrument of accession.” (Art. 49(1)) The U.S., however, did not ratify this treaty until April 2, 1992, when the U.S. Senate granted its “advice and consent” to same with certain “understandings” and reservations, and this treaty did not enter into force for the U.S. until September 8, 1992.[5]

The U.N. system has created many other multilateral human rights treaties and other international institutions to interpret those rights, resolve conflicts among them and disputes about compliance with them.[6]

Possible Invalid Objectives

Actions and words of the current U.S. Administration have led some critics of this Commission to speculate that the Commission is a ruse to conceal the Administration’s true objectives: eliminate legal rights to abortions and other reproductive procedures and to LGBBTQI individuals. If that is the case, then the Commission is a fraud.

The Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel (Dem., NY) says, “This commission risks undermining many international human-rights norms that the United States helped establish, including LGBTQI rights and other critical human-rights protections around the world. . . . [and now] the Secretary wants to make an end run around established structures, expertise, and the law to give preference to discriminatory ideologies that would narrow protections for women, including on reproductive rights; for members of the LGBTQI community; and for other minority groups.”

The American Jewish World Service through its Its director of government affairs, Rori Kramer, denounced the creation of the commission because of what it said was a religious bent to the panel. “As a Jewish organization, we are deeply skeptical of a government commission using a narrow view of religion as a means to undermine the ecumenical belief of respecting the dignity of every person, as well as the fundamental human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We fear this commission will use a very particular view of religion to further diminish U.S. leadership on human rights.”

As University of Chicago Law Professor Eric Posner observed, the Commission’s “plainly stated goal is not just to wipe away the baleful foreign influences of human rights ‘discourse’ but to revive [conservative] 18th century natural law . . . . [and] an indirect endorsement of contemporary [Roman] Catholic conservative intellectuals.”

Another professor, Clifford Rob of Duquesne University, believes the Commission is “ likely to champion the ‘natural family’ and ‘traditional values,’ to claim that individual self-defense is another natural and unalienable right and to express hostility to economic and cultural rights.

Rebecca Hamilton, an Assistant Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law and a former prosecutor for the International Criminal Court and a former employee of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia,warned that the “’natural law’ language was code for religiously-infused opposition to reproductive rights and to protections for members of the LGBTQ community.” She points out that the concept for this Commission was proposed by Professor Robert George, a “staunch opponent of same-sex marriage and co-founder of the anti-gay rights group, National Organization for Marriage.”[7]

Other Legitimate Sources of Human Rights Were Ignored

The Trump Administration’s statements about the Commission seem to be saying that only the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Independence are the only ones that count and that studying them will yield only one set of answers on the many issues of human rights. That is clearly erroneous, in this blogger’s opinion.

The Declaration of Independence, in addition to talking about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” says that they are “among” the category of “certain unalienable rights.” Thus, there are other rights in that category. In addition, there undoubtedly are times when there are conflicts among “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” and the other such rights that will need to be resolved.

Most importantly, the U.S. Declaration says “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” In other words, governments need to enact statutes and rules to protect and secure these rights, and the need for “consent of the governed” inevitably leads to arguments and disputes about the content of such statutes and rules and to the need, from time to time, to amend those statutes and rules and adopt new ones, as circumstances change as they certainly have in the 243 years since the adoption of the U.S. Declaration.

Indeed, the U.S. federal and state governments have enacted many statutes and rules to protect and secure human rights. And they should not be ignored or dismissed as “ad hoc” measures as Secretary Pompeo did in his article in the Wall Street Journal.

The Universal Declaration is subject to the same qualifications. It identifies more rights than the four specifically mentioned in the U.S. Declaration, but there undoubtedly will be conflicts among those rights that will need resolution.

Moreover, the Preamble of the Universal Declaration says that “human rights should be protected by the rule of law [outside that document itself]” and that “Member States have pledged to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” This U.N. document also proclaims “that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive . . . by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.” In other words, there will need to be additional treaties and laws to protect and secure these rights.

The Commission’s Membership May Not Comply with Federal Law

 Under the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972 (Pub. L. 92-463), “the function [of such] advisory committees [or commissions] shall be advisory only, and that all matters under their consideration should be determined in accordance with law, by the official, agency, or office involved.”[8]

Moreover, under this federal statute, the committee or commission members must be “drawn from nearly every occupational and industry group and geographical section of the United States and its territories”  and must be “fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed.” (Emphasis added.)

Although as noted in a prior post, the resumes of this Commission’s members are impressive, some critics have questioned the balance of their views on the central issues facing the Commission..

Another federal law that may have been violated in the establishment of this Commission is the failure to seek and obtain the counsel of the Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, which is charged with championing “American values, including the rule of law and individual rights, that promote strong, stable, prosperous, and sovereign states. We advance American security in the struggle against authoritarianism and terrorism when we stand for the freedoms of religion, speech, and the press, and the rights of people to assemble peaceably and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.”

Conclusion

Therefore, contemporary advocates of international human rights need vigilantly to observe the work of the Commission, applaud its work when appropriate and critique that work on other occasions.

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com, which contain citations to many of the references in this post: Is Trump Administration Attempting To Redefine International Human Rights? (June 16, 2019); Other Reactions to State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights (June 17, 2019); More Thoughts on Commission on Unalienable Rights (June 18, 2019); U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights: Developments (July 4, 2019); U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights Is Launched (July 8, 2019); More Comments on Commission on Unalienable Rights (July 9, 2019);; The Importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (July 11, 2019); Additional Discussion About the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights (July 18, 2019); The U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights: Partial Commendation (July 19, 2019).

[2] See Weissbrodt, Ní Aoláin, Fitzpatrick & Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy, and Process (4th ed. 2009); Weissbrodt, Ní Aoláin, Rumsey, Hoffman & Fitzpatrick, Selected International Human Rights Instruments and Bibliography for Research on International Human Rights Law (4th ed. 2009). Professor Weissbrodt also has published an online “Supplementary Materials” for the casebook.

[3] Cohen, Trump’s Ominous Attempt to Redefine Human Rights, N.Y. Times (July 12, 2019).

[4] See The Importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, dwkcommentaries.com (July 11, 2019).

[5] U.S. Ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 5, 2013).

[6] See the posts listed in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Law (TREATIES), including those that identify the treaties ratified by the U.S.; those signed, but not so ratified; and those not signed and ratified by the U.S.

[7] Hamilton, EXCLUSIVE: Draft Charter of Pompeo’s “Commission on Unalienable Rights” Hides Anti-Human Rights Agenda, Just Security June 5, 2019). Just Security publishes “crisp explanatory and analytic pieces geared toward a broad policy, national/international security, and legal audience; and (2) deep dives that examine the nuances of a particular legal issue.”

[8] Federal Advisory Committee Act, secs. 2(b)(6), 5(b)(2);  Gen. Services Admin., The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

 

 

 

State Department’s Latest Report on International Religious Freedom

On June 21, 2019, the U.S. State Department released its 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom in every other country in the world in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-292). The Report’s stated focus is describing other government’s “policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world.” [1]

Here is an overview of that report and a subsequent post will discuss its report on Cuban religious freedom.

Overview

The initial draft of the report for each country is prepared by the U.S. Embassy in that country “based on information from government officials, religious groups, nongovernmental organizations, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, media, and others.”

That draft then is reviewed and modified by the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. based on additional information from “consultations with foreign government officials, domestic and foreign religious groups, domestic and foreign nongovernmental organizations, multilateral and other international and regional organizations, journalists, academic experts, community leaders, and other relevant U.S. government institutions.”

The Department says its “guiding principle is to ensure that all relevant information is presented as objectively, thoroughly, and fairly as possible.  Motivations and accuracy of sources vary, however, and the Department of State is not in a position to verify independently all information contained in the reports.” (Emphasis in original.)

Appropriately annexed to the Report were the texts of the following documents on this subject:

  • [U.N. General Assembly]Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 18 (1948) (“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.”) (App. A);
  • [U.N. General Assembly Resolution (1966)] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, App. B): Art. 18(1)(“ Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, and teaching.” Art 18(2)(“ No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.” Art. 18(3)(“ Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.” Art. 20(2)(“ Any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”)
  • [U.N. General Assembly] Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief [Nov. 25, 1981](App. C)(reiteration of above Covenant with additional provisions).
  • Religious Freedom Commitments and Obligations From Regional Bodies and Instruments (European Union: Charter of Fundamental Rights; Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Helsinki Final Act; (App. D); OSCE, Vienna Concluding Document; OSCE, Copenhagen Concluding Document; African Union, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; Organization of American States (OAS), American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man; OAS, American Convention on Human Rights).
  • Department of State Training Related to the International Religious Freedom Act—2018 (App. E).
  • Department of Homeland Security and the International Religious Freedom Act (App. F);
  • Overview of U.S. Refugee Policy (App. G).

“Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) & ”Special Watch List”[2]

 Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Secretary of State (by presidential delegation) is required to designate as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) “each country the government of which has engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

In addition, under the Frank R. Wolf International Freedom Act of 2016, the Secretary (by presidential delegation) is required to designate a country to the Special Watch List if it does not meet “all of the CPC criteria but engages in or tolerates severe violations of religious freedom.”

As of November 28, 2018, the Secretary designated as CPCs Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. In addition, the Secretary designated Comoros and Uzbekistan to the Special Watch List.

The just released 2018 Report apparently does not have a separate section on CPCs, but an examination of its Country Reports for those just listed as CPCs reveals that all continue in that status. In addition, Comoros and Uzbekistan continue on the Special Watch List with the addition of Russia.

 Ambassador Sam Brownback’s Role and Remarks

This report was prepared under the direction of Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback,[3] with guidance from officials in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL).

At the launch of this report, Ambassador Brownback provided a Special Briefing.[4] He started with this alarming comment, “The fight against religious freedom is mounting. There was a report that 80 percent of people live in places where religious freedom is under attack, yet most of the world organizes their life around a set of religious beliefs.”

As a result, he said, the U.S. is working to “see the iron curtain of religious persecution come down; until governments no longer detain and torture people for simply being of a particular faith or associated with it; until people are no longer charged and prosecuted on specious charges of blasphemy; until the world no longer believes it can get away with persecuting anyone of any faith without consequences.”

The Ambassador then had critical comments about this freedom in Iran, China, Eritrea, Turkey and Nicaragua.

Secretary of State Pompeo’s Remarks[5]

Also at the launch of this report, Secretary of State Pompeo made remarks. He noted that Uzbekistan had made improvements and no longer was a “Country of Particular Concern.” Also complimented for specific improvements on this subject were Pakistan and Turkey. But the Secretary specifically criticized Iran, Russia, Burma and China. Finally he noted that the Department in mid-July will be hosting the second annual Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom.

Conclusion

As noted above, a future post will examine how the above background was applied to the report about Cuban religious freedom.

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[1] State Dep’t, 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom (June 21, 2019) This blog has commented on religious freedom in the “International Religious Freedom” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical (RELIGION).

[2] State Dep’t, Frequently Asked Questions: IRF Report and Countries of Particular Concern (circa Nov. 28, 2018).

[3] Ambassador Brownback, a Republican, is a former Kansas Secretary of Agriculture (1986-93), U.S. Representative (1995-96), U.S. Senator (1996-2011) and Governor (2011-18). (Sam Brownback, Wikipedia.)

[4] State Dep’t, Special Briefing: Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback (June 21, 2019).

[5] State Dep’t, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo at the Release of the 2018 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom (June 21, 2019)

 

 

Developments Regarding Morocco’s Human Rights

Morocco’s human rights and other issues have been explored in previous posts. Here then is an update on recent updates on the country’s human rights.

An article in the Washington Post reports, “Last month , the Moroccan Parliament once again debated legislation long sought by women’s rights activists here that would make it a crime to harass a woman in public, whether physically or verbally. Under the latest proposal, a conviction could draw a month to two years in prison. But the bill remains mired in political wrangling between reformers and members of the conservative parties.”[1]

The reason for the troubled status of this bill, according to this article, is “Morocco is a deeply conservative, patriarchal society with a ruling Islamic party that won handily in a parliamentary election last year.” Khadija Ryadi, former president of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, said, “Everything that concerns women’s rights is connected to religion.” Another Moroccan, Amal Idrissi, a law professor at Moulay Ismail University in the city of Meknes, disagrees. He says the reason for the country’s failure to adopt laws protecting women’s rights is not religion. It’s patriarchy.”

More broadly, this September, according to the article, “Morocco rejected 44 of 244 recommendations made by the U.N. Human Rights Council following its latest UPR [Universal Periodic Review] . . .  of the country’s rights record. All 44 pertained to either women’s rights or individual rights, including laws that prevent women and men from inheriting equally and that deny rights to children born out of wedlock.” In so doing, “Morocco said its constitution must adhere to Islamic law — a striking illustration of the traditional and religious thinking hampering the country’s efforts to appear as a beacon of moderation in the region.”

Actually the 244 recommendations were made by various states or Morocco and “should not be construed as endorsed by the [Council’s] Working Group as a whole.”

U.N. Human Rights Council’s Latest UPR of Morocco

In September 2017, the Human Rights Council adopted a report by the Working Group on Morocco, but research to date has not located the Council’s official record of that action.[2]

However, Alkarama, a Geneva [Switzerland]-based non-governmental human rights organization established . . .to assist all those in the Arab world” who are at risk of human rights violations, published a press release about the outcome of this UPR. It stated that Morocco had accepted the majority of the recommendations (191 out of 244) while 44 were fully or partially rejected.

Human Rights Organization’s Reactions to Morocco’s UPR[3]

  1. Alkarama

Alkarama applauded Morocco’s acceptance of the majority of the recommendations, but expressed the following concerns:

  • Morocco’s rejection of recommendations by Sweden and the U.S. “for an end to “the prosecution of journalists” and “the detention of some individuals for solely exercising their freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association.” Therefore, Alkarma called for calls for “the implementation of [these] recommendations and the immediate release of any person detained for exercising his or her right to freedom of expression.”
  • The need for Morocco to honor the promise by its Minister of State for Human Rights “to cooperate with the UN human rights mechanisms, . . . to implement the accepted recommendations starting . . . next year . . . . [and] to implement the Opinions of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention . . . calling for the immediate release of victims of arbitrary detention.”
  • The need for Morocco “to ensure the independence of [the National Human Rights Council with promised expansion of powers, including the National Prevention Mechanism under [the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture] as well as transparency in the selection process of its members in accordance with the Paris Principles.”
  • Morocco’s promised judicial reform “to strengthen the rule of law and the respect for fundamental rights” needs to “result in effective changes on the ground, guaranteeing everyone’s right to an effective remedy before an impartial and independent judicial body.”
  • “Moroccan authorities [need] to investigate all allegations of torture and to ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and punished appropriately.”
  • “Moroccan authorities should re-examine and provide acceptable compensation to all victims of unfair trials following the Casablanca attacks, during which convictions were made on the basis of confessions under torture.”
  1. Amnesty International

Amnesty International’s report of that action by the Human Rights Council welcomed “Morocco’s acceptance of recommendations to criminalize marital rape, and ensure protection against domestic violence. However, Morocco’s “Draft Law 103.13 on combating violence against women does not comply with international standards in its definition of rape, and other barriers remain, such as the ban on abortion and sexual relations outside marriage.”

In addition and more broadly, Amnesty welcomed “Morocco’s commitment to remove obstacles in the registration of civil society organizations; to review the Penal Code in line with Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and to develop measures to ensure full respect of freedom of expression, association and assembly in Western Sahara.” However, Amnesty “regrets Morocco’s rejection of recommendations to end the persecution of journalists and to release those detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression.” Amnesty then went on to urge Morocco “to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure, in order to ensure the right to a fair trial, such as access to a lawyer during interrogation for all suspects.”

On another issue, Amnesty was “pleased to note Morocco’s commitment to speed up the review of the legal framework on migration and asylum to align it with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” However, “Morocco has yet to adopt legislation to protect asylum-seekers and refugees.”

Finally Amnesty noted that Morocco has not carried out any executions since 1993, but was concerned that “death sentences continue to be handed down and proposed changes to the Penal Code would expand the scope of the death penalty” and regretted “Morocco’s rejection of a number of recommendations to establish a formal moratorium on the death penalty, with a view to its abolition.”

  1. Human Rights Watch

HRW first noted positive human rights developments in the country and “acknowledged Morocco’s efforts to accede to international treaties, in particular its ratification of the International Convention for Enforced Disappearance and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture . . . . [and positive] developments in advancing rights of domestic workers, victims of human trafficking, and persons with disabilities.”

On the other hand, HRW expressed concern and regret over the following:

  • The “government rejected key recommendations on important human rights concerns, [including]  “withdrawing all reservations to the Convention on Discrimination against Women; decriminalizing same-sex consensual relations; amending Penal Code provisions used to imprison journalists and others for nonviolent speech; and eliminating Family Code provisions that discriminate against children born outside of wedlock.”
  • The failure of the government to “comply with [previous UPR] recommendations it has accepted.”
  • “Morocco’s human rights record remains tainted by allegations of unjustified use of force by police against ‘Hirak’ protesters in the Rif, the systematic suppression of pro-independence demonstrations by Sahrawis in Western Sahara, and the failure of courts trying politically charged cases to scrutinize the veracity of contested ‘confessions’ to the police, contributing to trials that are unfair.”

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[1] Spinner, Morocco debates a law to protect women in public spaces. Passing it is another matter, Wash. Post (Nov. 5, 2017). See also Lahsini, Morocco Rejects Multiple UN Recommendations on Women Rights as ‘Unconstitutional,’ Morocco World News (Sept. 21, 2017).

[2] U.N. Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review—Morocco (July 13, 2017); U.N. Human Rights Council, The Kingdom of Morocco’s position on the Recommendations issues after review of its National Report under the third cycle of the universal Periodic Review (UPR), (Aug. 2017); U.N. Human Rights Council, 27th UPR adoptions to take place in September (Aug. 15, 2017); Alkarama, Morocco: UPR outcome adopted at UN Human Rights Council (Sept. 27, 2017).

[3] Alkarama, ibid.; Amnesty Int’l, Morocco: Human Rights Council Adopts Universal Periodic Review Outcome on Morocco (Sept. 21, 2017); Human Rights Watch, Morocco should implement past UPR recommendations (Sept. 21, 2017).

 

 

 

 

 

U.N. Human Rights Committee’s Evaluation of Morocco’s Human Rights Record

As noted in a prior post, Morocco is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the most comprehensive multilateral human rights treaty, and as such is required to submit periodical reports on its implementation of that treaty for evaluation by the U.N. Human Rights Committee. The most recent such evaluation was on December 1, 2016, and the Committee’s comments on religious freedom in that country were covered in that prior post.[1]

Positive Evaluations

The Committee first complimented Morocco on the following positive developments:

“3. The Committee welcomes the legislative and institutional measures taken by the State party, notably:

(a) Adoption of a new Constitution in 2011, which strengthens democratic institutions and the status of human rights in the domestic legal system;

(b) Process of reform of the judiciary begun in 2011;

(c) Adoption of Act No. 108-13 in 2014 limiting the jurisdiction of military courts to military offences and offences committed in time of war;

(d) Adoption in June 2016 of the law on domestic workers, which prohibits domestic work for persons under 16 years of age;

(e) Adoption of framework law No. 97.13 on the protection and promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities in May 2016;

(f) Amendment of the Nationality Code in 2007, which now allows Moroccan women in most cases to transmit their nationality to their children regardless of the nationality of the father;

(g) New migration policy, adopted in September 2013, and one-off regularization process for migrants in an irregular situation that followed and the efforts made to improve their living conditions and facilitate their integration.”

“4. The Committee welcomes the State party’s ratification of or accession to the following international human rights instruments:

(a) International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, in 2013;

(b) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, in 2009;

(c) Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, in 2014.”

Negative Evaluations

The Committee then stated the following principal areas of concern (or negative evaluations):[2]

Constitutional and legislative framework

“5. The Committee welcomes the commitment of Morocco to harmonize its national legislation with ratified international treaties and to accede to the first Optional Protocol to the Covenant. It notes that the provisions of the Covenant can be invoked before the courts and regrets that they have only rarely been invoked or applied by the courts (art. 2).” (Emphasis added.)

State of emergency

“7. The Committee welcomes the inclusion in article 59 of the Constitution of the principle of non-derogation of basic rights and freedoms in a state of emergency. However, it notes with concern that this provision does not establish specific substantive and procedural guarantees as set out in article 4 (1 and 3) of the Covenant and does not guarantee a clear prohibition against the suspension during this time of all the rights set out in article 4 (2).” (Emphasis added.)

Right to self-determination

“9. The Committee takes note of the Moroccan initiative for engaging in negotiations on autonomy for the Western Sahara region and the additional information provided by the State party but remains concerned about: (a) the limited progress made in dealing with the issue of the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara; (b) reports that the State party is not taking all necessary measures to consult the people of Western Sahara about the development of the natural resources of the Western Sahara; and (c) the presence of the sand wall, also known as the ‘berm,’ which limits the freedom of movement of the people of Western Sahara given the very few crossing points that are open to civilians and the presence of landmines and other explosive remnants of war along the berm that endanger the lives and safety of the communities located in the vicinity (arts. 1, 6 and 12).” (Emphasis added.)

Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity

“11.The Committee is concerned at the criminalization of homosexuality, the fact that it is punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 3 years and the arrests that have been made on that basis. It is also concerned by reports of the advocacy of hatred, discrimination and violence against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity (arts. 2, 9 and 26).” (Emphasis added.)

Equality between men and women and practices that are harmful to women

“13. The Committee welcomes the recognition of the principle of equality in the Constitution of 2011 but is still concerned, however, about: (a) the continued existence of legislative provisions that discriminate against women, particularly as regards a matrimonial regime that continues to permit polygamy, divorce, child custody, legal guardianship of children, inheritance and the transmission of nationality to a foreign spouse; (b) the high number of polygamous marriages; and (c) the increase in early marriages (arts. 2, 3, 23, 24 and 26).” (Emphasis added.)

Violence against women

15. The Committee welcomes the fact that, in 2014, the State party abrogated article 475 (2) of the Criminal Code, which had allowed rape charges to be dropped when the victim was a minor if the perpetrator married the victim. It remains concerned, however, about: (a) the prevalence of violence against women; (b) the fact that violent attacks often go unreported and the perpetrators of violence often are not prosecuted owing, inter alia, to the absence of protection measures and support facilities and to the fact that victims of rape who report the crime may themselves be prosecuted because of the criminalization of sexual relations outside marriage between consenting adults; (c) the limited scope of the law under which sexual harassment is a criminal offence; and (d) the fact that the legislative reforms now under way leave a number of discriminatory provisions in place, such as the one that sets out mitigating circumstances for “honour crimes” (arts. 3, 6, 7 and 17).” (Emphasis added.)

 “Counter-terrorism

“17. The Committee remains concerned about the broad and unclear wording of the provisions in the Criminal Code that define what acts constitute acts of terrorism and the introduction of new, vaguely defined offences in 2015. It is also concerned by reports that charges have been brought under these provisions without proper cause against journalists who were fulfilling their duty to inform the public and that the fact that these provisions are so vaguely worded discourages the exercise of other Covenant rights, including the right to freedom of expression. The Committee is also disturbed by the excessive length of time that persons may be held in police custody in connection with terrorism-related offences (12 days) and by the fact that such persons are allowed to consult a lawyer only after 6 days have elapsed (arts. 9, 14 and 19).” (Emphasis added.)

Death penalty

“19.The Committee welcomes the de facto moratorium on executions since 1993, the reduction in 2014 in the number of offences punishable by the death penalty under the Code of Military Justice and the reduction envisaged under the draft Criminal Code. However, it regrets that three new categories of crimes punishable by death are contained in the draft Criminal Code (art. 6).” (Emphasis added.)

Voluntary termination of pregnancy

“21.The Committee notes that a disturbingly high number of clandestine abortions are performed in the State party which endanger the lives and health of the women concerned. It remains concerned about the extremely restrictive nature of the conditions under which a woman may legally have her pregnancy terminated in the State party and about the heavy penalties that are imposed in cases of clandestine abortions. The Committee notes that the draft revised Criminal Code provides for more exceptions to the general prohibition of abortion, but it is concerned about the introduction of excessive requirements such as the obligation to submit proof that legal proceedings have been opened in cases of rape or incest (arts. 3, 6, 7 and 17).” (Emphases added.)

Prohibition of torture and ill-treatment

“23. The Committee welcomes the authorities’ efforts to combat torture and ill-treatment and notes that there has been a marked reduction in such practices since the time that its last concluding observations (CCPR/CO/82/MAR) were issued. It is nonetheless concerned by continued reports of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment being perpetrated by agents of the State in Morocco and Western Sahara, particularly in the case of persons suspected of terrorism or of endangering State security or posing a threat to the territorial integrity of the State. The Committee notes with particular concern that: (a) confessions obtained under duress are reportedly sometimes admitted as evidence in court even though, by law, they are inadmissible; (b) in cases of alleged torture or of the extraction of confessions under duress, judges and prosecutors do not always order that medical examinations be performed or that investigations be undertaken; (c) persons who report cases of torture are sometimes the object of intimidation, threats and/or legal proceedings; and (d) the number of cases in which charges have been brought and the number of convictions that have been handed down seem quite low given the number of complaints filed and the extent to which torture and ill-treatment have occurred in the past (arts. 2, 7 and 14).” (Emphasis added.)

Police custody and access to a lawyer

“25. The Committee is concerned about the unduly prolonged periods of police custody and that access to a lawyer is permitted only in cases in which the period of police custody is prolonged and for a maximum of 30 minutes (arts. 9 and 14).” (Emphasis added.)

Enforced disappearances

“27. While recognizing the work carried out in cases of enforced disappearance by the Equity and Reconciliation Commission and the National Human Rights Council to gather information and to provide reparation, the Committee remains concerned by the fact that cases of enforced disappearance have still not been solved in Morocco and Western Sahara. The Committee is also concerned about the fact that the persons responsible for those disappearances have still not been identified, judged or punished (arts. 2, 6, 7, 9 and 16).” (Emphasis added.)

Prison conditions

“29. The Committee is concerned about the inadequate conditions of detention in the prisons of Morocco and Western Sahara, particularly in respect of prison overcrowding. The Committee is also concerned that almost half of the inmates are awaiting trial (arts. 9 and 10).” (Emphasis added.)

Imprisonment for non-performance of a contractual obligation

“31.The Committee is concerned about the fact that the circular of 21 October 2015 issued by the Ministry of Justice and Freedoms provides for enforcement by committal of debtors who do not fulfil their contractual obligations if they have not provided a certificate of indigence or a document that certifies that they are not liable to pay taxes (art. 11).” (Emphasis added.)

Right to a fair trial and the independence of the judiciary

“33.The Committee is concerned about cases in which irregularities appear to have occurred in court proceedings, including the admission of confessions obtained under duress and refusals to hear witnesses or to consider evidence. It is also concerned about cases in which lawyers and judges have been the target of threats and intimidation and of interference in their work and about the imposition of arbitrary or disproportionate disciplinary measures.” (Emphasis added.)

Asylum seekers and refugees

“35.The Committee welcomes the State party’s efforts to develop a legal framework on migration, asylum and human trafficking. It finds it regrettable that the regularization process pursued in 2014 did not result in the regularization of many refugees, particularly in the case of refugees from the Syrian Arab Republic. The Committee takes note with concern of the continued occurrence of arbitrary arrests of migrants and of allegations concerning the excessive use of force against migrants and the participation of Moroccan security forces in collective expulsions, particularly in the vicinity of the autonomous Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla. It also takes note of concerns regarding the detention and treatment of child migrants and regarding the legal barriers to the registration of newborns, the recognition of marriages of asylum seekers and refugees and the transmission of nationality, which may cause children born on Moroccan territory to be stateless (arts. 6, 7, 12, 23 and 24).” (Emphasis added.)

Right to privacy and the interception of private communications

“37.The Committee is concerned by reports of illegal infringements of the right to privacy in the course of surveillance operations conducted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies targeting journalists, human rights defenders and perceived opponents of the Government, particularly those located in Western Sahara. The Committee is also concerned by the lack of clarity with regard to the legal provisions which authorize and govern surveillance activities and the lack of oversight of those activities by an independent authority (art. 17).” (Emphasis added.)

Freedom of association and the activities of human rights defenders

“41. The Committee welcomes the fact that the procedures for filing a declaration of association have been streamlined but is nonetheless concerned about the fact that many associations are refused the right to register. The Committee is also concerned by reports that the activities of human rights defenders are subject to disproportionate, unjustified restrictions and that human rights defenders’ freedom of movement is limited, particularly in Western Sahara (arts. 12, 21 and 22).” (Emphasis added.)

Freedom of opinion and expression

“43. The Committee welcomes the adoption of the new Press Code in 2016, under which press-related offences are no longer subject to custodial penalties. It is concerned, however, about the concurrent introduction of new provisions in the Criminal Code that establish terms of imprisonment as penalties for acts perceived as being offensive to Islam or the monarchy or as posing a threat to the country’s territorial integrity. The Committee is deeply concerned by reports that journalists and human rights defenders have been prosecuted on those charges or have been threatened with prosecution (arts. 9, 14 and 19).” (Emphasis added.)

Right of peaceful assembly

“45.The Committee notes with concern that, under Moroccan law, prior authorization must be obtained for gatherings that are to be held in public places and that the issuance of such authorizations is sometimes hindered unjustifiably. It is also concerned about the excessive and disproportionate use of force to disperse unauthorized peaceful gatherings despite the issuance of a circular by the Ministry of Justice and Freedoms in October 2015 which states that police intervention is justified only in the presence of an armed mob and/or when a crowd has gathered that is likely to disturb the peace (arts. 7, 9, 19 and 21).” (Emphasis added.)

Child labour

“47.The Committee remains concerned about the continued economic exploitation of children, particularly as domestic and farm workers (arts. 8 and 24).” (Emphasis added.)

“The Amazigh

“49.The Committee welcomes the fact that the Amazigh language has been recognized as an official language of the country in the Constitution but finds it regrettable that the draft organic law concerning the measures to be taken to give effect to that recognition has not yet been adopted. It remains concerned about the difficulties encountered by Amazighs seeking to be taught in their language, to use their language in judicial and administrative proceedings and to register the Amazigh first names of their children (arts. 2, 26 and 27).” (Emphasis added.)

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[1] U.N. Human Rights Comm., Concluding Observations on the sixth periodic report by Morocco (Dec. 1, 2016).

[2] The Committee’s Concluding Observations also included separately recommendations on each of the principal areas of concern.

 

U.S. State Department’s Report on Moroccan Religious Freedom in 2016

On August 10, 2016, the U.S. Department of State released its latest annual report on religious freedom in every country in the world for 2015. Here are the key points of what it said about Morocco.[1]

The Report on Morocco

Morocco with its population of 33.3 million people (July 2015), estimates that 99% are Sunni Muslim and 1%, Shia Muslims, Christians, Jews and Bahais.

“The constitution declares the country to be a sovereign Muslim state and Islam to be the religion of the state. The constitution guarantees freedom of thought, expression, and assembly, and says the state guarantees the free exercise of beliefs to everyone.”

“The law grants recognition to Sunni Maliki-Ashari Muslims and Jews as native populations free to practice their religion without any specific requirements to register with the government. The law requires [all other] religious groups not recognized as native, which includes non-Maliki-Ashari Muslims (i.e., Shia) and Christians, among others, to register before they are able to undertake financial transactions or conduct other business as private associations and legal entities.”

“Registered churches and associations include the Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, French Protestant, and Anglican Churches, whose existence as foreign resident Churches predates the country’s independence in 1956 and which operate within the officially registered Council of Christian Churches of Morocco (CECM).”

“The constitution states the king is the protector of Islam and the guarantor of freedom of worship. It prohibits political parties, parliamentarians, and constitutional amendments from infringing upon Islam. The criminal code prohibits the use of ‘enticements’ by non-Muslims to try to convert Muslims to another religion. The minister of justice reaffirmed the freedom to change religions as long as no coercion was involved, but said Christian evangelism remained prohibited because missionaries had offered material inducements to the poor to convert them.”

“The government reportedly detained and questioned Moroccan Christians about their beliefs and contacts with other Moroccan Christians, including incidents in Rabat and Fes. The government also continued to deny registration to local Christian, Shia, and Bahai groups. Representatives of minority religious groups said fears of government surveillance led adherents of the Christian, Bahai, and Shia faiths to refrain from public worship and instead to meet discreetly in members’ homes. The government allowed foreign Christian communities to attend worship services in approved locations. The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA) continued to control the content of sermons in mosques, Islamic religious education, and the dissemination of Islamic religious material by the broadcast media. The government continued to restrict the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials, as well as Islamic materials it deemed inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam. The government arrested several individuals for eating in public during Ramadan.”

“Although Jews said they continued to live and worship in safety, participants in a pro-Palestinian rally in Casablanca in October staged a mock execution of individuals dressed as Hasidic Jews. Christians reported pressure to convert from non-Christian family and friends. Two Muslim actors received death threats for appearing in a U.S.-made movie about the life of Jesus. Members of the Shia community said in some areas they were able to practice their faith openly, but most members of the community practiced discreetly. Bahais reportedly practiced their faith discreetly and avoided disclosing their religious affiliation.”

“The U.S. government promoted religious tolerance in its bilateral strategic dialogue [with the Moroccan government]. The Ambassador, embassy and consulate general officers, and visiting U.S. government officials met with senior government officials, including the minister of endowments and Islamic affairs, to discuss tolerance of minority religions. The Ambassador and embassy officers also met with Muslim religious scholars, leaders of the Jewish community, prominent Christian visitors, Christian foreign residents, leaders of registered and unregistered Christian groups, and other local religious groups to promote religious dialogue.”

Conclusion

With Sunni Muslim as the state religion under Morocco’s constitution and 99% of the population’s being Sunni Muslims, it would appear to this non-Moroccan Christian outsider that it would be easy and non-threatening for the Moroccan government to allow virtually unfettered religious freedom to all others (Shia Muslims, Christians, Jews and Bahias). However, Morocco does not do so. Therefore, I believe the U.S. government, while observing all diplomatic niceties, should endeavor to persuade the Moroccan government to provide more religious freedom to the other religious groups.

Any U.S. efforts at attempting to persuade Morocco should refer to Morocco’s ratification or accession in 1979 to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which provides the following in Article 18: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

  1. “No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.”
  2. “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”
  3. “The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”[2]

That U.S. effort should also mention that under the ICCPR, Morocco as a state party has submitted periodical reports regarding its implementation of the treaty to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, which after review and consultation with the party issues its Concluding Observations on that implementation. The last such Concluding Observations by this Committee, which were issued on December 1, 2016, said the following about freedom of religion in Morocco:

  • “39. The Committee is concerned by reports that restrictions are placed on the practice of religions other than the official religion. It is also concerned about provisions in the Criminal Code that criminalize actions contrary to the Muslim religion and the introduction of new offences to the draft Criminal Code that further extend the limits imposed on freedom of religion and expression (arts. 18 and 19).”
  • “40. The State party should eliminate any legislative provision or discriminatory practice that is in violation of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and ensure that the draft revised Criminal Code now under discussion is fully in accordance with article 18 of the Covenant.”

Finally this outsider also suggests that discussions with the Moroccan government on this subject should refer to the January 2016 Declaration of Marrakesh about religious minorities in Muslim majority countries that was discussed in a prior post.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, International Religious Freedom Report for 2015: Morocco (Aug. 2016). The annual reports on the same subject by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom do not comment on every country in the world and Morocco is one such country that is not covered. (U.S. Com’n Int’l Religious Freedom, Annual Report (April 2017) (Morocco is not on list of countries covered by report, pp. iii-iv).

[2] The ICCPR and other international instruments regarding religious freedom were briefly reviewed in International Law Regarding Freedom of Religion, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 1, 2012).