U.S. State Department’s Report on Morocco’s Human Rights

On March 3, 2017, the U.S. Department of State released its annual report on human rights in every country in the world. The Preface by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated, “Promoting human rights and democratic governance is a core element of U.S. foreign policy. These values form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies. Standing up for human rights and democracy is not just a moral imperative but is in the best interests of the United States in making the world more stable and secure.”[1]

Here is the Executive Summary of its report about Morocco’s human rights other than freedom of religion that was covered in a separate report and that was the subject of a prior post.[2]

“Morocco is a constitutional monarchy under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king may dismiss ministers, dissolve parliament and call for new elections, or rule by decree.”

“The king shares executive authority with the head of government (prime minister), whom he must appoint from the political party with the most seats in parliament, and approves members of the government nominated by the prime minister.”

“International and domestic observers judged the October 7 parliamentary elections credible and relatively free from irregularities. The Islamist-leaning ruling party, Party of Justice and Development (PJD), again won a plurality of seats in the elections. As mandated by the constitution, immediately following the October 7 elections, the king chose the PJD to lead the governing coalition and nominated PJD Secretary General Abdelilah Benkirane to serve again as head of government.”

“During the year the government continued to implement its “advanced regionalization” plan, allowing local bodies elected in 2015 to exercise increased budgetary and decision-making powers.”

“Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces.”

“The most significant continuing human rights problems were corruption, discrimination against women, and disregard for the rule of law by security forces.”

“[O]ther human rights problems . . . included Security forces occasionally committing human rights abuses, including reports of mistreatment in detention. While prison and detention center conditions improved during the year, in some instances, they still did not meet international standards. Pretrial detention conditions were especially a problem due to overcrowding, and detention periods were often prolonged.”

“The judiciary lacked full independence, and sometimes denied defendants the right to a fair public trial. Domestic and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) asserted there were political prisoners, although the government asserted that these individuals were charged with criminal offenses.”

“The government abridged civil liberties by infringing on freedom of speech and press, including by harassing and arresting print and internet journalists for reporting or commenting on issues sensitive to the government. The government also limited freedom of assembly and association and restricted the right to practice one’s religion.”

“The power of the elected government was limited on certain national policy issues. The government placed restrictions on domestic and international human rights organizations, depending on its evaluation of the political orientation of the organization and the sensitivity of the issues. Trafficking in persons and child labor continued to occur, particularly in the informal sector.”

“There were few examples of investigations or prosecutions of abuse or corruption by officials, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, which contributed to the widespread perception of impunity.”

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Secretary’s Preface (Mar. 3, 2017).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Morocco (Mar. 3, 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.

 

The Mission of Morocco’s Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs

The mission of Morocco’s Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs was explicated in a September 2014 speech by its Minister, Ahmed Toufiq, to an Open Briefing by the U.N. Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee.[1] To the right is his photograph.

Two other representatives of the Moroccan government made more general statements at the briefing: H.E. Mr. Nasser Bourita, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Morocco; and Mr. Yassine Mansouri, Director General of the Directorate General of Studies and Documentation of the Kingdom of Morocco.[2]

This briefing was opened by the Committee’s Chair, Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaitë, the Permanent Representative of Lithuania to the U.N., who stated that the theme of this open briefing– countering incitement to commit terrorist acts motivated by extremism and intolerance–was prompted by the Committee’s 2013 visit to Morocco and identifying its national strategy to promote dialogue among civilizations as a good practice to be shared among other States. The Chair noted, “Whether in developing or developed States, religious leaders can play a pivotal role in creating an environment of peaceful coexistence. By promoting intra-religious and interreligious reflection and dialogue, governments can help build trust within societies and within public institutions.”

Minister Ahmed Toufiq’s Statement[3]

Minister Toufiq started with the assertion that many Islamic terrorist groups seek to take advantage of the following religious beliefs of most observant Muslims: (1) “religion gives meaning to life;” (2) “some events that have taken place in recent history are ambiguous and tend to disturb the conscience that believes in the ideal values of religion;” (3) “justice at all levels is a central value in religion;” and (4) “religion encompasses all the bases of life and . . . regulates [life] for both individuals and community.”

At the same time, he said, observant Muslims can be vulnerable to some Islamic terrorists’ messages due to (a) “a belief that “political legitimacy [is based upon a] commitment to the fundamentals of religion;” (2) Islamic terrorists’ “interpretation of [Islamic religious] texts in the absence of a respectable qualified [Islamic] religious authority;” and (3) the “absence of or shortcomings in [Islamic] religious leadership and supervision or religious services.”

In these historical circumstances, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI as the country’s Commander of the Faithful has pursued policies to prevent terrorism: adopting reforms and actions in accordance with religious fundamentals (defending religion, protecting life, guarding against harmful ideologies, preserving property and defending honor and dignity); and implementing reforms to enhance security, justice and living conditions and thereby consolidate solidarity and combat social marginalization and exclusion. These measures include the following:

  • Adherence to the Ash’ari doctrine that does not excommunicate people or impose death sentences for transgressing Devine Decrees;[4]
  • Adherence to the Maliki school of jurisprudence that encompasses a “rich variety of methods to derive rulings from their sources;” that has “flexibility in integrating local cultural practices within the sphere of Islamic Law;” that recognizes the “importance [of] . . . public interest [including] . . . a fatwa (ruling) . . . that the laws that are promulgated in Morocco all have religious legitimacy.”[5]
  • “Preservation of the spiritual dimension of Islam known for its mysticism (Sufism). . . [that calls] the soul to account as a means to reach ethical perfection . . . . [that raises] the awareness of the sanctity of the Other, [that] curbs unhealthy enthusiasm for racial and tribal belonging and [that] sets up institutions that provide assistance, protection, education and development.”[6]

The Commander of the Faithful also has established the High Council for Religious Affairs as a modernization of Morocco’s long-standing Order of religious scholars to “implement the fundamentals of religion, especially in mosques, the intellectual enhancement of the caretakers of religion and of the general public, which would definitely curb negative phenomena such as terrorism.” They do so “in conformity with the great principle known in Islam as ‘enjoining good and forbidding evil.’”

The High Council, therefore, takes “charge of issuing fatwas pertaining to political life and social activity, while people’s statements on religion remain mere opinions whose free expression is guaranteed so long as [they] do not violate the law.” The Council thereby has “demonstrated through legal proof . . . that there is no cogent proof for terrorism in religion.”

The Commander of the Faithful also has substantially increased the budget allocated to religious services, including “holding in-service training of imams under the supervision of the legal scholars; training young imams from among university graduates; [and] training spiritual guides from among female university graduates . . . to provide guidance to women and men in mosques, . . . schools, hospitals and prisons.”[7]

Conclusion

The above comments about Islam in Morocco were placed in broader context by the following statement in the remarkable website “Morocco on the Move” maintained by the Moroccan American Center, a group of three U.S. NGOs:

  • “Morocco has a long history of religious diversity and tolerance. Freedom of worship is guaranteed by Morocco’s Constitution, and in contrast to other parts of North Africa or even Europe, Morocco is internationally recognized for peaceful coexistence among the country’s Muslims, Jews, and Christians.”
  • “Morocco protected its Jewish citizens from anti-Semitic laws during World War II, and in 2009, King Mohammed [VI] became the first Arab leader to denounce the Holocaust, calling it ‘one of the most tragic chapters of modern history.’ Morocco has a vibrant Jewish community, with thriving synagogues and schools. Members of the Jewish community have played and continue to play key roles in Moroccan political life, such as serving as a senior royal advisor, an ambassador-at-large, and parliamentary candidates.”

Although, as noted in a prior post, the U.N. Human Rights Committee has pointed out weaknesses in Morocco’s freedom of religion, as a non-Moroccan and a non-Muslim, I am impressed by Morocco’s intelligent analysis of the threat posed by terrorists, especially from ISIS and Al Qaeda, Morocco’s crafting of responses to emphasize the true peacefulness of Islam and the leadership of King Mohammed VI. I also especially solicit corrections and elaborations of the above account.

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[1] Morocco’s involvement with the U.N. Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee and other multilateral and bilateral efforts to combat terrorism was discussed in a prior post. Another such multilateral effort was its July 2015 hosting of the inaugural conference of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT) – Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) Border Security Initiative (BSI). (U.N. Counter-Terrorism Centre, Inaugural Conference of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre-Global Counterterrorism Forum Border Security Initiative (July 2015).

[2] Talking Points of Ambassador Nasser Bourita (Sept. 30, 2014); Director General Mansouri, Speech to U.N. Security Council Counter Terrorism Committee (Sept. 30, 2014).

[3] Toufiq, Speech at U.N. Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee (Sept. 20, 2014).

[4] According to Wikipedia, Ash’ari theology is an early theological and orthodox school of Sunni Islam that holds that interpreting the Quran and the Hadith should keep developing with the aid of older interpretations. While it depends on rationalism, it also holds that the unique nature and attributes of Allah cannot be fully understood by human reasoning and the senses.

[5] According to Wikipedia, Maliki is one of four major schools of religious law within Sunni Islam. Its sources for Islamic law (Sharia) are hierarchically prioritized as follows: Quran and then trustworthy Hadiths (sayings, customs and actions of Muhammad); if these sources were ambiguous on an issue, then `Amal (customs and practices of the people of Medina), followed by consensus of the Sahabah (the companions of Muhammad), then individual’s opinion from the Sahabah, Qiyas (analogy), Istislah (interest and welfare of Islam and Muslims), and finally Urf (custom of people throughout the Muslim world if it did not contradict the hierarchically higher sources of Sharia).

[6] According to Wikipedia, Sufism believes that it is possible to draw closer to God and to more fully embrace the divine presence in this life. The chief aim of all Sufis is to seek the pleasing of God by working to restore within themselves the primordial state of human nature (fitra) as described in the Quran. In this state nothing one does defies Allah, and all is undertaken with the single motivation of love (ishq).

[7] In May 2014, King Mohammed VI launched the Mohammed VI Institute for the Training of Imams, Morchidines, and Morchidates in Rabat, which will welcome students from Morocco, Africa, and the Middle East to promote religious moderation and tolerance in the region.

 

 

 

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

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).

Morocco’s Multilateral and Bilateral Counterterrorism Efforts

In response to post-9/11 regional security risks Morocco has developed a “tripartite counterterrorism approach” that combines (1) hard security measures; (2) equitable and inclusive human development coupled with political reforms; and (3) religious moderation. This post will focus on Morocco’s important multilateral and bilateral efforts at counterterrorism; subsequent posts will concentrate on its efforts to promote religious moderation as an important part of these efforts.

Morocco is one of the 30 founding members of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, which in close partnership with the United Nations “serves as a mechanism for furthering the implementation of the universally-agreed UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and, more broadly, complements and reinforces existing multilateral counterterrorism efforts, starting with those of the U.N. The GCTF also works extensively with non-GCTF members including states; international, regional and sub-regional bodies; and other stakeholders and experts.”

At the Forum’s 5th ministerial meeting Morocco played a leading role, and then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry complimented Morocco on its leadership in developing “the first global set of good practices on stopping the flow of foreign terrorist fighters.”

Morocco co-chairs the Forum’s Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF) Working Group, which addresses the ongoing and salient challenges presented by the FTF phenomenon pursuant to The Hague-Marrakech Memorandum on Good Practices for a More Effective Response to the FTF Phenomenon.

Morocco also has been active in the U.N. Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee, which was established by the Council after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. and charged with monitoring states’ implementation of a number of measures intended to enhance their legal and institutional ability to counter terrorist activities at home, in their regions and around the world.

For example in September 2014 the Committee’s open briefing focused on countering incitement to commit terrorist acts motivated by extremism and intolerance with a major presentation by three Moroccan officials. The Committee’s Chair, H.E. Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaitë, Permanent Representative of Lithuania to the U.N. said the theme of this briefing grew out of the Committee’s 2013 visit to Morocco and its identification of its “national strategy to promote dialogue among civilizations as a good practice to be shared among other States.” (The Moroccan comments about management of religious affairs as part of its counter-terrorism strategy will be discussed in a subsequent post.)

Another multilateral counter-terrorism effort claiming Morocco’s attention is the U.S. Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership , which is a multi-year U.S. Government program aimed at defeating terrorist organizations in the Pan-Sahel and Maghreb northwestern regions of Africa by strengthening regional counterterrorism capabilities, enhancing and institutionalizing cooperation among the region’s security forces, promoting democratic governance, discrediting terrorist ideology, and reinforcing bilateral military ties with the U.S.

Yet another is Morocco’s joining 67 other states in the U.S. Global Coalition To Counter ISIS, which was formed in September 2014 “to degrading and ultimately defeating Daesh [ISIS]” by “tackling Daesh on all fronts, to dismantling its networks and countering its global ambitions, . . .tackling Daesh’s financing and economic infrastructure; preventing the flow of foreign terrorist fighters across borders; supporting stabilization and the restoration of essential public services to areas liberated from Daesh; and exposing Daesh’s delusional narrative including its claims to statehood, military success and the group’s false religious narrative.”

Bilaterally Morocco in 2014 announced it will provide military, operational, and intelligence support to the United Arab Emirates to assist in its fight against terrorism as part of a bilateral military cooperation agreement between the two countries focusing on operational military and intelligence aspects.

 

 

 

 

An Exciting Introduction to Morocco 

Last month my wife and I went on a wonderful two-week tour of Morocco with Overseas Adventure Travel. Here is the OAT map for the tour:

We were impressed by the country’s fascinating history and people, its beautiful architecture, cities and rugged Atlas Mountains, the immensity of the rolling Sahara Desert along its southern border and its current construction boom.

While there we also learned of Morocco’s recent re-establishment of its diplomatic relations with Cuba, a country about which I have written a lot, and of Morocco’s membership in the African Union, both related to Morocco’s lingering conflict over the Western Sahara, which was the subject of a recent U.N. Security Council resolution, all of which were discussed in recent posts.[1]

Also fascinating was the country’s religious profile. Its population of 33.7 million is 99% Sunni Muslim with 1% Shia Muslims, Christians, Jews and Bahias. In every town the mosques’ minarets were the instantaneously recognizable tallest structures.[2]

Our OAT tour guide told us that the current king, Mohammad VI, has been leading efforts to ensure that Muslims in Morocco are not encouraged to join extremists groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda. All imams have to complete an education course at the capitol at Rabat that is organized and administered by the government’s ministry of religious affairs (The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs of the Kingdom of Morocco) and that excludes the extremist ideologies promoted by ISIS and Al Qaeda.

We also were told that neither the government nor the Muslim leaders discriminate against Christians or Jews, and we visited a synagogue in Fez. On the other hand, we were told, the Christians and Jews are forbidden from preaching or proselytizing or evangelizing in public.

Previously I had learned that the five “pillars” of Islam are (1) shahada, declaring as a matter of faith and trust that there is only one God (Allah) and that Mohammad is God’s messenger; (2) salat, saying the Islamic prayer five times a day; (3) zakat, giving to the poor and needy; (4) slym, fasting during the month of Ramadan; and (5) haji, making a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at least once in a lifetime.

Although in Morocco I only experienced hearing the call to prayer over a minaret’s loudspeaker, I came to see these pillars of faith as similar to various practices of Christian spirituality, as ways of reinforcing a believer’s connections with God (Allah), and as ways that help believers live in accordance with the will of God (Allah). These pillars and practices, in my opinion, also rest on the belief that no one is perfect, that all find it too easy to stray from the path of faithfulness and that all need reminders of God or Allah’s way.

I felt fortunate that my Minneapolis church (Westminster Presbyterian) has warm relations with a local mosque and that we have hosted at least two worship services including its leaders. [3]

After returning to the U.S., I conducted research and discovered more about the previously mentioned government ministry; Morocco’s positive relations with international anti-terrorism groups; the important Declaration of Marrakesh promoting respect for religious minorities in Muslim countries; the most current U.S. State Department’s assessment of Morocco’s religious freedom; and the nature of current U.S.-Morocco relations. These topics will be explored in subsequent posts.

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[1] Cuba and Morocco Re-Establish Diplomatic Relations, dwkcommentaries.com (May 7, 2017); U.N. Security Council Orders More Negotiations About the Western Sahara Conflict, dwkcommentaries.com (May 9, 2017).

[2] CIA World Factbook, Morocco.

[3] Interfaith Worship Service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 2, 2015); A Christian-Muslim Conversation About Forgiveness, dwkcommentaries.com (May 15, 2017).

 

U.N. Security Council Orders More Negotiations About the Western Sahara Conflict

Disputes over the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, have followed its 1975 annexation by Morocco in opposition to competing claims by the Polisario Front. In 1991 the U.N. brokered a cease-fire and established a peacekeeping monitoring mission and to help prepare a referendum on the territory’s future that has never taken place. So far the parties have been unable to agree upon how to decide on self-determination. Morocco wants an autonomy plan under Moroccan sovereignty while Polisario wants a U.N.-backed referendum including on the question of independence. Below is a map of the Western Sahara.

Western_sahara_map_showing_morocco_and_polisaro.gif

On April 28, 2017, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2351 extending the mandate of the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 30 April 2018 and calling on the parties to that conflict to resume negotiations under the auspices of the Secretary-General without preconditions and in good faith, in order to facilitate a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution.[1]

Other provisions of the resolution called on the parties to cooperate fully with the operations of MINURSO, to take the necessary steps to ensure unhindered movement for U.N. and associated personnel in carrying out their mandate, to demonstrate the political will to work in an atmosphere propitious for dialogue in order to resume negotiations, to implement the relevant Security Council resolutions, to resume cooperation with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, to ensure that the humanitarian needs of refugees were adequately addressed.  It also supported an increase in the ratio of medical personnel within the current uniformed authorization, as requested in the Secretary-General’s most recent report to address MINURSO’s severely overstretched medical capacity. Yet another part of the resolution noted that both sides had withdrawn troops from the Guerguerat area of the territory, a vast swath of desert bordering the Atlantic Ocean that has been contested since 1975.

In support of the resolution, U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Michele Sisson, emphasized hat peacekeeping missions should support political solutions, said that postponing the [referendum] had been the key to allowing MINURSO to close out the 2016 chapter in the territory.  The U.S. was pleased with the mandate renewal, which helped in returning the Council’s attention where it belonged — supporting a political process to resolve the situation on the ground.  Emphasizing that the situation must change, she said the Council must look at the “big picture” in Western Sahara, including the absence of any political process for many years, she said.  The resolution demonstrated the importance of the parties working with the U.N. to return to the table.  The Mission must be able to hire the right staff in order to be as effective as possible, and to adjust components that were not working, as well as they should.  The U.S. would watch closely to see what happened on the ground, she said.

Also speaking in support of the resolution were the other Security Council members: Uruguay, Sweden, Senegal, Ethiopia, China, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Bolivia, Japan, Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

Although the resolution was passed unanimously, France, a permanent Council member, backs Morocco, its former colony, while Polisario has been supported by some non-permanent council members and by South Africa.

Afterwards Morocco’s foreign ministry said the kingdom was satisfied with the resolution and hoped for a “real process” toward a solution, which it said should be on its autonomy initiative. Morocco also called for neighboring Mauritania and Algeria, the latter of which backs Polisario and maintains tense relations with Morocco, to be involved in negotiations. Algeria, on the other hand, called the resolution a victory for the Sahrawi cause that put the process “back on track.”

Morocco recently has made at least two diplomatic moves that may be related to enhancing its position in such negotiations.

First, on January 31, 2017, the African Union (AU) at its Summit, 39 to 9, approved Morocco’s request for readmission after having left the AU in 1984 in response to a majority of its members recognizing the disputed territory in the Western Sahara.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI in his speech at this year’s AU Summit emphasized “how indispensable Africa is to Morocco and how indispensable Morocco is to Africa.” As evidence he mentioned that “since 2000, Morocco has [signed] nearly a thousand agreements with African countries, in various fields of cooperation,” including providing scholarships for Africans to attend Moroccan universities, launching the African Atlantic Gas Pipeline, creating a regional electricity market, constructing fertilizer production plants, creating the Adaptation of African Agriculture program to respond to climate change. These actions, he asserted, demonstrated Morocco’s “commitment to the development and prosperity of African citizens, [who] have the means and the genius; [so that] together, we can fulfill the aspirations of our peoples.”

This readmission, say analysts, also enhances Morocco’s status in upcoming negotiations over the Western Sahara although the King did not mention this in his speech. Instead, he made a modest allusion to this conflict when he said, “We know that we do not have unanimous backing from this prestigious assembly. Far be it from us to spark off a sterile debate! We have absolutely no intention of causing division, as some would like to insinuate!”[2]

The other diplomatic move that can be seen as an attempt to soften resistance towards Morocco’s position in negotiations over the Western Sahara was its re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, as discussed in a prior post.

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[1] U.N. Security Council, Press Release: Security Council Extends Mandate of United Nations Mission (April 28, 2017); U.S. Mission to the U.N., Ambassador Sisson Remarks at the Adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2351 on the [U.N.] Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) (April 28, 2017); U.N. Security Council, Press Release: Secretary-General Welcomes Withdrawal of Moroccan, Frente Polisario Elements from Western Sahara’s Guerguerat Area, Urging Adherence to Cease Fire (Apr. 28, 2017); Reuters, U.N. Security Council Backs New Western Sahara Talks Push, N.Y. Times (Apr. 29, 2017); Assoc. Press, UN Council Backs New Effort to End Western Sahara Conflict, N.Y. Times (Apr. 28, 2017).

[2] Quinn, Morocco rejoins African Union after more than 30 years, Guardian (Jan. 31, 2017); Morocco Ministry of Foreign Affairs, His Majesty the King delivers a speech at the 28th Summit of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa (Jan. 31, 2017); Abubeker, Why Has Morocco Rejoined the African Union After 33 Years, Newsweek Feb. 2, 2017).