AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL'S Concerns in Morocco/Western Sahara

Africa News Service


London (Amnesty International, June 3, 1998) - An Amnesty International delegation led by its Secretary General Pierre Sane is visiting Morocco from 31 May to 7 June. In the course of this visit Mr Sane is raising the organization's concerns with the Moroccan Government. These concerns, and recommendations on how to address them, are included in a memorandum which will be submitted to the government during the visit.

Amnesty International has on several occasions welcomed positive changes which have taken place in Morocco in recent years, particularly between 1991 and 1994. These improvements include the release, in 1991, of more than 300 "disappeared" who had spent up to 18 years in secret detention, the release between 1991-94 of more than 400 prisoners of conscience and political prisoners sentenced after unfair trials, the commutation of more than 190 death sentences, and certain legislative changes, notably the reduction of the period of garde a vue detention and the repeal of certain laws which had been used to imprison prisoners of conscience. The organization also welcomes the stated commitment of the new government to human rights.

However, serious concerns remain and Amnesty International hopes that the government will act swiftly to address them in order to turn the page on past abuses once and for all and to remove the climate of impunity which continues to shroud past and current abuses.

The most pressing outstanding concerns which Amnesty International is urging the Moroccan Government to address quickly and effectively include:

"Disappearances" Despite the welcome release in 1991 of some 300 people who had been "disappeared" in secret detention for up to 18 years, the issue of the "disappeared" remainsin large part unresolved. More than 500 people, most of them Sahrawis, who "disappeared" after arrest by the security forces between 1964 and 1987 remain unaccounted for.

The organization is also concerned that the families of more than 40 "disappeared" who died in secret detention centres in Agdz, Qal' at M'Gouna and Laayoune have never received death certificates or any other formal acknowledgement that their relatives died in detention or any compensation.

As well, the "disappeared" who were released have not received any compensation for their secret detention, and many continue to live in precarious circumstances. Tazmamertsurvivors were told not to talk about their experiences and the more than 270 Sahrawis released in 1991 remain virtually cut off from the outside world; many of them are intimidated and some have been held again in short-term secret detention or killed in circumstances suggesting extra-judicial execution.

Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi stated in a speech to Parliament in April of this year that the government was committed to "putting in order once and for all situations that remain unresolved". Amnesty International hopes this means that the government will take all necessary steps to resolve the outstanding "disappearances".

Torture and ill-treatment, including deaths in custody Reports of torture and ill-treatment continue, not only in pre-trial detention but also in prisons. Victims of tortureinclude both known or suspected political opponents or common criminals, as well as students and demonstrators beaten in situ.

In recent years, several people have died in circumstances where violence by members of the security forces appeared to have caused or contributed to their deaths. So far, investigations into such deaths have either not taken place at all or have been carried out with reluctance, after long delays, and have never resulted in the conviction of those responsible for the deaths.

In addition to outright torture in prisons, a number of prisons are so overcrowded and food or medicine in such short supply that the conditions are tantamount to cruel, inhuman or degrading conditions.

Amnesty International believes that the main reason that torture persists in Morocco and Western Sahara is the virtual climate of impunity -- where courts disregard evidence of torture during trial proceedings and other complaints of torture are effectively disregarded by the authorities. To date, Amnesty International does not know of any trials which have led to officials being convicted for torturing detainees. The organization believes that unless decisive and effective action is taken by the government to end impunity such violations will continue.

Prisoners of Conscience/Political Prisoners

Hundreds of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners convicted after unfair trials have been released in the past few years, and since 1991 fewer prisoners of conscience have been arrested and sentences imposed have generally been lighter than a decade ago.

However, prisoners of conscience and political prisoners sentenced in grossly unfair trials in previous decades remain in prison and the so far unresolved problems with the judicial process still lead to prisoners of conscience and political prisoners being sentenced, sometimes to long prison terms, after unfair trials.

Some positive changes were made to the Code de Procedure Penale (CPP) in 1991, including a shortening of the period of garde a vue detention and the right for the accused's lawyer to be present at the initial interrogation. Following these changes, there was a welcome drop in the number of reports of substantial illegal lengthening of the garde a vue period.

However, the fact remains that people continue to be tortured in garde a vue detention and coerced into signing confessions, and that prosecutors, examining magistrates and judges routinely disregard such complaints and accept as evidence confessions withdrawn in court by defendants who complain that they were forced to confess under duress. Even when judges have seen torture marks on the accused, no medical examination or investigation has been ordered.

In Amnesty International's view, such practices are among the most powerful obstacles to the establishment of the right to a fair trial in line with the Moroccan Government's declared aspirations and the international law by which it is bound.

Key recommendations to the Moroccan Government releasing all "disappeared" who are still alive and clarify the fate of those who died in secret detention; formally acknowledging the secret detention of the "disappeared" and providing adequate compensation for those who survived or the families of those who died in detention; protecting the rights of all former "disappeared"; ensuring that all cases of deaths in custody and all reports of torture, especially in recent years, are investigated and that those responsible are brought to justice; circulating and making public instructions to the security forces, the prison service and the judiciary stating that all cases of deaths in custody and all reports of torture must be promptly and fully investigated and that those responsible must be brought to justice; releasing all prisoners of conscience and all political prisoners sentenced in unfair trials since the 1970s, unless they are to be promptly re-tried in fair trials; allowing Abraham Serfaty to return to Morocco from forcible exile; reviewing national legislation so as to bring it into line with international human rights standards and ensuring that human rights safeguards contained in the legislation are effectively applied in practice.

Issued 31 May 1998. For further information, contact Amnesty International, 1 Easton Street, London WC1X 8DJ,+44-71-413-5500 ,+44-71- 956-1157. Email: Web: You may repost this message onto other sources provided the main text is not altered in any way and both the header crediting Amnesty International and this footer remain intact.

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