US human rights report infuriates Morocco

Sunday 29/05/2016
A February file picture shows US Secretary of State John Kerry and Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar (L) speaking to the media prior to meetings at the Department of State in Washington.

Casablanca - Moroccan officials sum­moned the US am­bassador to protest a US State Department report alleging hu­man rights violations in the North African country. Morocco said the document was “biased” and threw back charges of rights problems in the United States.

US Ambassador to Morocco Dwight Bush was called in by Min­ister Delegate for Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita, who was joined by Mohamed Yassine Mansouri, head of the Intelligence Agency (DGED), to protest the report.

The annual State Department re­port on human rights in Morocco, published April 13th, alleged torture during interrogations, unfair trials, arrests and harassment of journal­ists. The report said eight activists were imprisoned for “making false allegations of torture”.

That report came after non-gov­ernmental organisations (NGOs) and other governments alleged hu­man rights violations. Justice Min­ister Mustapha Ramid criticised items published by NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

“These NGOs should know that today’s Morocco is not yesterday’s,” he said.

Ramid, during an appearance before parliament, acknowledged there were shortcomings in hu­man rights in Morocco but added: “Many changes have been noted in this area.”

The opposition slammed the gov­ernment for “certain human rights violations that cannot be denied”.

Among allegations in the State Department document was the sen­tencing of activist Ouafae Charaf to two years in prison for “allegedly falsely reporting being abducted and tortured by unknown persons”.

Rabat issued a statement in March denying the reliability of the US report’s assertions, calling them “sloppy,” “outrageous” and “biased”.

“The United States is not em­powered to assess the situation of human rights in Morocco because they themselves commit many vio­lations in the matter,” Ramid said.

According to a statement issued by the Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman, Bourita and Mansouri presented three cases that demon­strated “the proven manipulation and blatant factual errors that taint the State Department’s report”.

The first case involved Charaf. Rabat insisted the judicial investi­gation and legal phone tapping con­ducted by the public prosecution concluded categorically that Charaf “invented the script of her alleged abduction and encouraged mem­bers of her own family to make false statements to corroborate her thesis”.

The second case was that of Osama Housn. The State Depart­ment’s report said Housn was given a three-year prison sentence for “making false allegations of tor­ture” and “reporting crimes that he was aware were non-existent”.

However, a judicial investigation said his friend Charaf had denied his claims and said he was with her at the time he claimed to have been kidnapped, the Moroccan state­ment said.

The third case involved Hamid Mahdaoui, news editor of Badil website, who was given a four-month prison sentence, which was suspended, for defamation of the head of the General Directorate for National Security (DGSN), Abdel­latif Hammouchi, according to the State Department’s report.

Rabat vehemently denied the allegation against Hammouchi, who was not in charge of DGSN at the time of Mahdaoui’s accusation against him.

“The facts cited in the report have not been checked, demon­strating the negligence or bad faith of the editors,” said the Foreign Af­fairs Ministry’s statement.

“Serious allegations such as those contained in the State De­partment’s report give the impres­sion that these institutions do not fulfil their missions. They are an in­sult to the active commitment and dedication of their members.”

The US embassy in Rabat apolo­gised on May 20th for the “unin­tentional error” regarding Ham­mouchi, which found its way to the report “while at that time he was not in that position”.

Moroccan Communication Min­ister Mustapha el-Khalfi lashed out at the US report at a National Press Forum in Laayoune.

“The report is an unprecedented turnaround… a frank questioning of this report is necessary because we refuse to take lessons and be subject to any supervision,” he said.

The US report stated that “sys­tematic and pervasive corruption undermined law enforcement and the effectiveness of the judicial system (in Morocco]), adding that “impunity was pervasive” with no credible statistics on prosecutions of corrupted officials.

The flare-up between Moroc­co and the United States came a month after Rabat issued a state­ment regretting that Washington “introduced elements of pressure, constraints and weakening and act­ed against the spirit of the partner­ship” between the two countries” following the US-drafted adopted UN Security Council Resolution 2285 on the Western Sahara con­flict.