Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reported cases of politically motivated disappearance during the year.
Regarding unresolved cases of disappearance dating to the 1970s and 1980s, the National Council on Human Rights (CNDH), a publicly funded national human rights institution that operates independently, continued to investigate claims of enforced and involuntary disappearance from previous years. When warranted the CNDH recommended reparations in the form of money, health care, employment, or vocational training to victims (or victims’ families) of forced disappearance. In the last several years, the government shifted its focus from outstanding and new individual claims to community reparation projects. The CNDH continued to receive and investigate reparation claims throughout the year. According to the CNDH, there were six cases unresolved as of October and four cases presented by families before the courts. (For more information on reparation claims in Western Sahara, see the Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights for Western Sahara.)
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, and the government denied it used torture. The law defines torture and stipulates that all government officials or members of security forces who “make use of violence against others without legitimate motive, or incite others to do the same, during the course of their duties shall be punished in accordance with the seriousness of the violence.” A 2006 amendment to the law provides a legal definition of torture in addition to setting punishments for instances of torture according to their severity. The government also enacted measures designed to eliminate torture. For example, in November 2014 the government deposited its ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture with the United Nations–with the CNDH filling the role of investigative organ for the prevention of torture. Reports of torture have declined over the last several years, although government institutions and NGOs such as Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) continued to receive reports about the mistreatment of individuals in official custody. The UN Human Rights Committee monitoring implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights final observations on the country’s sixth periodic report issued December 1 noted that the government has taken steps to combat torture and mistreatment and that there was a “marked reduction” in such practices since its 2004 report. The committee remained concerned by continued allegations of torture and mistreatment by government agents, in particular on persons suspected of terrorism or threats to national security or territorial integrity.
Reporting in previous years alleged more frequent use of torture. A May 2015 report by AI claimed that between 2010 and 2014, security forces routinely inflicted beatings, asphyxiation, stress positions, simulated drowning, and psychological and sexual violence to “extract confessions to crimes, silence activists, and crush dissent.” Since the AI interviews, the government has undertaken reform efforts, including widespread human rights training for security and justice sector officials. In June 2015 Minister of Justice Mustapha Ramid publicly announced that torture would not be tolerated, and that any public official implicated in torture would face imprisonment.
In the event of an accusation of torture, the law requires judges to refer a detainee to a forensic medical expert when the detainee or lawyer requests it or if judges notice suspicious physical marks on a detainee. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, human rights NGOs, and media documented cases of authorities’ failure to implement provisions of the antitorture law, including failure to conduct medical examinations when detainees allege torture. Following the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur for Torture’s 2013 report, the Ministries of Justice, Prison Administration, and National Police each issued notices to their officials to respect the prohibition against maltreatment and torture, reminding them of the obligation to conduct medical examinations in all cases where there are allegations or suspicions of torture. Since January 2015 the Ministry of Justice has organized a series of human rights trainings for judges, including on the prevention of torture. In June the Ministry of Justice issued a notice to courts instructing them to implement the recommendation from the Special Rapporteur to visit local jail and detention facilities at least twice per month.
During the year the CNDH reported that it received 34 complaints alleging torture in internationally recognized Morocco, a 56 percent decrease from the previous year. After investigating all 34 allegations, the CNDH substantiated four allegations, one instance each in Khouribga, Tetouan, Toulal 2, and Sale 1 prisons. The CNDH referred one case (Sale 1) to the public prosecutor’s office, while two other cases were opened by detainees’ lawyers (Khouribga and Tetouan). In the case of Toulal 2, the CNDH was unable to obtain sufficient evidence to refer the case to the prosecutor and, instead, submitted recommendations to the Prison Administration (DGAPR). Regarding the four cases referred by the CNDH to the public prosecutor in 2015, the cases remained in the judicial system at year’s end. The DGAPR indicated that it referred one prison official to the judicial system for causing injury to a detainee during the year.
In 2015 the government investigated 42 public officials for torture or abuse. Of those officials 19 remained under investigation, three cases before the courts, and 20 completed the judicial process at year’s end. For example, on June 7, courts sentenced five gendarmes to sentences between five and 10 years for murder and falsifying evidence in relation to the death of an individual in custody in September 2015. According to a Ministry of Interior statement regarding the death, which was shared with media, they abused the individual during his arrest, and he died during transfer to a hospital. Three prison officials who were referred to the courts in September 2015 for abuse of detainees received sentences of four months’ detention and fines of 500 dirhams ($50.20) in March. They have appealed the decision. The government prosecuted 14 police officers in relation to the death of a detainee in custody in August 2015. On November 30, eight of the officials were convicted of torture and “use of violence against a detainee in a fragile psychological state resulting in unintentional death,” while a ninth official was convicted of failure to report a felony. Five other officers were acquitted. The nine received sentences ranging from one to 10 years in addition to fines of 150,000 dirhams ($15,625) each.
During the year, according to United Nations data, there were six allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse made against Moroccan peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping operations in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Three of the alleged incidents occurred during the year, one in 2015, and two in 2014. According to the United Nations, five of these allegations were being investigated jointly by the United Nations and the government, and one was pending investigation. Investigations were completed on four allegations reported in previous years. One claim of sexual abuse was substantiated, and three abuse and exploitation claims were determined to be unsubstantiated allegations after joint UN-government investigations.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions improved during the year, but in some cases did not meet international standards.
Physical Conditions: The Moroccan Observatory of Prisons continued to report that some prisons were overcrowded and failed to meet local and international standards. The DGAPR indicated that overcrowding had decreased with the opening of 26 new prisons in the past three years, including three during the year. DGAPR statistics indicate that the average space allocated per detainee increased from 18.8 square feet in 2015 to 20.3 square feet during the year, due to the opening of the new prisons. These 26 new prisons represent approximately 35 percent of the country’s prisons, and were built to international standards. In the new prisons, pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held separately. As construction on each new prison was completed, older prisons were closed, and inmates were moved to the new locations. Older prisons remained overcrowded, resulting in authorities frequently holding pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners together. According to government sources and NGOs, prison overcrowding was due in large part to an underutilized system of bail or provisional release, a severe backlog in cases, and lack of judicial discretion to reduce the length of prison sentences for specific crimes. Government sources stated that a further complication was that administrative requirements prevented prison authorities from transferring individuals in pretrial detention to facilities outside the jurisdiction where their trials were to take place. As of September authorities released 45,071 individuals on bail. In 2015 authorities released 65,065 individuals on bail.
The law provides for the separation of minors. In all prisons, officials identify youthful offenders into two categories, and they are held separately from other categories: minors under 18, and youthful offenders from 18 to 20 years old. Authorities held a number of minors with adults, particularly in pretrial detention in ordinary prisons and police stations, due to shortage of juvenile prison facilities. DGAPR has four dedicated juvenile “centers for reform and education,” but maintains separate, dedicated youth detention areas in all prisons for minors. As of September 30, minors under 18 years old represented 2.7 percent of the overall prison population (2,131 minors of a prison population of 78,875). The government reported that in cases where a juvenile court judge ruled that their detention was necessary, minors less than 14 years old were detained separately from minors 15 to 18 years old. HRW stated that in one case involving two minors arrested October 27 on suspicion of same-sex sexual conduct, authorities held the minors with adult prisoners, and the minors allegedly were subjected to threats and harassment.
While there was less overcrowding in the women’s sections of facilities, according to a CNDH study early this year, conditions in women’s sections often did not meet the 2010 United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Noncustodial Measures for Women Offenders. The study noted that health facilities were generally located in the men’s sections, restricting access for female prisoners, and that vocational training opportunities were limited for women. The study also noted that female prisoners faced discrimination from staff, including medical staff, on the basis of their gender. As of September 30, there were 1,815 female prisoners, in a total population of 78,875 (2.3 percent of prison population), according to DGAPR data.
Local NGOs asserted that prison facilities did not provide adequate access to health care and did not accommodate the needs of prisoners with disabilities, although government sources stated that each prisoner received an average of six consultations with a medical professional per year and that all care was provided free of charge. According to DGAPR 2015 statistics, there was one doctor for every 675 inmates and one nurse for every 135 inmates. The government reported that 129 inmates died during the year, 19 in the prisons and 110 in a hospital. Of these deaths, 124 were from natural causes or medical conditions, four were from suicide, and one from accidental electrocution. Local human rights NGOs could not confirm these numbers.
On April 15, activist Brahim Saika died days after reporting to the prosecutor’s office, and his family claimed that officers at the Guelmim police station had mistreated him following his April 1 arrest and that he had begun a hunger strike in protest. Saika reportedly was arrested as he sought to join a protest and was charged with insulting and assaulting police officers and insulting a public institution.
The prosecutor ordered an investigation by the judicial police to determine the conditions and circumstances of Saika’s death, in addition to an autopsy, which established the cause of death as natural and due to a microbial infection, noting that the hunger strike may have contributed to the death. The medical exam revealed no traces of torture or mistreatment on Saika’s body. The judicial police of the Royal Gendarmerie and the National Police conducted separate investigations before determining that there was no torture committed, and the death was a medical event unrelated to torture or abuse. CNDH was also notified of the complaint and conducted an investigation, and found the claims to be unsubstantiated. Following a request of the family lawyers, however, another autopsy took place on April 22, concluding that the death was “secondary to a septic infection in the context of hunger strike.” There was no independent autopsy completed despite the family’s request.
According to information provided by the CNDH, in response to domestic and international interest in the case, the prosecutor ordered an investigation by the judicial police to determine the conditions and circumstances of death, in addition to an autopsy, which established the cause of death as natural and due to a microbial infection.
DGAPR provides food to inmates at no cost, and since 2015 a private company provided higher quality options than were previously available. Prison commissaries stock fresh fruit and vegetables for purchase, and families were permitted to bring food baskets once per week. NGOs frequently cited cases where prisoners protested the conditions of their detention with hunger strikes, According to AI prisoners launched hunger strikes to protest harsh conditions, including poor hygiene and sanitation, inadequate nutrition and healthcare, severe overcrowding, and detention far from their families, as well as limited visiting rights and access to education.
Some human rights activists have asserted the prison administration reserved harsher treatment for Islamists who challenged the king’s religious authority and those accused of “questioning the territorial integrity of the country.” The UN special rapporteur’s 2013 report on torture, however, stated, “The majority of the victims examined in the prisons visited denied ever being subjected to any kind of torture or degrading treatment inside prison establishments. Also, the allegations received usually pointed to a small number of staff committing these violations–the majority of the penitentiary staff is not involved in such violations.” There have been no visits or reports from the rapporteur since 2013. DGAPR denied that any prisoners received differential treatment, and asserts that all prisoners were treated equally in accordance with the Prison Act.
Administration: Prison administration recordkeeping was adequate. Authorities did not implement alternatives to imprisonment for nonviolent offenders.
While authorities generally permitted relatives and friends to visit prisoners, there were reports that the authorities denied visiting privileges in some instances.
The CNDH and DGAPR investigated allegations of inhuman conditions. The CNDH and the DGAPR effectively served the function of an ombudsman, and a system of “letterboxes” continued to operate in prisons to facilitate prisoners’ right to submit complaints regarding their imprisonment. Detainees could submit complaints without censorship. Complaints were brought to the DGAPR Delegate General’s Office for processing, as well as to the CNDH.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some NGOs with a human rights mandate to conduct unaccompanied monitoring visits. Government policy permitted NGOs that provided social, educational, or religious services to prisoners to enter prison facilities, and prison authorities reported that NGOs conducted 673 prison visits during the first nine months of the year, in addition to 127 regular prison monitoring visits conducted by the CNDH. According to DGAPR statistics, parliamentarians, media, and religious, judicial, and other government authorities conducted more than 3,000 prison visits during the year.
Improvements: To alleviate overcrowding government authorities reported opening three new detention facilities during the year. The government reported increasing the number of vocational and educational training programs it administers in prisons. The Mohammed VI Foundation for the Reinsertion of Prisoners provided educational and professional training to inmates on the verge of release, providing job-skills training, literacy, and education through university level.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Observers indicated that police did not always respect these provisions or consistently observe due process. According to local NGOs and associations, police sometimes arrested persons without warrants, held detainees beyond the statutory deadline to charge them, and failed to identify themselves when making arrests.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The security apparatus includes several police and paramilitary organizations with overlapping authority. The National Police (Direction Generale de la Surete Nationale–DGSN) manages internal law enforcement and reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Auxiliary Forces also report to the Ministry of Interior and support gendarmes and police. The Royal Gendarmerie, which reports to the Administration of National Defense, is responsible for law enforcement in rural regions and on national highways. The judicial police (investigative) branches of both the Royal Gendarmerie and the National Police report to the royal prosecutor and have the power to arrest individuals. The Department of Royal Security is a branch of the National Police that provides protection for the king and royal family members. The Directorate General of Territorial Surveillance (Direction Generale de la Surveillance Territoriale–DGST) has intelligence gathering responsibilities, without arrest powers, and reports to the Ministry of Interior.
Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over the security forces, and there were reports of abuses and impunity. Systemic and pervasive corruption undermined law enforcement and the effectiveness of the judicial system.
Impunity was widespread in the absence of effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. International and domestic human rights organizations claimed that authorities dismissed many complaints of abuse and relied only on police versions of events.
Authorities investigated some low-level incidents of alleged abuse and corruption. The judicial police investigate allegations, including those against security forces, and advise the court of their findings. While authorities suspended some individuals accused of human rights abuses, they did not systematically prosecute or sentence security personnel who committed human rights abuses. Cases often languished in the investigatory or trial phases. In 2015 courts investigated and found guilty of corruption 16 members of the Royal Gendarmerie who were sentenced to prison terms and fines, while 14 others were acquitted and returned to duty. As of October courts have investigated 21 members of the Gendarmerie for corruption, with one conviction resulting in a two-month prison sentence, two acquittals, and 18 were in the judicial process.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Police may arrest an individual after a general prosecutor issues an oral or written warrant. The law provides for access to a lawyer in the first 24 hours after arrest in ordinary criminal cases, but authorities did not consistently respect that provision. The law permits authorities to deny defendants’ access to counsel or family members during the initial 96 hours of detention under terrorism-related laws or during the initial 24 hours of detention for other charges, with an optional extension of 12 hours with the approval of the Prosecutor’s Office. Reports of abuse generally referred to these initial detention periods, when police interrogated detainees.
The law states “in the case of a flagrant offense, the Judicial Police Officer has the right to keep the suspect in detention for 48 hours. If strong and corroborated evidence is raised against this person, [the officer] can keep them in custody for a maximum of three days with the written authorization of the prosecutor.” For normal crimes authorities can extend this 48-hour period twice, for up to six days in detention. Under terrorism-related laws, a prosecutor may renew the initial detention by written authorization for a total detention time of 12 days. According to the Antiterrorism Act, there is no right to a lawyer during this time except for a half-hour monitored visit at the midpoint of the 12-day period. Observers widely perceived the 2015 law on counterterrorism as consistent with international standards.
NGO sources stated that some judges were reticent to use alternative sentences permitted under the law, such as provisional release. The law does not require written authorization for release from detention. In some instances judges released defendants on their own recognizance. A bail system exists; the deposit may be in the form of property or as a sum of money paid to court in an effort to persuade the judge to release a suspect. The amount of the deposit is left to the discretion of the judge, who decides the amount of the deposit depending on the offense. Bail may be requested at any time before the judgment. According to the law, all defendants have the right to attorneys; if a defendant cannot afford private counsel, authorities must provide a court-appointed attorney when the criminal penalty exceeds five years in prison. Authorities did not always provide effective counsel.
In ordinary criminal cases, the law requires police to notify a detainee’s next of kin of the arrest immediately after the above-mentioned period of incommunicado detention, unless arresting authorities applied for and received an extension from a magistrate. Police did not consistently abide by this provision. Because authorities sometimes delayed notifying the family, authorities did not inform lawyers promptly of the date of arrest, and they were not able to monitor compliance with detention limits and treatment of the detainee. Under a separate military code, military authorities may detain members of the military without a warrant or public trial.
Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces often arrested groups of individuals, took them to a police station, questioned them for several hours, and released them without charge. Under the penal code, any public official who orders an arbitrary detention is punishable by demotion and, if it is done in a private interest, by imprisonment of 10 years to life. An official who neglects to refer a claim or observation of arbitrary or illegal detention to his superiors is punishable by demotion. There was no available information that these provisions were applied this year.
While in previous years, authorities have been accused of arresting undocumented migrants, detaining them, and escorting them to the borders or otherwise expelling them without an opportunity to exercise their legal rights, UNCHR and NGOs noted that there were no such reports this year.
Pretrial Detention: Although the government claimed that authorities generally brought accused persons to trial within two months, prosecutors may request as many as five additional two-month extensions of pretrial detention. Pretrial detentions can last as long as one year, and there were reports that authorities routinely held detainees beyond the one-year limit. Government officials attributed these delays to the large backlog of cases in the justice system. The Foreign Ministry stated that a variety of factors contributed to this backlog: a lack of resources devoted to the justice system, both human and infrastructure; the lack of plea bargaining as an option for prosecutors, lengthening the amount of time to process cases on average; and the scant use of mediation and other out-of-court settlement mechanisms allowed by law. The government reported that as of September 30, 43.1 percent of detainees were in pretrial detention. In some cases detainees received a sentence shorter than the time they spent in pretrial detention.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution states that “No one may be detained, arrested, prosecuted, or sentenced outside of the cases and forms prescribed by the law,” and gives the right to compensation in cases of judicial error. Individuals have the right to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and request compensation by submitting a complaint to the court. If the complaint is unsubstantiated, the accused has the right to file for damages against the accuser.
Amnesty: The king continued to exercise his ability to grant pardons to those convicted of crimes. The decision-making process for granting royal pardons was not publicly available; however, the committee took into account health, social situation, participation in rehabilitation and reintegration programs, and degree of behavioral improvement when making its decisions. Certain individuals were not eligible for pardons, including those who had previously benefitted from a pardon and those convicted of certain serious crimes. Individuals who benefitted from pardons were not subject to arbitrary re-arrest during the year.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and, in previous years, government officials, NGOs, and lawyers widely acknowledged that corruption and extrajudicial influence weakened judicial independence. During the year the government established the Supreme Judicial Council, a new government body that provides authority for judges to manage the courts and judicial affairs, designed to supplant management by the Ministry of Justice. While the government stated its aim of creating the council was to improve judicial independence, the council was not fully functional at year’s end, and its effect on judicial independence was not clear. The outcomes of trials in which the government had a strong political stake, such as those touching on Islam as it related to political life and national security, the monarchy, and the Western Sahara, appeared predetermined.
In February a disciplinary panel of the Higher Judicial Council dismissed Judge Mohamed El-Haini, following allegations referred by the Ministry of Justice that he had “violated the duty of discretion” and “expressed opinions of a political nature.” The allegations stemmed from his criticisms on social media of the draft laws on the Higher Judicial Council and on the Statute for Judges. The Higher Judicial Council’s decision is not subject to appeal. A panel suspended another judge, Amal Homani, for six months on similar grounds.
The law provides for the right to a fair public trial with the right of appeal, but this did not always occur, especially for those protesting the incorporation of Western Sahara into the country. The law presumes that defendants are innocent. After an initial investigation period in which the order of a prosecutor can detain individuals, defendants are informed promptly of their charges before their trial. Trials are conducted in Arabic, and foreigners have the right to request interpretation if they do not speak Arabic.
Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to timely consultation with an attorney. In practical terms authorities often denied lawyers timely access to their clients and, in the majority of cases, lawyers met their clients only at the first hearing before the judge. Authorities are required to provide attorneys in cases where the potential sentence is greater than five years, if the defendant is unable to afford one. Publicly provided defense attorneys were often poorly paid and often were neither properly trained in matters pertaining to juveniles nor provided to defendants in a timely fashion. This practice often resulted in inadequate representation. Many NGOs provided attorneys for minors, who frequently did not have the means to pay. Such resources were limited and specific to larger cities. By law defendants in criminal and human rights cases have access to government evidence against them, but judges sometimes prevented or delayed access. The law permits defense attorneys to question witnesses. Despite the provisions of the law, some judges reportedly denied defense requests to question witnesses or to present mitigating witnesses or evidence.
The law forbids judges from admitting confessions made under duress. NGOs reported that the judicial system often relied on confessions for the prosecution of criminal cases, and authorities pressured investigators to obtain a confession from a suspect in order for prosecution to proceed. HRW and local NGOs charged that judges, at their discretion, decided cases based on forced confessions. NGOs alleged this occurred frequently in cases against Sahrawis or individuals accused of terrorism. According to the authorities, police sometimes used claims regarding detainees’ statements in place of defendants’ confessions when there was a possible question of duress. The country is moving away from a confession-based system to an evidenced-based system. In August the government opened 18 evidence preservation centers throughout the country to preserve the chain of custody of evidence, supporting its change to evidenced-based prosecutions. More than 18,000 police have been trained in recently established evidence collection and preservation procedures to maintain proper chain of custody of evidence in support of evidence-based prosecutions. Police are working with the courts to demonstrate the new evidence preservation rooms to judges to increase their confidence in evidence presented at trials.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The law does not define or recognize the concept of a political prisoner. The government did not consider any of its prisoners to be political prisoners and stated that it had charged or convicted all individuals in prison under criminal law. Human rights groups, however, refuted this allegation, especially concerning activists advocating Western Sahara’s independence.
On July 27, the Court of Cassation granted a new trial before civilian courts for the 22 Gdeim Izik prisoners arrested during the 2010 dismantling of the Gdeim Izik Camp and subsequent violence in Laayoune. Previously convicted in military courts, many NGOs considered the group to be political prisoners. The protesters, 21 of whom remain imprisoned, had been convicted largely on the basis of “confessions” which they alleged had been extracted under torture. Their allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in custody were not investigated. The trial began on December 26; but it was adjourned to January 23, 2017.
Criminal law covers nonviolent advocacy and dissent, such as insulting police in songs or “defaming Morocco’s sacred values” by denouncing the king and regime during a public demonstration. Additionally, NGOs, including the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), and Sahrawi organizations asserted that the government imprisoned persons for political activities or beliefs under the cover of criminal charges.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Although individuals have access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights violations and filed lawsuits, such lawsuits were frequently unsuccessful due to the courts’ lack of independence on politically sensitive cases, or lack of impartiality stemming from extrajudicial influence and corruption. There are administrative as well as judicial remedies for alleged wrongs. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders.
A National Ombudsman’s Office (Mediator Institution) helped to resolve civil matters that did not clear the threshold to merit involvement of the judiciary; it gradually expanded the scope of its activities and subjected complaints to in-depth investigation. Authorities retransmitted to the CNDH for resolution cases specifically related to allegations of human rights abuses against authorities. The CNDH continued to be a conduit through which citizens expressed complaints regarding human rights abuses and violations.
The constitution states an individual’s home is inviolable and that a search may take place only with a search warrant; however, authorities at times entered homes without judicial authorization, monitored without legal process personal movement and private communications–including e-mail, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private–and employed informers.
An April 2015 report by Privacy International, based on interviews in 2014 with citizen journalists who covered topics sensitive to the government, recounted incidents of alleged harassment, such as unannounced visits by state officials to the families of the individuals and allegations that their personal computers, websites, and work locations were hacked or tapped.