By Jihane Bergaoui, Country Specialist for Morocco and the Western Sahara
A few days ago, the U.S. State Department published its annual human rights report, which analyzes the human rights situation of nearly every country and territory across the globe. The Morocco and the Western Sahara human rights reports describe numerous abuses that have occurred in both areas over the past year, including infringements on freedom of speech and of the press, a failure to protect survivors of sexual and gender-based-violence, and a culture of impunity regarding the prevalent and illegal use of torture by members of the police and security forces.
It is this last mention—which Amnesty International (AI) highlighted recently in our exhaustive report on the use of torture in Morocco and the Western Sahara—that has the Moroccan authorities fuming.
Since AI launched our Stop Torture Campaign in late 2014, the Moroccan Government has denied access and tried to impose unreasonable conditions to our fact-finding delegations; banned an AI annual human rights youth camp, which had been held in the country annually for the past 15 years; and most recently, has expelled two of our human rights investigators.
On June 11, John Dalhuisen, AI’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, and Irem Arf, the organization’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Researcher were both held by Moroccan police, and had their passports confiscated before they were put on separate flights and kicked out of the country. They were both expelled despite having informed authorities of their planned research mission, and after having received both written and verbal assurances from Moroccan officials that AI had unrestricted access to the country.
“The decision to expel our staff from Morocco as they began their investigations into the human rights situation of migrants and refugees raises serious suspicions that the authorities have something to hide,” says Anna Neistat, Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Research.
Morocco’s recent misguided campaign against Amnesty International and other civil society groups has only made it clearer that it is not the regional bastion of progressivism, and human rights protection it wants the international community to believe it is.
Amnesty International urges the Moroccan authorities to grant human rights researchers the access they require to conduct their investigations, and to cease its restrictions on freedom of association. Only then can Morocco reverse its recent antagonistic pattern and actually become the regional human rights model it proclaims to be.