Amnesty International Report 1999 - Morocco and Western Sahara

Amnesty International Report 1999 - MOROCCO AND WESTERN SAHARA

Region:Middle East & North Africa



Twenty-eight political prisoners and prisoners of conscience were released under an amnesty, although more than 30 political prisoners imprisoned after unfair trials continued to be detained. At least five prisoners of conscience remained imprisoned and one remained under house arrest. Tens of possible prisoners of conscience were arrested and sentenced to terms of imprisonment during the year. Reports of torture and ill-treatment continued to be received, particularly of Sahrawi detainees. Hundreds of Sahrawis and some Moroccans who "disappeared" in previous decades remained unaccounted for, although the government confirmed the death of dozens of people who had "disappeared" in previous decades. A former prisoner of conscience forcibly exiled in 1991 remained unable to return to Morocco. At least 70 people reportedly remained under sentence of death at the end of the year. No executions were carried out.

In February King Hassan II appointed Abderrahmane Youssoufi as Prime Minister. In March the Prime Minister formed a centre-left seven-party coalition government dominated by the Union socialiste des forces populaires, Socialist Union of Popular Forces, the Istiqlal (Independence) party and the Rassemblement national des indépendants, National Rally of Independents. He declared that his government's program would include resolving all outstanding human rights files and implementing judicial reforms.

The UN Secretary-General announced in September that the UN Mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO) had identified more than 147,000 applicants to vote in the planned referendum on the status of Western Sahara. The voter identification process was reportedly complete except for members of three disputed tribal groupings, numbering around 58,000 people, and some Sahrawis based elsewhere. The identification process had been repeatedly delayed due to differences between the Moroccan government and the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el-Hamra y Rio de Oro, Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (known as the Polisario Front). The UN Security Council extended the mandate of MINURSO several times during the year and the referendum was once again postponed and had not taken place by the end of the year.

The government released 28 political prisoners under an amnesty in October. All had been imprisoned after unfair trials, most in the 1970s and 1980s and two of them in the early 1990s. They had been convicted on charges including murder, arms trafficking, plotting against state security, disturbing public order, membership of illegal organizations and distributing leaflets. The majority had been convicted on the basis of confessions extracted under torture. They included four prisoners of conscience belonging to an unauthorized Islamist group – Ahmed Haou, ‘Abdelkader Sfiri, Mustapha Marjaoui and Youssef Cherkaoui-Rbati; and two possible prisoners of conscience belonging to the Union nationale des étudiants marocains, National Union of Moroccan Students – Noureddine Jarir and Bensalem Aouniti (see previous Amnesty International Reports). The Conseil consultatif des droits de l'homme (CCDH), Consultative Human Rights Council, a body set up by King Hassan II in 1990, announced in October that it had examined 48 cases of possible political prisoners and that the cases of the 20 others who were not granted amnesty would be further studied.

More than 30 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience imprisoned after unfair trials in previous years continued to be detained. They included prisoner of conscience Mohamed Daddach, a Sahrawi who was arrested in 1979 and sentenced to life imprisonment for attempting to desert the Moroccan security forces into which he had reportedly been forcibly enlisted. At least four prisoners of conscience sentenced to up to five years' imprisonment for "insulting the royal family" remained in prison. They included Abderrahmane Elouadoudi, imprisoned since 1995.

Prisoner of conscience ‘Abdessalem Yassine, the spiritual leader of a banned Islamist association, remained under administratively imposed house arrest for the eighth consecutive year.

Dozens of Islamist students were reportedly beaten by security forces and several were arrested during the year in various towns following demonstrations and protests on university campuses. Some were allegedly tortured in police custody. In October scores of people were injured, some seriously, and dozens arrested when police violently broke up a demonstration by hundreds of unemployed graduates. All those arrested were released later.

Following demonstrations in February in support of the independence of Western Sahara in Lemseyed, a town in Western Sahara, 20 Sahrawis were arrested. Eight were sentenced to two years' imprisonment and 12 were sentenced to three months' imprisonment and a fine. They were accused of arson, destruction of public buildings, breach of the peace and taking part in unauthorized demonstrations. They were possible prisoners of conscience. During their trial, the men allegedly showed signs of torture, including rope marks on their legs and cigarette burns. They claimed that torture had been used to make them sign police statements. The defence requested an independent medical examination, but this was rejected.

Torture and ill-treatment also continued to be reportedly used against detainees accused of common law offences. The authorities failed to investigate complaints of torture and ill-treatment of detainees during incommunicado detention in previous years (see previous Amnesty International Reports).

There were reports of deaths in suspicious circumstances, including several in places of detention which may have resulted from torture or ill-treatment. Many cases of death in custody and death in suspicious circumstances, both in 1998 and in previous years, had either not been investigated or had been waiting some years for the completion of the investigation process (see previous Amnesty International Reports).

Hundreds of Sahrawis and some Moroccans who "disappeared" after arrest in previous decades remained unaccounted for (see previous Amnesty International Reports). They included ‘Abdelhaq Rouissi, a trade unionist who "disappeared" in 1964 in Casablanca, and Mohamed-Salem Bueh-Barca and Tebker Ment Sidi-Mohamed Ould Khattari who "disappeared" in Laayoune in 1976.

In October the authorities officially acknowledged the deaths of 55 Moroccans and one Lebanese man who had "disappeared" at the hands of the security forces between the 1960s and 1980s and subsequently died in secret detention. However, the deaths of more than 30 of these 55 "disappeared" had already been officially acknowledged in previous years. Among the 55 was Houcine al-Manouzi, a trade unionist who "disappeared" in 1972. The name of ‘Abdallah Cherrouk, a student who "disappeared" in 1981, was on a separate list of six people whom the authorities said had most probably died. The name of ‘Abdelhaq Rouissi was on another list of 18 people whom the CCDH said had "disappeared" in unknown circumstances. No information was provided concerning the date, place and circumstances of the deaths of the 56 people or their place of burial. The government did not award any compensation to the families of the dead, nor did it hand over the bodies to them.

No steps were known to have been taken to investigate the "disappearance" of some 300 Sahrawis and more than 30 Moroccans who were released in 1984 and 1991 after up to 18 years in secret detention, or the deaths in secret detention of scores of others. The authorities continued to fail to account for the fate of more than 40 Sahrawi "disappeared" who died in secret detention centres in Agdz, Qal‘at M'Gouna and Laayoune between 1975 and 1991. Neither those released in 1984 and 1991 nor the families of those who died in secret detention received any compensation.

Abraham Serfaty, a former prisoner of conscience who was forcibly expelled to France after his release in 1991 on the grounds that he was not Moroccan, remained unable to return to Morocco. In July the Supreme Court declared itself unable to rule on his nationality (see previous Amnesty International Reports).

Amnesty International welcomed the release of the 28 political prisoners and drew attention to the many cases on which concrete steps had been taken. It was concerned, however, that the relatively small number of "disappearances" which the government appeared to be addressing did not include any of the hundreds of Sahrawi "disappeared" who remained unaccounted for or any of the scores who died in secret detention. Amnesty International also highlighted the lack of investigations into past human rights abuses as well as the absence of measures taken to bring to justice those responsible.

An Amnesty International delegation visited Morocco in June and submitted a memorandum to the government welcoming the positive steps taken and stressing the need to address the outstanding human rights concerns in the country and to implement reforms to the administration of justice. In addition to senior government officials, including Prime Minister Youssoufi, the delegates met non-governmental organizations, former victims and families of victims, students and business community representatives.

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