Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
MOROCCOThe Constitution of Morocco provides for a monarchy with a parliament and an independent judiciary. Ultimate authority, however, rests with the King, who may at his discretion terminate the tenure of any minister, dissolve the Parliament, and rule by decree. In August King Hassan named an interim government, composed largely of technocrats. Also in August, the present Parliament, which was created in 1993, unanimously passed two laws creating a 270-seat upper house, and a 325-seat lower house. On November 14, lower house deputies were elected by direct universal suffrage; on December 5, the upper house was selected by labor unions, professional organizations, and local government authorities. There were widespread, credible reports of vote buying by political parties and the Government and excessive government interference in the legislative elections. The fraud and government pressure tactics led most independent observers to conclude that the results were heavily influenced, if not predetermined, by the Government. All opposition parties criticized the Government; some called for a boycott of Parliament. The judiciary is subject to bribery and government influence. The security apparatus includes several overlapping police and paramilitary organizations. The Border Police, the National Security Police, and the Judicial Police are departments of the Ministry of Interior, while the Royal Gendarmerie reports directly to the Palace. The security forces continued to commit serious human rights abuses. Morocco has a mixed economy based largely on agriculture, fishing, light industry, phosphate mining, tourism, and remittances from citizens working abroad. Illegal cannabis production is also a significant economic activity. Economic growth is highly dependent on agricultural output, and has experienced wide fluctuations in recent years due to a series of debilitating droughts. While good rainfall during 1996 resulted in gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 12 percent, erratic rainfall was expected to contribute to a slightly negative growth in 1997. The Government's human rights record remained largely the same, and serious problems persisted in several areas. Citizens do not have the right to change their government; however, in the November elections, the opposition gained an important plurality, which observers noted could be a step toward increased democratization. Security forces occasionally abuse and torture detainees and prison conditions remain harsh. Authorities sometime ignore legal provisions for due process during arrest and detention. The Government's use of force to disperse student protesters in Casablanca in January and February resulted in numerous violations of citizens' human rights. Security forces beat students, many of them innocent bystanders, and the Government failed to thoroughly investigate increased allegations of abuse by the security forces. During the June local election campaign, police arrested over 130 left-wing activists who called for an election boycott in contravention of Article 90 the Electoral Law, which forbids inciting voters to abstain from voting. The judiciary is subject to corruption and Interior Ministry influence. Authorities at times infringe on citizens' privacy rights. The Government restricts freedom of speech and the press in certain areas, and limits the freedoms of assembly, association, religion, and movement. While the Government generally tolerates peaceful protests and sit-ins, it does not tolerate marches and demonstrations. On several occasions during the year protesters were seriously beaten, and scores were arrested. Dissenters' religious freedoms are constrained; missionaries who contravene a law barring proselytizing face expulsion without due process, and converts from Islam to other religions experience security force intimidation and occasional imprisonment. Discrimination and domestic violence against women are common. Child labor is a problem, and the Government has not acted to end the plight of young girls who work in exploitative domestic servitude. Unions are subject to government interference. A large number of allegations of governmental human rights abuse involve the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry is responsible for: the direction of most security forces; the conduct of elections, including cooperation with the United Nations in a referendum on the Western Sahara; the appointment and training of many local officials; the allocation of local and regional budgets; the oversight of university campuses; and the licensing of associations and political parties. Less formally, the Ministry exerts substantial influence over the judicial system. In naming the interim government, the King consolidated several ministerial portfolios, and eliminated the Human Rights Ministry from the Government; however, he named a former Human Rights Minister as Minister of Justice.