Morocco and Western Sahara
Capital city — Rabat
Incarceration rate (per 100,000 inhabit…
Type of government
Human Development Indexi2016/ UNDP
Name of authority in charge of the pris…
Total number of prisonersi2015/ Human Rights Watch
Total number of prison facilities
An NPM has been established
Number and percentage of female prisone…
Incarcerated minorsi2014/ Morocco's Prison Observatory
Untried prisonersi2015/ Human Rights Watch
Death penalty is abolished
The Criminal Code of 1962 (article 16) and the Code of Military Justice of 2014 (article 138) provide for the death penalty. It is carried out by firing squad and is not public. There have been no executions since 1993. The judiciary regularly delivers the death penalty despite article 20 of the Constitution of 2011, which guarantees the right to life. Nine people were convicted in 2015 according to Amnesty International’s report, entitled “Death sentences and executions 2015” and published in 2016. There were still 115 people on death row at the beginning of 2013 according to Ensemble contre la peine de mort (ECPM) (Together against the Death Penalty)1.
The King may grant pardons commuting death sentences to life imprisonment. Thirty-five pardons were granted in 2016.
Living conditions on death row amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as concluded by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in his report, following his September 2012 mission to Morocco. ECPM has spoken to prisoners sentenced to death in the Kénitra prison. Prisoners sleep on the bare floor, without mattresses, and only benefit from one shower a week. A great many of them suffer from psychopathological problems, which should have led to the exclusion of criminal liability according to the association. They are particularly vulnerable to depression. The sense of abandonment is ever-present. Prisoners are isolated, and only rarely receive visits, if any. They do not benefit from any sporting activities or entertainment that would allow them to form social ties or relieve the aggression they develop.
The national debate on the death penalty is an intense one. The Moroccan Coalition Against the Death Penalty (Coalition marocaine contre la peine de mort) has been fighting to abolish it since 2003. It is a group formed of 11 organizations, including the Moroccan Prisons Observatory (Observatoire marocain des prisons) and the Bar Association of Morocco’s Lawyers (Association des barreaux d’avocats du Maroc). Official voices have joined together within the Network of Parliamentarians against the death penalty (Réseau des parlementaires contre la peine de mort). The President of the National Human Rights Council (Conseil national des droits de l’homme, CNDH), Driss El Yazami, regularly expresses his support for abolition. The Minister of Justice and Liberties, Mustafa Ramid, supports maintaining the death penalty, but is actively calling to limit its use.
The new Code of Military Justice, adopted in 2014, includes five offences that incur the death penalty, instead of the previous 16. Proposals to reform the Penal Code seek to reduce the number of offences punishable by the death penalty. The latest one proposed 12 offences, but none of the proposals have been adopted. The Penal Code of 1962 remains in force. It includes the death penalty for 36 offences concerning attacks against the security of the King and state security, terrorist crimes, crimes causing bodily harm and death, the use of torture, arson, destruction, and crimes against public health. A judge can impose a 10–15 year sentence in the case of minors. Pregnant women can be executed two years after giving birth.
Ensemble contre la peine de mort, “Voyage au cimetière des vivants : enquête dans les couloirs de la mort marocains”, 2013 (Journey to the cemetery of the living: enquiry into Moroccan death rows) (in French) ↩
Nb of death sentences
Number of executions
Deaths in detention
According to the government, 119 people died in prison in 2015. Eighty-two people died after being taken to hospital, as well as 14 en route. NGOs have not confirmed these statistics.
Number of deaths
The use of torture continues despite the ratification, in 1993, of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and despite government announcements to fight against such practices. Acts of torture mostly occur during arrests or during questioning in police custody.
According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, cases of ill-treatment and torture during confinement or during arbitrary detention mostly concern individuals convicted of terrorism, members of Islamist groups or those detained following action supporting the independence of Western Sahara1.
In May 2015 Amnesty International devoted a report to torture In Morocco and Western Sahara. The organization documented 173 cases of torture between 2010 and 2014. Here are some examples reported after arrests and interrogations.
A young Sahrawi boy aged 14 was arrested in 2013, a month after taking part in a demonstration for the self-determination of Western Sahara. He was held in detention in a police vehicle where he was beaten. He was released on a country road three hours’ walk from his home, at night. The complaint lodged by his parents was rejected by Moroccan authorities.
Hamza Ljoumai was arrested in 2013 during demonstrations for the self-determination of Western Sahara. He was interrogated for three days, handcuffed to a chair, blindfolded, beaten, and placed in a cell without any food. Under duress, he signed confessions that he was not able to read. On the basis of these confessions, he was found guilty of violence towards law enforcement officials, involvement in an armed gathering, hindering traffic by placing obstructions on a public road, damage to public property, and attempted arson.
Sharif Talhaoui was arrested in 2013 during an identity check. After recognizing his name, the police officers started hitting him and insulting him. At the station, he was tied to a chair for eight hours without food or water, and then left for two days in a cell without food. Then, he was interrogated for a day, handcuffed to a chair, and beaten. He refused to sign a false statement, despite threats of rape. The judge did not take this duress into account and sentenced him to six months in prison on the basis of the unsigned statement.
The Moroccan judicial system relies heavily on proof through confession, a system which encourages torture. According to Amnesty International and the Special Rapporteur, judges do not systematically search for material evidence indicating guilt. The burden of proof rests with the victim. When the suspect claims that the statement presented is false because it was signed under duress, he has to prove this himself.
Amnesty International points out the magistrates’ indifference towards suspects who declare that they have undergone torture, even when they bear apparent signs of abuse. They do not comply with their obligation to investigate and to order an independent forensic examination each time ill-treatment is suspected. The rare examinations carried out do not conform to international standards. Doctors are untrained and examinations are not independent or impartial.
Impunity and deterrence¶
The perpetrators of ill-treatment are not prosecuted. The Special Rapporteur does not note any conviction for acts of torture in 2012, only prosecutions for assault and battery, which led to light sentences.
It is very difficult for the victims of ill-treatment to obtain evidence in order to be able to lodge a complaint. The victims are held in custody for the maximum period of time to allow injuries to fade, and then held on remand, where they cannot get access to an independent doctor. When they have access to a hospital, it refuses to issue a medical certificate and does not record their arrival and departure in its registers.
Authorities refuse to receive complaints from prisoners’ families. Moroccan courts pursue individuals who report acts of torture. This method of dissuasion comes in addition to the violence individuals suffer during arrests that are not accompanied by any official documents or prosecution.
Eight individuals were sentenced between May 2014 and May 2015 for false accusations according to Amnesty International. This offence is subject to a six-month to five-year prison sentence.
Wafae Charaf, a political party member, was abducted during a demonstration in 2014. She was beaten in a vehicle and threatened by two men before being released. She lodged a complaint of torture, attaching a medical certificate attesting to her injuries. Although she experienced episodes of fainting, agents of the National Brigade of the Judicial Police questioned her several times and persuaded her to drop her complaint. In August 2014, she was sentenced to one year in prison for making false accusations and falsely reporting an offence. Her friend, Aboubakr El Khamlichi, a member of the same political party who accompanied her to the hospital, received a one-year suspended prison sentence for complicity with false accusations, even though he had no links to Wafae Charaf’s complaint2.
Morocco also applies this dissuasion to those who try to bring a complaint of acts of torture before the courts of another country. The Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (L’Association des chrétiens pour l’abolition de la torture, ACAT) brought a case before the French courts in support of Franco-Moroccan plaintiffs against Moroccans officials for torture. In 2015, Morocco took legal action against the association and its plaintiffs for defamation, fraud, and false accusations of torture. Human Rights Watch and other NGOs are concerned about the use of such measures of intimidation3.
Amnesty International, “Shadow of Impunity: Torture in Morocco and Western Sahara”, May 2015 and International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’homme, FIDH), “La justice marocaine en chantier : des réformes essentielles mais non suffisantes pour la protection des droits humains” (Moroccan Justice under construction: essential but insufficient reforms to protect human rights), 2014 (in French) ↩
Human Rights Watch, “Maroc : 9 ONG inquiètes des mesures d’intimidation exercées contre les victimes de tortures et une ONG qui les représente” (Nine NGOs concerned about intimidation measures used against victims of torture and an NGO representing them), 9 February 2015 (in French) ↩
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention acknowledged one case of arbitrary detention in 2015 and four in 20131. These confinements were accompanied by torture and secret detention.
Terrorism suspects are usually arrested without being formally registered. They are held at secret locations where they are often interrogated under torture to obtain confessions. Then, they are transferred to a police station where their detention in police custody is recorded as starting on the date of the transfer.
The premises of the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (Direction de la surveillance du territoire, DST), based in Témara, are identified as a secret detention centre. As the DST is not a police division, it is not entitled to carry out arrests, interrogations, or detentions. Moroccan representatives denied the existence of such premises in October 2016, during the United Nations’ periodic review.
In November 2015, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for the release of Rachid Ghribi Laroussi, arrested in 20032. He was taken with several other individuals to Témara, where he was tortured. He was forced to sign documents without being allowed to read them. Then, he spent more than two months in secret detention at the Salé 1 Prison. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for terrorism.
The Working Group is also calling for the release of Mohamed Dihani, Ali Aarrass, and Abdessamad Bettar, sentenced in 2011, and of Mustafa El Hassnaoui, sentenced in 2013 for terrorism on the basis of confessions obtained under duress.
Despite the fact that the 2011 Constitution defines arbitrary or secret detentions as very serious offences in its article 23, which deals with the right to a fair trial, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) noted the absence of possible means of appeal against arbitrary detention in its 2014 report.
Beyond cases of prosecution for terrorism, arbitrary detentions also ensue from dysfunctions in the justice system. The law provides that pretrial detention cannot last longer than a year. This time limit is exceeded on a regular basis. During its December 2013 visit, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention noted irregularities in administrative registers3.
Avis n°34/2015, n°54/2013, n°25/2013, n°19/2013 et n°3/2013 of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ↩
Avis n° 34/2015 of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ↩
The report on the Morocco visit by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention can be consulted among the reports at reports ↩