Hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
Driss El Yazami: President, National Human Rights Council (CNDH), Morocco
Jon Alterman: Moderator: Director of the Middle East Program, CSIS
This event focused on the activities of the CNDH as well as the general state of human rights in Morocco. Mr. El Yazami described the activities of the CNDH under the 2011 Constitution, its priorities, its challenges, and its evolving role in Morocco and the region.
Mr. El Yazami posed the key question about human rights, in his perspective: Can an Arab country build a democracy and protect human rights peacefully, rapidly, without foreign intervention? He reiterated several times that what Morocco is trying to do in a relatively short period of time took decades if not generations in other countries. In addition, there are new players –youth and Islamists, who may not agree on the definition of universal human values. He feels strongly that a democracy is centered on the ability to discuss issues and respect differences.
Morocco is building a democracy and human rights regime step by step, by themselves, through extensive public discussion. Three important events in that process: the family code, the Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture (recognizing diversity and the country’s cultural pluralism), and the IER – Morocco’s version of transitional justice which is now informing similar projects in other countries.
Morocco has taken a different path to democracy in its new constitution, in which 60 of 180 sections include human rights. Key reforms that are upcoming include two dealing with the judiciary, violence against women, child labor, military tribunals, migration/asylum. He gave several examples of how much has to be done: 60 percent of women surveyed said that they have experienced domestic violence in the previous 12 months; 100,000 children are working illegally. Migration today is predominately south to south, which has its own unique challenges.
4. Q & A
Q: (Alterman) The pace of change seems very slow. There are expectations raised, then nothing seems to happen. Is this good or bad?
A: It is good because what is happening is that people are staying on board, they are involved in a national public discussion among many different points of view. There is a need to train people on how to promote and embrace reform. According to the most recent detailed study, there are 45,000 NGOs in Morocco; 30 percent have a budget less than $500, 37 percent don’t have an office. They need training on the fundamentals of organizing and operating an NGO. Also, 52 NGOs do not have licenses from the Ministry of Interior. They should be allowed to register. That’s guaranteed in the Constitution. The HCP has prepared a report on Civil Society that was released last week. In five months, it will become legislation. We are still waiting for a law on decentralization. We need to create educational materials for use in the schools on Sahrawis. We have three offices in the Sahara and held 20 seminars over the past two years on building a human rights culture. All this takes time.
Q: (HRW) What about freedom of assembly, of association?
A: NGOs should use the courts to get registered – the HPC report will generate new laws on this issue.
Q: (CSIS) What about human rights training for police and other officials?
A: Programs are moving ahead but they are difficult to do since you need three elements: the conditions such as salary, equipment, and resources have to be in place; You have to build a human rights culture through education. CNDH is hoping to be commissioned as the “national mechanism against torture” responsible for monitoring without restraint torture charges.
Q: (Independent Diplomat) What about people convicted previously under the military tribunals?
A: The sentences are being appealed to the Court of Cessation, which can move the cases to civil courts if it rules that the procedures/processes were incorrect or insufficient.
Q: (Congressional Research Service) How does one differentiate between what is the purview of the Palace and that of the Parliament?
A: Under the new constitution, the Palace does not draft legislation. It can request legislation be drafted by the Parliament. The reform process is an interaction among the Palace, civil society, international actors, and local leadership. The challenge is how to learn the new roles/powers and enhance Parliament’s efforts given that they have no staff and a democracy needs an active Parliament.
Q: (Moroccan community member) Do you think that human rights issues are sometimes manipulated by outside parties for political purposes?
A: Moroccans want human rights; from the 60s until now people have been fighting for human rights. It is both a national and an international agenda and it is a national and international responsibility. Morocco signed international conventions because it wanted to, not because it was forced to. Outside reporting helps Morocco, which will host the Global Human Rights Summit November 27-29.
Q: (Western Sahara representative) Why is Morocco afraid of human rights monitoring included in MINURSO?
A: Morocco doesn’t need external parties. The challenge for Muslims is how to implement human rights in each country. Morocco is doing that and is doing it well.
Q: (William Lawrence, GW/POMED) What is your opinion about Salafists and jihadists and how they should be treated?
A: They should be integrated into the national dialogue. We need to have the peaceful inclusion of diverse opinions. Also, we need to deal with the issue on integrating Muslims into other societies.
Q: (Moroccan Association for Relief and Development) What can the media do to promote human rights education?
A: Morocco must do much more to use the media in schools to promote a human rights culture.
This event was attended by about 30 people from think tanks, the Embassy, Moroccan community, and other organizations. El Yazami was quite forthright; answering difficult questions; exhibiting a very deep commitment to CNDH’s work; and consistent in framing his analysis in terms of human rights, not political posturing. MACP should continue to integrate the work of CNDH into its materials and include them in delegation visits.