HRW report finds that Morocco illegally coerces confessions | Africa | DW | 21.06.2013
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HRW report finds that Morocco illegally coerces confessions

Morocco's justice system needs serious reform, Human Rights Watch reported. The king promised reform in 2009 - a call taken up by the moderate Islamist party that dominated the 2011 elections and now runs the government.

"Just Sign Here: Unfair Trials based on Confessions to the Police in Morocco" focused on a handful trials that took place between 2009 and 2013 and involved 77 defendants, all but one of whom received jail time. According to Human Rights Watch, the cases do not follow norms of due process, and allegedly involved confessions coerced from defendants, as well as judges who ignored claims of torture.

"There is a complicity between the judges and police," said Eric Goldstein, of HRW's North Africa division. "The judges are in a hurry to convict based on that without looking for other evidence."

In its official response to the report by Human Rights Watch, the Moroccan government maintained that it "provides all internationally recognized guarantees" for a fair trial and that defendants have often made unfounded allegations of torture. The Justice Ministry referred all questions about the report's findings to the minister himself, Mustapha Ramid, who did not make himself immediately available for comment. According to HRW, he had declined to meet with the group's officials as they prepared the report.

HRW found that cases showed the existing challenges for any judicial reform. In the year and a half that the current government has ruled, a promised overhaul remains under discussion.

Confessed or coerced?

During a news conference to present the report, HRW's Goldstein said that officials had not coerced confessions for all criminal trials in Morocco, but that the research has shown that it remains common in political cases, such as those involving activists. The news conference featured video testimonies of former defendants describing how police had beat them until they signed confessions that they often hadn't read. Cases detailed in the report include those of activists charged in police deaths, labor representatives, pro-democracy groups, and politicians accused of terrorism.

"As Morocco has reformed slowly over the last 20 years, the laggard has been the justice system, and here we are in the middle of the debate, and we are trying to bring a contribution to that debate," Goldstein said.

Last July, the government amended Morocco's constitution to strengthen the judiciary and make it a branch of its own, on par with the legislative and executive - and no longer under the direct authority of the Justice Ministry. Like other promised reforms, this remains unimplemented.

Mohammed Anbar, the vice president of an organization formed to push for judicial independence, told the Associated Press news agency that in sensitive cases judges have to rule for the prosecution because of the enormous power the ministry wields over their salary and position.

"If the judges don't use the [coerced confessions in the] police report, they will make many problems for the judge," Anbar said, adding that one of the demands of his organization is to change the penal code to ensure lawyers are present during the questioning of suspects.

mkg/dr (AFP, AP)