IBAHRI reminds Morocco of obligation to investigate allegations of torture of jailed Sahrawi activists

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As more than 20 Sahrawi activists have been jailed in Morocco amid claims that evidence in the trial was ostensibly obtained by torture, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) reminds the country of its international commitment to investigate suspected incidents where severe pain has been inflicted on individuals to force them to ‘confess’ to and/or implicate others in illegal activity.

IBAHRI Co-Chair Ambassador (ret.) Hans Corell commented: ‘With Morocco having ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1993, the IBAHRI reminds the country’s authorities of their obligation to ensure prompt and impartial investigation wherever there is reasonable ground to believe an act of torture has been committed in their country. The deeply concerning case of the Sahrawi activists, some of whom face life imprisonment after a trial marred by procedural irregularities, is certainly an instance where such investigation is obligatory. As a state party to the Convention, Morocco is required to conduct a probe even without a complaint from a victim. The Convention further provides that any evidence obtained through torture is inadmissible in court. It is clear that, in the case of these defendants, Morocco has failed to meet its obligations.’

The Sahrawi activists – also known as the Gdeim Izik group – were tried by a military court in 2013 and sentenced to heavy penalties in the aftermath of clashes with security forces in 2010 at the dismantling of the Gdeim Izik protest camp in Western Sahara. The camp was established as part of a long-running territorial dispute between Morocco and its indigenous Saharawi people, led by the Polisario Front.

In 2016, the Court of Cassation, Morocco’s highest court, ordered a new trial of the activists before the Appeals Chamber of the Rabat Court of Appeals following an amendment to Morocco’s military justice law, which ended trials of civilians before military courts. However, two defence lawyers, Ingrid Metton and Olfa Ouled, were denied entry to the Court.

The re-trial by the Rabat Court of Appeals largely upheld the sentences issued, with eight of the accused sentenced to life imprisonment. As in the previous military trial, the civilian court failed to adequately investigate the defendants’ allegations that their confessions were extracted under torture. Where medical examinations were carried out to assess the defendants’ allegations of torture, they were performed almost seven years after the alleged torture took place.

Ambassador Corell added: ‘The use of torture can never be justified. By failing to treat these allegations of torture in a timely manner and with the importance they deserve, the Moroccan authorities are effectively legitimising the violation of a right that has long been accepted as non-derogable.’


Notes to the Editor

(1)    In November 2016, the UN Committee against Torture concluded that the UN Convention against Torture had been breached by Morocco with regard to allegations levelled by one of the defendants, Ennaâma Asfari. Click here to read the decision.

(2)    Click here to watch footage of an IBA-UN Human Rights Office panel discussion held to raise awareness about the absolute prohibition of torture.

(3)    The International Bar Association (IBA), established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Through its global membership of individual lawyers, law firms, bar associations and law societies it influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington DC, United States, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands.

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.

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