Universal Periodic Review of Morocco: An opportunity for the authorities to address the ongoing rollback on human rights?

April 10, 2023

On November 8, 2022, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (HRC) held its 4th cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Morocco. The UPR is a peer review mechanism by which UN Member States provide recommendations to improve the human rights record of the countries under review. Ahead of the review, in March 2022, MENA Rights Group submitted a shadow report outlining a set of recommendations.
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Human Rights Council - 18th Session © UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Following the 4th cycle of the UPR, Morocco informed the Human Rights Council of its decision to accept 232 out of the 306 recommendations it had received. Morocco accepted most recommendations related to the prohibition of torture, the independence of the judiciary and freedoms of expression, assembly and association. Yet, most of these recommendations have not been implemented and Morocco’s record on these issues remains highly concerning.

Ahead of the UPR, we, MENA Rights Group and the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), contributed to the process by submitting two separate shadow reports, containing a list of recommendations, which were circulated among the reviewing states. MENA Rights Group’s report is available here while AMDH submitted a joint report along with seven other national NGOs.

Torture and ill-treatment

Three countries made recommendations related to the prohibition torture and ill-treatments, one of which was not accepted. Though Morocco accepted Indonesia’s recommendation to “continue efforts in producing measurable progress to prevent all acts of torture and ill-treatment, including during arrest, interrogation and detention”, the authorities did not accept to “take further steps to enhance access to justice and effective redress for vulnerable groups, including minorities and victims of torture”. 

This is all the more concerning, given the fact that, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders declared that “human rights defenders working on issues related to human rights in Morocco and Western Sahara continue to […] be subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture.”

Other reports of abuses have surfaced in recent years. In a disturbing case from 2019, Moroccan authorities subjected journalist Hajar Raissouni to a non-consensual invasive physical examination, which constitutes a violation of the prohibition of torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. She was sentenced for an “illegal abortion” and “sexual relations outside marriage” on October 2, 2019. She was later freed after receiving a royal pardon.

Most recently, on June 23rd, 2022, at least 23 African men died at the Spain-Morocco border in Mellila, due to the excessive use of force by Moroccan security forces, including beatings. The incident occurred as around 2,000 people attempted to enter Spain by climbing the high chain-link fences surrounding the Spanish enclave.

The prohibition of refoulement

During the review, Canada recommended that Morocco “revise Law No. 02-03 to guarantee that the rights of migrants and unaccompanied migrant children, asylum-seekers and refugees are respected at all times, in accordance with international law”. Senegal echoed this by recommending the Kingdom to “continue efforts to finalize the asylum bill in accordance with international standards.”

While Morocco accepted both of these recommendations, it continuously breaches the non-refoulement obligation enshrined in the Convention against Torture (CAT) to which it is a party.

In 2021, Morocco extradited Osama al-Hasani to Saudi Arabia, where he is currently imprisoned, despite the UN Committee against Torture’s request to suspend the extradition. Similarly, in February 2023, Morocco effectively extradited Hassan al-Rabea, a member of the Saudi Shi’a minority, to Saudi Arabia putting him at risk of serious human rights abuses.

Finally, Uyghur asylum seeker Yidiresi Aishan remain under threat of extradition from Morocco to China since his arrest in July 2021 upon arrival. Later that year, the Court of Cassation in Rabat approved his extradition, blatantly disregarding the risks of torture he could face in China considering the current human rights situation in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, where systematic and massive violations committed against the Uyghur minority have been documented.

Independence of the judiciary

Seven countries recommended that Morocco enhances its efforts to reform the judiciary system, but only Australia explicitly mentioned the independence of the judiciary. It called on the Kingdom to “guarantee and uphold in practice the complete independence and impartiality of the judiciary, and ensure that judges are free from external pressure and interference in the performance of their duties”; a recommendation that was accepted by Morocco.

Though Morocco accepted all seven recommendations, its judiciary remains under heavy influence from the executive branch. This mainly because the King is the sole chair of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary. Moreover, the courts often fail to produce fair and balanced rulings. In addition, dissidents that appear before Moroccan courts are often tried with a complete disregard to the guarantees of fair trial.

Freedom of expression in the age of cybersurveillance

Fifteen Member States formulated recommendations to ensure freedom of expression, opinion, peaceful assembly and association, including to amend the relevant legislation. For example, the Netherlands urged Morocco to “review the provisions in the Penal Code regarding freedom of expression, in conformity with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)”.

In spite of accepting these recommendations, Moroccan law continues to punish nonviolent speech offenses. Although the Press and Publications Code does not provide for prison terms as punishments for speech offenses, the Penal Code provide prison sentences for a range of offenses that are considered as “red lines” such as giving offense to the King or members of his family, causing prejudice to the monarchic regime, Islam, or Morocco’s territorial integrity.

Moreover, responding to a recommendation made by the United States, Morocco accepted to “ensure journalists, human rights defenders and other individuals are not prosecuted or detained for the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly or association, and ensure all individuals receive fair trial guarantees.”

In recent years, Morocco experienced a pattern of arrests, judicial harassment, and imprisonment of independent journalists, activists, and politicians, because of their critical writings and work, on trumped-up charges including “sexual assault”, “serving a foreign agenda”, or “money laundering.”

In July 2021, Soulaimane Raissouni, editor in chief of daily Akhbar Al Yaoum, was sentenced to five years in prison on sexual assault charges. His niece, Hajar Raissouni, also a journalist for the newspaper, was sentenced to one year in prison for “illegal abortion” and “debauchery” in September 2019.

The former director of Akhbar Al Yaoum, Taoufik Bouachrine, was sentenced on appeal to 15 years in prison in 2019 for “human trafficking”, “abuse of power for sexual purposes”, “rape and attempted rape.” In July 2021, investigative journalist Omar Radi was sentenced to six years in prison on multiple charges, including espionage and rape of a female co-worker.

Human rights defender Maati Monjib was sentenced to one year in prison for “undermining state security” and “fraud” in January 2021. At the time of his conviction, he was being held in pretrial detention on separate embezzlement charges

More recently, human rights lawyer Mohammed Zian was sentenced on 11 counts to three years in prison in November 2022. Zian had become increasingly critical of Morocco’s security and surveillance apparatus, and had openly defended imprisoned dissidents and journalists such as Taoufik Bouachrine and Nasser Zefzafi.

Although several states recommended the establishment of a “safe and enabling environment for civil society”, it is regrettable that no Member State addressed the use of cyber-surveillance against journalists and human rights defenders. This would have been particularly relevant since Morocco was cited as one of the clients of Israeli company NSO group when the Pegasus scandal surfaced in 2016.

Freedom of association

Morocco partially accepted a recommendation made by the United States urging the government to “approve license applications for all non-governmental associations seeking registration in accordance with the law, including organizations advocating for members of minority populations, and issue official receipts to NGOs immediately upon application for registration.”

Although this recommendation was partially accepted, it is worth recalling that legislation regulating the right to establish associations contains broad and vague terms, which can be used to hinder their creation.

In December 2018, the Casablanca Civil Court of First Instance ordered the dissolution of Racines, a cultural organization that had previously hosted a web-based talk show called 1 Dîner 2 Cons during which the participants critically discussed the King’s speeches and policies. The authorities claimed that the group “organized an activity including interviews interspersed with clear offenses towards institutions (… and in which) political opinions were expressed that are very remote from the purposes for which the association was created.”


Following the 4th cycle of the UPR, Morocco should effectively implement the recommendations it has accepted. More specifically, we call on the authorities to comply with its obligations under the Convention against Torture, repeal the laws restricting the right to freedom of expression and allow human rights defenders and journalists to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. The authorities should also cease its use of cyber-surveillance against dissidents, human rights defenders and journalists.

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