EU’s soft power to improve human rights in Morocco

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

After a period in the doldrums, 2019 has so far been a good year for EU-Morocco relations. [Shutterstock]

Morocco has made significant progress on a number of human rights issues since the revision of its Constitution in 2011 and the creation of the National Council of Human Rights (CNDH) in 2012, but the EU must continue using its soft power to help Rabat take up other sensitive issues, writes Willy Fautré.

Willy Fautré is director and co-founder of Human Rights Without Frontiers.

Our latest report entitled “Human Rights in Morocco: Achievements and Challenges Ahead”, based on a mission in Morocco, takes stock of encouraging improvements concerning freedom of association, peaceful assembly, women’s rights, domestic violence and children’s rights.

It also outlines a number of remaining obstacles to overcome in order to achieve satisfactory results de jure and in practice and thereby meet international standards.

The number of declared associations in Morocco has currently reached 130,000, including 4,500 working in the field of human rights, but some which challenge the status of its southern provinces, also known as Western Sahara, are still waiting for their registration.

In 2016, more than 11,000 demonstrations involving 800,000 participants were registered. Some were not peaceful, as it was the case in Gdim Izik in 2010 where 11 police officers and a firefighter were killed by protesters. 24 protestors were sentenced to long prison terms by a military court.

Under pressure from the CNDH, a new law was afterwards adopted that prohibited civilians from being tried by military courts, and in 2017 the indicted protesters were prosecuted by a civilian court.

The constitution revised in 2011 allows for equality of male and female Moroccan citizens. The Moudawana (Family Code), revised in 2004, allows for improvement of women’s rights, making it easier for women to get divorced and providing more rights regarding the custody of children.

In 2005, a royal decree allowed a Moroccan mother married to a foreign father to give her citizenship to her children. There are currently vivid debates about equal rights in inheritance cases and progress is still needed in practice concerning the right to health, access to education, and labour opportunities.

A recent law has criminalised domestic violence but not marital rape.

The CNDH and its 13 regional branches have been instrumental in the dynamics towards positive changes, reporting and disseminating information about violations as well as bringing together stakeholders to collaborate on solutions.

However, the CNDH is aware that it still has a number of challenges to take up, such as the abolition of the death penalty and the human rights of the LGBTI people.

The CNDH fully complies with the Paris Principles and holds a constructive dialogue without concessions with authorities. Its president, Driss El Yazami, has been honoured with many prestigious awards, including in January 2018, the Order of Leopold, a Royal Order from the Kingdom of Belgium, established in 1832.

Because of the positive dynamics driven by the CNDH, it is of utmost importance for Brussels to go on using its soft power to contribute to the advancement of human rights in Morocco.

The EU has often used commercial agreements with third countries to promote human rights and good practices. For years, partnerships between the EU and Morocco have contributed to the development and the well-being of the Moroccan population and have provided the EU a leverage to raise human rights issues in the political dialogues between Brussels and Rabat.

The EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement, in force since 2007 and due for renewal in July this year, will soon provide a new opportunity to consolidate this fruitful policy.

Other areas of cooperation such as the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), the Association Agreement, and the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement, in addition to other regional and bilateral agreements, have been used and must be further enlarged to improve the overall human rights standards in Morocco.

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