Today I am at the Human Rights Council in Geneva for the Universal Periodic Review of Morocco. (Photos are not allowed, but I snuck this one with my iPhone.) Along with colleagues from The Advocates for Human Rights and Global Rights, we have been lobbying the Human Rights Council delegates on the issues of violence against women and the death penalty/conditions of detention in Morocco.
Countries from Botswana to Bangladesh have raised the issue of women’s rights, with particularly, strong pressure coming from Belgium, Estonia, Spain, Switzerland, and Thailand to pass a comprehensive law to protect women from violence. In response to criticism of Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code (which I wrote about previously in Amina Filali and Violence Against Women), which essentially allows a man to escape prosecution for rape of a minor if he marries her, the Justice Minister noted that this law was “traditional” but currently “under study.” Shortly after he made that statement, the Netherlands and Norway made strong recommendations to revise the penal code and pass a new law to protect women from violence and ensure equality.
Argentina, Austria, France, Italy and Spain are among those countries who have called on Morocco to abolish the death penalty and commute all death sentences to life. Hungary even declared they would be “happy to share” their own recent experience in abolishing the death penalty.
The Universal Periodic Review is a new human rights mechanism, the result of recent UN reform. Morocco was one of the first countries reviewed in 2008, and is now one of the first countries to return for a second UPR review. Today I see the Moroccan government standing up before its peers -the governments of other nations – and answering questions on what they are doing to protect human rights for all in their country. It is encouraging to see the governments taking the process seriously. At the end of the day, there was palpable relief on the face of the Minister of Justice and the other members of the delegation. Whether or not the UPR is a human rights mechanism that works in the long run, I think that the accountability I am seeing today is both good and necessary.