News You May Have Missed (1 – 7 February 2015)

Here’s the weekly roundup of the human rights news items that I followed this week that I thought did not get enough attention.  

First, a little bit of good news from the United Nations. 

 The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has been collaborating with businesses and individuals to innovate better solutions to assist refugees.  The collaboration with IKEA to replace tents with flat-pack, solar-powered housing units is providing dramatically improved housing, particularly by providing safe and secure housing for women and children.  One long-term problem for UNHCR has been documentation of refugees, particularly since it involved writing things down on paper.  This week I read about a potential solution. Through a collaboration with UPS, UNHCR recently announced that it has been piloting UPS UNHCR ReliefLink a new system for storing and transmitting information about refugees based on the technology that UPS uses for tracking packages that holds huge potential.  Check out these and other innovation stories on the UNHCHR Innovation website.

Appeals judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former YUGOSLAVIA upheld genocide convictions of two senior Bosnian Serbs for their roles in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the first final judgment for genocide by the international tribunal.  Vujadin Popovic and Ljubisa Beara were high-ranking security officers with the Bosnian Serb army that overran Muslim forces and thinly armed U.N. troops in the Srebrenica enclave in July 1995 and subsequently murdered some 8,000 Muslim men and boys, Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.

In late 2013, the United Nations launched an initiative called Human Rights up Front to enhance the role of human rights in all of its work.  Through this initiative, there has been an increasing recognition that  human right violations as the first sign of conflict. This week, UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson gave a speech that very much reflects my own views on the integrated nature of development, conflict and human rights.

“There is no peace without development, and there is no development without peace, and none of the above without respect for human rights and the rule of law,” said  Eliasson.

Human rights abuses are often the early indicators of escalating conflict.  The international community usually has the information about what is happening, but is slow to respond.  So it is significant that the United Nations is acknowledging that the world should should learn from past mistakes and take preemptive action BEFORE mass atrocities take place.  I love this quote from Eliasson”

“We should act when we hear the vibrations on the ground.”

February 6 was the third annual International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.   #endFGMFemale genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons.  It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. The UN estimates that more than 40 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM.  If current trends continue, more than 15 million girls will be cut by 2020; more than 86 million additional girls worldwide will be subjected to the practice by 2030. The UN states that, although this harmful traditional practice has persisted for over a thousand years, programmatic evidence suggests that FGM can end in one generation.

This year, the UN is focusing  is on health care workers.  Although the practice of FGM cannot be justified by medical reasons, in many countries it is executed more and more often by medical professionals. This constitutes ones of the greatest threats to the abandonment of the practice. 

Here is one good example:

(c)TARA TODRASS-WHITEHILL / REUTERS / LANDOV image retrieved from Aljazeera America
(c)TARA TODRASS-WHITEHILL / REUTERS / LANDOV image retrieved from Aljazeera America

For the first time ever, a court in EGYPT has sentenced a doctor to prison for the female genital mutilation (FGM) of a 13-year-old girl that resulted in her death.  Soheir al-Batea died in June 2013 after undergoing an FGM procedure carried out by Dr. Raslan Fadl.  A court in Mansour handed down not guilty verdicts for the doctor as well as the girl’s father for ordering the procedure in November 2014.  But Egypt’s Justice Ministry reportedly contacted the court to say it was “displeased with the judgment”, resulting in a retrial.  Fadl was sentenced at retrial to the maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment; the father was sentence to three months’ house arrest. A ban on FGM has been in place since 2007 in Egypt,  yet this is the first time the law has been implemented. 

While FGM is most prevalent in Africa and the Middle East, it is also practiced in Asia, Latin America, Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.  This week, a new report from the Population Reference Bureau came out discussing the potential risk of girls and women in the UNITED STATES for undergoing FGM.  In 2013, there were up to 507,000 U.S. women and girls who had undergone FGM or were at risk of the procedure, according to PRB’s preliminary data analysis. This figure is more than twice the number of women and girls estimated to be at risk in 2000 (228,000).

us-fgmc-map

And in the UNITED KINGDOM, the trial of a British doctor accused of performing female genital mutilation recently began in the United Kingdom’s first prosecution of an outlawed practice.  Dr. Dhanuson Dharmasena allegedly performed FGM in November 2012 on a 24-year-old woman soon after she gave birth to her first child at North London’s Whittington Hospital. The woman in the U.K. case, referred to as “AB” in court, reportedly underwent FGM as a 6-year-old in Somalia, when a section of her labia was sewn together, leaving only a small hole for menstrual blood and urine but too small for safely giving birth.  Defibulation, or re-opening the vagina, is commonly needed for FGM survivors about to give birth, and was required in AB’s case during delivery. But AB allegedly underwent re-infibulation, or sewing the labia together again after giving birth. The stitching or re-stitching together of the labia is an offense under section 1 of the United Kingdom’s Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003.

Other human rights news you may have missed this week: 

In THAILAND, more than a dozen government officials are facing prosecution on the charge of human trafficking.  According to Thailand’s junta officials, senior policemen and a navy officer are among the officials, who are detained and being prosecuted for human trafficking.  It is significant that government officials are being prosecuted as it shows the connection between corruption and human trafficking in Thailand, a country well known for it problems with trafficking.  

Single, mostly young women from CAMBODIA are increasingly being trafficked to CHINA as brides. China’s one-child policy has resulted in many more there are more single men than women, and as those men age, they seek marriageable women.  For years, traffickers met that demand with women from Vietnam. But Vietnam has recently tightened its marriage rules and waged an information campaign to combat the problem. For traffickers, Cambodia has emerged as an attractive alternative. With fewer regulations and no awareness among Cambodian women about the risks, business has been easy. The going rate for a foreign bride is between $10,000 and $15,000. 

A court in SPAIN has ruled that a deaf couple can adopt a baby who can hear, after they appealed against the decision by social services to only consider them for the adoption of a deaf child. In their review of the prospective parents’ suitability for adoption, social services said the parents were not “the best option” for a hearing child, as the child’s development would be affected. But in its ruling, the court established that the couple are indeed able to raise a child from a young age regardless of whether he or she is deaf or not, after considering research that shows how hearing children who also know sign language have greater-than-average visuospatial skills, and that “under no circumstances does learning sign language inhibit cognitive development”. Two Spanish organisations, CNSE and Fescan, which uphold the rights of deaf people welcomed “[the] landmark ruling, as it recognises the right of people with disabilities to form a family on an equal footing with other citizens,” and that “being a deaf mother or father does not hinder the education or happiness of a child, be they biological or adopted.”  

Finally, I’ve long been a believer in humor as a tool for human rights change.  So I very much enjoyed the #MugabeFalls viral memes this week.  When ZIMBABWE’s notorious authoritarian “President for Life” Robert Mugabe tripped during a public appearance, he wasn’t hurt but he denied he had fallen.   His security reportedly demanded that photographers delete the images of him falling.  Thanks to social media and the internet, it was already to late.  Internet users responded to the attempted censorship by posting parody pictures of Mugabe in different scenarios – including surfing and dancing – and by using the hashtag #MugabeFalls. The results were pure internet gold!

#mugabefalls

Humor – A powerful tool against dictatorships!  You can see many more hilarious examples in the articles below:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/05/mugabe-falls-comedy-memes-of-zimbabwes-president-viral

http://www.buzzfeed.com/hayesbrown/mugabe-got-me-straight-tripping#.smqYD2VMz

 

Advertisements

Human Rights Tools for a Changing World

Change the World front cover

Originally published on The Advocates Post

The Advocates for Human Rights’ Executive Director Robin Phillips is in London today speaking about The Advocates’ human rights monitoring work at the International Bar Association’s colloquium on “Rule of Law Fact-Finding by NGOs: Monitoring Standards and Maximising Impact”.

This international convening to explore the standards and impact of non-governmental organization (NGO) fact-finding on human rights violations is also an appropriate setting to introduce The Advocates’ latest publication:

        Human Rights Tools for a Changing World:  A Step-by-Step Guide to Human Rights Fact-finding, Documentation and Advocacy 

Human rights advocacy takes many forms, and human rights activists can be found in every corner of the world.  Human Rights Tools for a Changing World was created with the express purpose of providing advocates of all backgrounds and experiences a full range of tools and resources to promote human rights in a changing world.

This manual provides practical, step-by-step guidance for individuals and community groups who want to use human rights monitoring, documentation, and advocacy in their work to change policy and improve human rights conditions throughout the world. From framing an issue in terms of internationally recognized human rights standards to submitting a detailed complaint to an international human rights body, advocates can use this manual to plan and implement their work. The manual is designed to aid advocates undertaking a variety of activities—from the relatively simple to the more complex. With background information, key questions to consider, case examples, and practitioner’s tips, this manual provides tools to combat human rights abuses and change social institutions and structures to promote the full realization of human rights.

The practice-oriented sections help advocates to do the following:

  • Monitor: identify ongoing human rights abuses and collect the information advocates need about these issues;
  • Document: analyze, present that information, and make recommendations within the framework of international human rights standards;
  • Advocate: choose and implement a strategy to bring the lived reality closer to the ideals proclaimed by international human rights treaties, including through advocacy at international and regional human rights mechanisms;
  • Address Impunity and Accountability: identify strategies and legal mechanisms i for holding perpetrators and governments accountable for human rights violations; and
  • Build Capacity to Improve Human Rights: develop a better understanding of the international human rights system, identify strategies for applying a human rights framework, and develop competence in setting up and effectively running an organization in safety and security.

The Advocates for Human Rights  is uniquely qualified to present the human rights tools in this manual. Human Rights Tools for a Changing World is grounded in the The Advocates’ daily work in human rights fact-finding, documentation and advocacy.  For more than 30 years, The Advocates has adapted traditional human rights methodologies to conduct innovative research and generate human rights reports and educational trainings designed to bring laws, policies, and practice into compliance with international human rights standards. The Advocates has monitored human rights conditions and produced more than 75 reports documenting human rights practices in dozens of countries around the world on a wide range of human rights issues.

The contents of this manual were also shaped by the requests for assistance and guidance that The Advocates routinely receives from human rights defenders and others seeking to change human rights conditions in their communities throughout the world. Partnership on projects identified and led by local organizations is a powerful means to effectively implement human rights work in the field. At The Advocates, we view our constituencies as partners and form enduring working relationships with organizations and community groups in the U.S. and around the world.

The Advocates’ participatory model of working with in-country civil society organizations to document human rights abuses and coordinate advocacy for change has also demonstrated to us the critical importance of having access to a wide range of human rights tools.  Flexibility is key; there is no “one size fits all” human rights methodology.  Activists need a full menu of strategies and resources so they can choose the ones that will work best in each specific context. With the right tools, real human rights improvements are eminently possible.

We hope that that Human Rights Tools for a Changing World will benefit and be used by human rights defenders and civil society organizations throughout the world. Because every person matters.

Download your free copy at:  TheAdvocatesForHumanRights.org/Change

Individual chapters and appendices can also be downloaded individually.

By:  Jennifer Prestholdt, Deputy Director and Director of  the International Justice Program at The Advocates for Human Rights

News You May Have Missed (17-23 January)

A student at the Hamar Jajab School in Mogadishu holds a peace-themed comic book for children produced by UNSOM during the commemoration of Somalia’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 January 2015. UN Photo/Ilyas Ahmed
A student at the Hamar Jajab School in Mogadishu holds a peace-themed comic book for children produced by UNSOM during the commemoration of Somalia’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 January 2015. UN Photo/Ilyas Ahmed

There was some good news about human rights around the world this week.  

SOMALIA has become the 195th state party to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). A ceremony was held to mark the ratification at a local school in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.  In agreeing to be bound by the treaty, the government of Somalia is obligating itself to take steps to improve the lives of its youngest citizens.   The CRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in existence.  Once Somalia’s ratification is officially deposited with the UN, the United States and South Sudan will be the only countries in the world that have not yet ratified the CRC.  (The US has signed but not ratified the CRC and South Sudan – the world’s newest country, established in 2011 – has taken no action on the CRC yet.  If you are wondering why the US hasn’t ratified the CRC, you can read more here.)

In SAUDI ARABIA, the public flogging of blogger Raif Badawi has been postponed for a second consecutive week.  As I previously reported, Raif Badawi, founder of Free Saudi Liberals blog, was brought to a public square in Jeddahon on January 9 and flogged 50 times before hundreds of spectators – the first of 20 weeks of punishment with 50 lashes.  Protests and vigils have been held in public places and outside Saudi embassies across the world, keeping up the momentum after a medical committee said last week that he should not undergo a second round of 50 lashes on health grounds.  There is widespread belief that the postponements are not based solely on medical assessments, but also reflect increasing pressure on the Saudi government from the international community.  

In GUATEMALA,  a former police chief has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in the 1980 deadly raid on the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City. A group of indigenous rights activists had occupied the embassy to draw attention to government repression during Guatemala’s civil war. (According to United Nations estimates, almost a quarter of a million people, mostly indigenous and rural, were killed or forcibly disappeared during the 36-year-long conflict.) Thirty-seven people burned to death in a fire triggered by the police when they stormed the embassy; Vicente Menchu, the father of indigenous rights activist and Noble Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, was one of those killed in the fire.  Pedro Garcia Arredondo was found guilty this week of ordering officers to keep anyone from leaving the building as it burned. Indigenous rights activists and relatives of the victims, who have been waiting more than 3 decades for justice, celebrated a sentencing.

Indigenous activists and relatives of the victims welcomed the sentence. Photo (c) REUTERS
Indigenous activists and relatives of the victims welcomed the sentence. Photo (c) REUTERS

U.N. peacekeepers in the CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC have arrested Rodrigue Ngaibona, (known as Andilo), a senior leader of the anti-balaka militia, wanted for crimes including murder, rebellion, rape and looting.  In 2013,  the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian CAR.  Their brief rule spawned a backlash from the Christian and animist anti-balaka militia.  The U.N. has documented that the anti-balaka used ethnic cleansing in their attacks on the Muslim minority, and reported that “Andilo is currently the most enigmatic, feared and powerful military commander of the anti-balaka.”  Andilo could potentially be tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is investigating the violence in Central African Republic.

One piece of negative human rights news that has not received much mainstream media attention:  BAHRAIN sentenced Nabeel Rajab, one of the highest-profile democracy campaigners in the Arab world, to six months in jail on Tuesday over remarks critical of the government.  The founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Rajab took a leading role in Shi’ite-led demonstrations in Bahrain in 2011 that demanded reforms in the Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab Kingdom.  

I noted a couple of items of good news on LGBT rights this week:

  1. In CHILE, the House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.  The bill passed by a wide margin with 86-23 vote with two abstentions. The Chilean Senate last October advanced the measure, known by the Spanish acronym AVP that roughly translates into “life partner agreement” in English. –President Michelle Bachelet has said she will sign the civil unions bill into law.
  2. In the UNITED STATES, President Obama made history by using the terms “lesbian”, “transgender” and “bisexual” for the first time in a State of the Union address. President Obama was the second US president to use the word “gay” (somewhat generically) in the 2010 State of the Union address; President Clinton was the first.

Finally, I read an inspiring story this week about teens in BANGLADESH called “Golden Girls” who are volunteering their time to ensure that Bangladeshi women have access to maternal health care.  Bangladesh has been working to reduce maternal mortality by training government female health workers as highly skilled birth attendants, but only 27 percent of pregnant women have access to these birth attendants. To fill the gap, the Community Health Foundation, a nonprofit based in Dhaka, educates nearly 300 girls in grades 9 to 12 about pregnancy and childbirth and then links them to pregnant women in their community through the government birth attendants.  

The Golden Girl Project volunteers help increase awareness among pregnant women and facilitate access to skilled birth attendants, bringing down maternal mortality risks.  Their efforts are proving critical in a country where 7,000 women die of pregnancy-related causes every year. For example, when a woman in her village went into labor in the middle of the night her panicked family turned to 14-year-old Khatun, a grade 10 student who lived nearby and was able to arrange for the community’s skilled birth attendant to come in time, saving the lives of the mother and newborn. In addition to their training in reproductive and sexual health, the Golden Girls themselves also commit to completing high school and campaigning to end early marriage and delaying motherhood. Volunteers’ parents consent to the training and affirm their daughters will not be married before graduation. This contributes to reducing dropouts as well as early marriage. You can read more about the Golden Girls here

I’ll close with a powerful advertisement from AUSTRALIA called “The Invisible Discriminator” which reminds us that subtle or ‘casual’ racism can be just as harmful as more overt forms. #StopThinkRespect encourages everyone in Australia to check their behaviour.

Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere

justice

As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said,

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

 

Use your voice.

Say it loud.

speak

 

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge:  Letters.  Click here to read more entries.

For another post that is not new but meets the same challenge, see Weekly Photo Challenge: The Sign Says. 

 

 

Paving Pathways for Justice & Accountability: New Tools for Diaspora Communities

House party_HighRes-2

This post originally appeared on The Advocates Post.

Human rights advocacy takes many forms, and human rights activists can be found in every corner of the world.  Tremendous advancements in technology and communication have allowed activists to form strong international networks and to share emerging information about human rights abuses almost as soon as they happen.  These advancements have fundamentally changed the way human rights organizations work, including how they engage in human rights advocacy with broader communities beyond a country’s borders.

Yet the unique role diaspora communities can play in improving human rights around the world has largely been overlooked in the human rights field. It’s time for that to change.  

Diaspora: The Migration Policy Institute defines the term “diaspora” as “emigrants and their descendants who live outside the country of their birth or ancestry . . . yet still maintain . . . ties to their countries of origin.”

Members of diaspora communities play an increasingly important global role and can be a bridge between individuals, governments, and international legal and political mechanisms.  Diaspora communities are a critical link in changing social institutions and structures to hold governments accountable.   Many migrants – refugees and asylum seekers in particular – leave their homes because of human rights abuses.  Many were political and human rights activists in their home countries and they bring their experiences with them.  In some countries with repressive governments, security concerns mean that diasporans must take the lead in speaking out.  From their new home base, they can bring change in their countries of origin.

Members of diaspora communities agree.  Chanravy Proeung, a member of the Cambodian diaspora and Co-Director of the Providence Youth Student Movement, said:

“We have the privilege to see those countries from a different perspective. We need to have the people who are the most marginalized and affected by issues at the forefront of creating change not only here in the United States, but having influence in their countries of origin, too.”

For more than 30 years, The Advocates for Human Rights has witnessed the powerful role that diaspora civil society organizations play in documenting human rights abuses, influencing policy, and advocating on behalf of victims of human rights violations in their countries of origin.

As a legal service provider, The Advocates is often the first connection that asylum seekers have to their new community in the United States.  Because of this special relationship, diasporans from dozens of countries have requested assistance from The Advocates in documenting human rights violations “back home.”  With diaspora communities, The Advocates has conducted groundbreaking work, such as the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission Diaspora Project, ensuring that public hearing testimony and the statements of 1,200 Liberians living outside of Liberia were included in the formal history of the conflict.

The report,  Human Rights in Ethiopia: Through the Eyes of the Oromo Diasporaproved the significance of involving individuals who have left a country in work to hold governments accountable and affect human rights in their home countries.  The Advocates has also collaborated with the Indian American Muslim Council on advocacy on issues concerning religious minorities at the both the U.S. Congress and the United Nations, demonstrating that diaspora voices can have an impact on human rights in India.

The Advocates recently completed a two-year project to identify needs and create tools to help tap the underexplored resources of diaspora involvement in human rights.  The result is a groundbreaking resource called Paving Pathways for Justice & Accountability: Human Rights Tools for Diaspora Communities.

diaspora-cover-final

This manual, available for download at no cost, provides a full menu strategies and resources designed to empower diaspora communities to be more effective advocates for human rights in their countries of origin.

With practical tools and step-by-step guidance shaped by input from multiple diaspora communities, Paving Pathways can be used to help individuals and organizations to:

  • monitor and document human rights abuses;
  • advocate for change in their country of origin and country of residence, as well as at international and regional human rights mechanisms;
  • address impunity and hold governments accountable using national and international law; and
  • build their capacity to improve human rights conditions.

While the tools and resources presented in this manual were specifically created for use by diaspora communities, this manual can also benefit and be used by human rights defenders and civil society organizations throughout the world.

The international community needs to do more to recognize the unique contributions that diaspora communities can make to building respect for human rights around the world.  Rather than treating diasporans solely as economic sources of remittances,  investment, and philanthropy, countries of origin and countries of residence should  facilitate engagement in long-term social change.  With this new resource, The Advocates is taking an important step in supporting diaspora communities in their efforts to improve human rights around the world.

Download your free copy at: TheAdvocatesForHumanRights.org/pathways  

Individual chapters can also be downloaded for free.

Don’t know where to start?Quick Reference Guide cropped

Use our Quick Reference Guide!

 

[1] International Organization for Migration and Migration Policy Institute, Developing a Roadmap for Engaging Diasporas in Development (Washington DC and Geneva: IOM and MPI, 2012), 15. Also available online at http://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/thediasporahandbook.pdf.

By:  Jennifer Prestholdt, Deputy Director and Director of  the International Justice Program at The Advocates for Human Rights

 

Morocco: Human Rights Violations Under Article 475

Zohra Filali shows a picture of her daughter, Amina Filali, at their family house near Larache, northern Morocco. Amina Filali committed suicide after being forced to marry the man who raped her. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)
Zohra Filali shows a picture of her daughter, Amina Filali. Amina Filali committed suicide after being forced to marry the man who raped her.
(AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

Originally published on The Advocates Post

In Morocco, a 15 year old girl experienced constant harassment and threats from a 35 year old man in her town.  He waited for her each day outside of her school and on several occasions told her, “I will force you to marry me.”  One day, he abducted and raped her at knifepoint.  The victim made a complaint to the gendarmes, who arrested the man.  In his statement to the police, the rapist admitted his crime, declaring that he did it “because it was the only way I would be able to marry her.”  In order to avoid scandal, the victim dropped out of school and married him.  “I am raped now every day,” she told members of the local association that works with women survivors of domestic violence.

This tragic story is one of many included in a joint submission The Advocates for Human Rights and our Moroccan partner Mobilising for Rights Associates (MRA) made recently to the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child.  The submission  draws attention to the serious human rights violations resulting from the application of Article 475 of the Moroccan Penal Code, which  provides that whoever “abducts or deceives” a minor, without using violence, threat or fraud, can escape prosecution and imprisonment if (i) the abductor marries the victim, and (ii) those persons who have a right to request annulment of the marriage do not file a complaint.[1]

Organizations and news reports from Morocco indicate that Article 475 has been applied in cases of sexual abuse of minors in order to preserve the “honor” of the victim and her family.  Notably, this issue has received widespread coverage following the 2012 suicide of Amina Filali, a sixteen year-old girl who killed herself after being forced to marry a man – ten years older than her – who had raped her.[2] Additional news reports confirm that the use of Article 475 continues.[3]  Further, associations working at the local level in Morocco report that girls married under Article 475 continue to suffer rape and domestic violence after the marriage.

Information from our Moroccan partners illustrates the extent of the problems with the application of Article 475. One local association that works with women reported that, of 11 cases involving rape of a minor that they handled in 2013, Article 475 was raised in 6 cases; the age of the victims ranged from 14-17, while the age of the rapists ranged from 23-28.[4]  In one case, a 14 year old girl was raped by her 28 year old cousin, and she became pregnant as a result.  She sought help from the association to file a criminal complaint, and there were several court hearings.  DNA testing established that the accused was the rapist.  Under Article 475, the two families agreed on a temporary marriage between the rapist and the victim to avoid shame, with a predetermined divorce date after one month of marriage.[5]

Associations working at the local level in Morocco report that the young victims experience tremendous pressure to abandon criminal prosecution and agree to the application of Article 475  from law enforcement, justice system personnel, as well as the families of the perpetrators. Even their own families pressure them to agree to marriage under Article 475 in order to avoid shame. Because all sexual relations outside of marriage are illegal under the Moroccan Penal Code,[6] victims also fear prosecution and imprisonment under Penal Code Article 490.[7] In fact, one Moroccan association reported several cases of rape victims who filed complaints to initiate criminal prosecution but were prosecuted themselves under Article 490.[8]

In one instance, a 15 year old girl was raped by a 25 year old man.  She became pregnant as a result of the rape, which is considered proof of illicit sexual relations.  She did not want to file a criminal complaint because she feared prosecution under Article 490, so she fled her home and sought shelter through a local Moroccan association.  The rapist’s family made threats against the victim’s mother, however, and she was pressured to not file a criminal complaint and to marry the rapist under Article 475 instead.[9]

Article 475 must be understood in the context of early marriage in Morocco.  While the legal age of marriage for both men and women is now 18 in Morocco,[10]the Family Code allows the marriage of minors when “justified” and after substantial control by the Family Affairs judge.[11]Both the number of petitions for authorization to marry minors and the approval rate are high and increasing.  In 2007, 10.03% of marriages were of minors, and 86.8% of the 33,596 petitions were authorized.[12]  In 2011, the rate had risen to 11.99% of all marriages and 89.56% of 46,927 petitions for authorization to marry a minor were granted.  33.58% of petitions in 2011 were for minors ages 14-16[13].  The overwhelming majority of the minor spouses, 99.31%, were girls.[14] The Family Code provides no threshold minimum age below which authorization to marry may never be granted.  Local NGOs report marriages of girls as young as thirteen, fourteen and fifteen.[15]

In practice, judges often issue authorizations based on their own cursory visual examination of the minor girl’s physical appearance and determination that she is capable of assuming “marital responsibilities,” rather than resorting to the required expertise.[16]  Reasons advanced by judges for authorizing underage marriage include saving family honor, avoiding scandal, protecting the girl’s chastity and preventing her from debauchery.  Some even cite marriage as a solution to poverty.  At times judges do not even substantiate their decisions in writing.  Corruption among public actors and the ease by which medical certificates attesting to the minor girl’s “maturity” can be obtained are also factors allowing circumvention of the law.[17]

In spite of the reality of early and forced marriage for young Moroccan girls, the Moroccan Government made statements in recent United Nations submissions that Article 475 does not apply to, and has not been applied in, cases of sexual abuse of minors.  For example, in response to the most recent concluding observations of the Committee Against Torture, the Moroccan Government stated that Article 475 does not apply in cases of sexual abuse and that there is no statutory text in Morocco that exempts the “perpetrator of child rape from punishment when he makes the child concerned his wife, because anyone who commits rape is punished in all instances, even when he marries the victim of rape.”[19]  The Moroccan Government further stated that Article 475 “is not applicable to rape but rather to the crime of the abduction of a minor who leaves the parental home to be with someone and agrees to marry him.”[20]

In other words, in the Moroccan Government’s view and in contrast to the many reports originating from Morocco, Article 475 is intended to address situations involving marriage without the consent of the family where the prosecution for abduction of a minor can be dropped if the victim’s family withdraws the complaint to “maintain good family relations and to protect the make-up of the family if arresting the husband could lead his minor wife to lose any chance of a normal life.”[21]

On January 22, 2014, Morocco’s Parliament voted to abolish paragraph 2 of Art. 475.  While this is a positive step, and certainly a victory to be celebrated, the bill that was approved unanimously this week only abrogates the exoneration through marriage provision.   It does not change the rest of Art. 475 which provides that a man convicted of statutory rape in Morocco is still only subject to a few years in prison and a small fine.   It does nothing to impact the larger problems faced by minor girls who experience sexual abuse or early marriage in Morocco.

The Moroccan government must go further to protect the rights of women and girls.   Given the factual situation on the ground in Morocco and the clear violations of Morocco’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Moroccan government must:

  • Amend Morocco’s Penal Code and Penal Procedure Code to facilitate procedures for bringing sexual abuse and rape of minors cases, including eliminating discriminatory legal provisions that require proof of actual physical injury and place heavy burdens of proof solely on the victim.
  • Amend Morocco’s Penal Code to abolish criminal prosecutions under Article 490 for “illicit sexual relations.”
  • Develop and implement a plan for educating the judiciary and public that criminal proceedings against rapists will not be terminated if they marry their victims and that Article 475 is not to be applied in cases of sexual abuse and rape of minors.
  • Penalize all acts to encourage, pressure, or threaten minors to marry, whether by public or private actors.
  • Amend Morocco’s Family Code to establish clear and objective criteria under which judicial authorizations for the marriage of minors may be granted in only exceptional cases, and in all events establish a threshold minimum age under which authorization to marry may never be granted.

Related post:  Amina Filali and Violence Against Women in Morocco


[1]Dahir n° 1-59-413 du 28 joumada II 1382 (26 novembre 1962) portant approbation du texte du code pénal, as amended, (« Penal Code »), Art. 475: 1) Quiconque, sans violences, menaces ou fraudes, enlève ou détourne, ou tente d’enlever ou de détourner, un mineur de moins de dix-huit ans (Article modifié par l’article premier de la loi n° 24-03 modifiant et complétant le code pénal, précitée), est puni de l’emprisonnement d’un à cinq ans et d’une amende de 200 (cf. supra note correspondant à l’article 111)  à 500 dirhams. 2) Lorsqu’une mineure nubile ainsi enlevée ou détournée a épousé son ravisseur, celui-ci ne peut être poursuivi que sur la plainte des personnes ayant qualité pour demander l’annulation du mariage et ne peut être condamné qu’après que cette annulation du mariage a été prononcée.

available at http://adala.justice.gov.ma/FR/Legislation/TextesJuridiques.aspx.

[3]See, e.g.,http://www.illionweb.com/larticle-475-tue-toujours/, http://www.illionweb.com/bouchra-victime-gang/, and http://www.yabiladi.com/articles/details/21035/tetouan-fille-suicide-apres-avoir.html.  In addition, one association working with MRA reported that their region of Morocco alone, three girls married under Art. 475 had recently tried to kill themselves. Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).

[4]Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).  In the same Written Communications, another association from a different region reported that Article 475 was raised in 3 of 5 rape cases that they handled where the victim was a minor.  A third association reported their experience that in 6 cases where Article 475 was raised since 2011, the average age difference between the victim and the rapist was 10 years (with victims ranging in age from 14-17 and rapists from 23-28). Id.

[5]Id.

[6]Dahir n° 1-59-413 du 28 joumada II 1382 (26 novembre 1962) portant approbation du texte du code pénal, as amended, (« Penal Code »)art. 490.

[7]Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).

[8]Id.

[9]Id.

[10] Dahir n° 1-04-22 du 12 hija 1424 (3 février 2004) portant promulgation de la loi n° 70-03 portant Code de la Famille («Family Code ») art. 19.

[11] The authorization is not subject to appeal. Id. art. 20.  Article 21 also requires the legal tutor’s (guardian’s) consent.Id. art. 21.

[13]Id.  Note that these numbers are consistent with information from the local level.  One local association that works with MRA reported that from January to November 2013, the First Instance Court in Khemisset granted 325 of 442 petitions for authorization to marry minors.  Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).

[15]Ligue démocratique de défense des droits des femmes (LDDF), Droits des femmes et code de la famille après 4 ans d’application(2007).

[16]Interviews with Local Morocco NGOs, (May 2012 – December 2013).

[17]Abdellah Ounnir, Les justiciables dans le circuit judiciaire relatif au contentieux de la famille, inLe Code de la famille: Perceptions et pratique judiciaire, pp. 89-139 (Morocco: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 2007);Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc(ADFM), Implementation of the CEDAW Convention: Non-Governmental Organisations’ Shadow Report to the Third and the Fourth Periodic Report of the Moroccan Government(Nov. 2007).

[18]In January 2013, the Justice Minister made a statement to the effect that he would not oppose proposed modifications to 475. A bill (sponsored by MPs) to modify and complete article 475 was adopted by the Council of the 2nd Chamber of Parliament and  transferred to the relevant Committee on legislation within that Chamber for review on January 29, 2013.  This bill would increase the penalties, eliminate the 2nd paragraph of 475, and reinforces the link between 475 and the later sexual abuse of minors articles in the Penal Code.  A second bill (sponsored by MPs) presented in the 1st Chamber would eliminate the 2nd paragraph of 475 (among other modifications to the articles on sexual abuse), but the version adopted by the legislation committee had eliminated these reforms.  Another bill (sponsored by MPs) for a VAW law in 1st chamber that would cancel 475 among its 35 articles was transferred for review to the legislation committee in February 2013.  The current status of these three bills is unknown and it is unclear what subsequent steps if any have been taken on these three bills.  A proposed VAW bill submitted by the Family Minister to the Government Council (and tabled) did not contain any modifications to Article 475. See http://www.medias24.com/POLITIQUE/5975-Benkirane-desavoue-Bassima-Hakkaoui.html.  Most recently, on January 8, 2014, the Committee on Justice, Legislation and Human Rights in on of the Parliament’s chambers voted to abolish paragraph 2 of Art. 475.  See http://www.aujourdhui.ma/maroc-actualite/societe/viol-des-mineures-au-maroc-une-loi-debattue-au-parlement-107202.html www.yabiladi.com%2Farticles%2Fdetails%2F22289%2Fviols-mineures-deputes-annulent-l-alinea.html&h=1AQFFOSTM

[19]U.N. Committee Against Torture, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 19 of the Convention, Information Received From the Government of Morocco in Response to the Concluding Observations of the Committee Against Torture, para. 111, CAT/C/MAR/CO/4/Add.1(9 September 2013).

[20]Idpara. 112.

[21]U.N. Committee Against Torture, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 19 of the Convention, Information Received From the Government of Morocco in Response to the Concluding Observations of the Committee Against Torture, para. 112, CAT/C/MAR/CO/4/Add.1(9 September 2013).

India’s Politics Without Principles

Raj Ghat,  Mahatma Ghandi Memorial

New Delhi, India

Note:  This essay was originally published on The Advocates Post.

Last year, on my first trip to India, I visited Raj Ghat in New Delhi.   Raj Ghat (or Rajghat) is the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial and, as Gandhi has long been one of my human rights heroes, I was glad to have this opportunity to pay my respects to the man whose lessons of non-violence and human rights have had such an impact on our world.  Gandhi is known of the “Father of the Nation” because of his pivotal role in India’s independence movement.  But how far has Gandhi’s beloved India come in fulfilling his vision for humanity?  From Raj Ghat, I went to directly a meeting with Indian human rights activists. They told us that, while important reforms have been made recently to protect the human rights of its 1.21 billion citizens, India still has a long way to go to adequately protect the rights of its religious minorities.

Gandhi was cremated at Raj Ghat on the Yamuna River on January 31, 1948, the day after he was assassinated. Raj Ghat is  a solemn space, a large, walled enclosure purposefully left open to the air and the white-hot sun of central India. It is set within an even larger park, with flagstone paths and shade trees – grandeur and greenery that surprised me in a city as crowded as Delhi.  Yet Raj Ghat itself is true to the simple life that Gandhi himself chose.  As you walk around the upper level, on a path bordered by flowers and creeping vines, you can see the square platform in the center that marks the site of Gandhi’s cremation. The black marble is so smooth that it reflects and extends the eternal flame that burns at one end of the monument, like a torch lighting the way forward in the dark of night.  The red soil of his dear homeland surrounds the marble samadhi, as in life Gandhi rejected the green lawns of the English colonialists, choosing instead to leave the grounds of his residences in their natural state.

To enter Raj Ghat, you must remove your shoes.  This is a sign of respect, one that I honor, but I admit to never having pictured myself meeting my idol in sock feet.  It was in sock feet, however, that, in the cool shade of the thick stone walls, I walked the perimeter of the memorial.  On the walls of the memorial are quotes from Gandhi, inscribed in the many languages of the Indian people as well as other world languages. Raj Ghat is a contemplative place; in concert with this, visitors are encouraged to circle the memorial three times.  My first time around, near the marble platform,  I stopped short.  Before me, inscribed in black on the red sandstone wall, were words of deep truth.  Gandhi was a prolific writer who first published his “Seven Social Sins” in 1926 in Young India, one of several newspapers he edited.

Seven Social Sins

Quoted by Mahatma Gandhi in “Young India”, 1925

Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins – complicated concepts remarkably expressed with a few simple words – remain apt nearly 100 years later.  They are:

POLITICS WITHOUT PRINCIPLES

WEALTH WITHOUT WORK

PLEASURE WITHOUT CONSCIENCE

KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT CHARACTER

COMMERCE WITHOUT MORALITY

SCIENCE WITHOUT HUMANITY

WORSHIP WITHOUT SACRIFICE

Mahatma Gandhi’s words have stayed with me.  Unlike the numerous foreign dignitaries who visit Raj Ghat, I did not receive a khadi scroll imprinted with the Seven Social Sins.  But they are written in my heart as distinctly as they are carved on the sandstone wall of Raj Ghat. Certainly, the words were fresh in my mind later that afternoon at a meeting with Indian human rights activists. Over cups of masala tea, these human rights defenders told us about the alarming rise in discrimination and violence against religious minorities – particularly Muslims and Christians – in various states across India, including Gujarat, Orissa and Karnataka. While discrimination and violence against Muslims has long been a problem in India (including communal attacks targeting Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 that killed nearly 2000 and displaced as many as 140,000), these courageous human rights activists have documented the increasingly systematic discrimination and violence in the name of counter-terrorism since a series of bombings in 2007 and 2008.  One group, Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD), published a report in 2011 containing the testimony of scores of Indian Muslims at a People’s Tribunal on the Atrocities Committed Against Muslims in the Name of Fighting Terrorism.  As they described their experiences, as well as the impunity enjoyed by security forces and non-state actors that targeted religious minorities in the name of counter-terrorism, I thought again of Gandhi.   Allowing human rights abuses to be committed against a broad category of in the name of fight against terrorism is indeed practicing “Politics Without Principles”.

Later in 2011, and partly as a result of what we learned at this meeting, The Advocates for Human Rights made a submission to the Human Rights Council for the 2012 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of India.  Our submission, made jointly with the Indian American Muslim Council in the US and the Jamia Teacher Solidarity Association (along with input from other Indian human rights organizations) in India, addresses India’s failure to comply with its international human rights obligations to protect members of minority groups. Major human rights challenges in India today include extrajudicial executions committed by security personnel as well as non-state actors, arbitrary and unlawful detentions, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of terrorism suspects in police custody, and harassment of human rights defenders (including lawyers who defend Muslims accused of terrorist acts), whistleblowers and journalists.

Additionally, our submission highlights the failure of the Indian government to adequately investigate and effectively prosecute perpetrators of these human rights violations against members of minority groups.  The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief reported in 2009 that the Indian government’s failure to adequately investigate and prosecute individuals and government officials involved in human rights violations exacerbates tension between India’s political and religious groups.  Discrimination against religious minorities extends to all facets of life, including access to education, employment and housing.  Religious minorities also face violence and discrimination due to state level “Freedom of Religion Acts”, which fail to clearly define an “improper conversion” – a lack of clarity which gives the authorities the power to accept or reject the legitimacy of a conversion.

Under the UPR, the human rights record of every member of the UN is reviewed once every four and one-half years.  Indiawas one of the first countries to be reviewed in 2008 following the creation of this new human rights mechanism. I was in Geneva on May 24 for the Second Universal Periodic Review of India. The Indian government sent a large, 20 member  delegation, headed by the Attorney General and including representatives from several ministries, and clearly viewed the UPR process as both serious and important.  The Human Rights Council is a human rights mechanisms designed to be an interactive dialogue between governments.  I was gratified to see Human Rights Council delegates from 20 countries address the issues raised in our submission, including the recommendation from the United States to “Ensure that laws are fully and consistently enforced to provide adequate protections for members of religious minorities…”

The Human Rights Council made 169 recommendations toIndia, but the government chose not to adopt them at the June 2012 session. Instead, they government promised to respond “in due time” but no later than September 2012.


India’s large and religiously diverse population makes it one of the most pluralistic societies in the world. The Indian Constitution provides all citizens with the “right to equality before the law,” the right to “the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth”, and the “right to freedom of speech and expression”. Further, it specifies that “no person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest” and that every person arrested be presented to the nearest magistrate within 24 hours of the arrest.

India has made great progress in setting up a domestic legal framework to protect human rights and must be commended for that. India must now end the practice of  “Politics Without Principles” and implement and effectively enforce these laws in a manner that protects the rights of members of its religious minority communities.

Statue of Gandhi at the United Nations

Geneva, Switzerland