Rabat – The Moroccan government has announced its “categoric rejection” of Human Rights Watch’s report on the ongoing protests in Al Hoceima, in an official response published by the Interdepartmental Delegation of Human Rights (DIDH). Once again, the kingdom has accused the NGO of “unprofessionalism” and “prejudice.”

As promised by government spokesman Mustapha El Khalfi, the Moroccan government has delivered its official response to HRW’s edifying report on the unrest in Al Hoceima, breathing more fire into the already growing tensions between the kingdom and the NGO.

HRW’s report, published Sept. 5, received numerous criticisms by the DIDH. In a statement issued on Sept. 15, the institution stressed that the report “contains unfounded allegations and errors concerning the management and treatment by public authorities of events in the region [Al Hoceima] and its surroundings.”

“The methodology used lacks the professionalism and independence necessary for the preparation of reports by credible organizations, particularly with regard to precision and field investigation,” wrote the institution.

The DIDH described HRW’s document as a “generalist” and “non-documented” report which it said does not provide an accurate analysis of events.

Accusations against the King

According to the institution, HRW’s attempt to link King Mohamed VI’s praise of security forces’ actions during the protests and “the so-called clearance of the forces of order of any responsibility in the ‘disturbances of Al Hoceima’ […] confirms once again the flagrant disregard of the editor of the document for the work of the constitutional institutions of the Kingdom.”

One strong criticism in HRW’s report reproved King Mohammed VI’s statement during the Throne Day speech that Moroccans have the right, and even the duty, to be proud of their security force. “Wouldn’t they be even prouder if allegations of police abuse were met with credible investigations, and if the courts refused to convict on the basis of tainted confessions?” wrote Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at HRW.

Whitson’s statement did not please the DIDH, which explained that “the praise of the action of the public authorities comes within the context of the valorization of the spirit of responsibility displayed by these forces, in order to ensure peace and security within a framework of respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.”

The institution stressed that the Moroccan authorities “do not accept that an international organization claiming to defend human rights systematically discredits the independence and impartiality of Moroccan justice, which has the full power to examine the validity of allegations concerning any abuse of any kind or perpetrator.”

The DIDH reminded the NGO that “international human rights standards and best practices in managing demonstrations confirm that peacekeepers have the right to use force to disperse violent and illegal demonstrations within a framework of legality, proportionality and responsibility,” stressing the fact that these very same standards forbid protesters from “confronting the security forces, destroying public and private property or disrupting public order and occupying public domain illegally.”

“Erroneous, hasty and unclear conclusions”

The Moroccan institution also slammed HRW’s allegations that some protesters arrested during the Hirak protests had been tortured. The DIDH pointed out that HRW did not use the reports of the forensic pathologists who examined the detainees, explaining that “66 medical examinations were carried out on cases of alleged violence and investigations were opened on 23 cases.

For the DIDH, the arrests and prosecutions carried out by the Moroccan authorities have been initiated at the discretion of prosecutors and investigating judges as stipulated by law, “as the judiciary remains the only body authorized to determine the criminal status of detainees.”

As regards the allegations of fair trial guarantees contained in HRW’s report, DIDH  stressed that these “erroneous, hasty and unclear conclusions are incompatible with the legal facts” which they said confirm that the arrests were made due “to acts contrary to the law” committed by protesters.

HRW: “We are doing our job”

In an interview with Telquel after the report’s publication, Eric Goldstein, deputy director of HRW in the MENA region, admitted that he NGO’s report could spark serious tension with the Moroccan authorities. “It would sadden us, but denouncing human rights violations is our job,” stated Goldstein. “A call for justice should bother no one.”

For Goldstein, the King’s praise of the “restraint” and “great respect of law” of law enforcement – “while a strong and credible report demonstrates numerous cases of torture carried out by the police was already available” – sent a message HRW considered to be “negative; that the allegations of abuse against prisoners did not even deserve to be investigated, and therefore that impunity was assured for those who violated the rights of the detainees.”

“In criticizing this royal message, we are in our role as a human rights organization,” stressed the director.

Goldstein also made accusations against the Moroccan authorities for obstructing his organization’s operations in the country. “Since 2015, the Moroccan government asked HRW to suspend all its activity in the kingdom,” he explained, adding however that the NGO will “of course continue to do its job.”

“Morocco is not the first country to put obstacles in terms of access, but we always manage to cover it in a balanced way,” affirms Goldstein.

However, the DIDH regarded what is described as HRW’s attempt “to question the independence of the judiciary and its impartiality” to be “an unacceptable attempt to undermine the reforms adopted by the Kingdom in the judicial system.”

“The Moroccan authorities categorically reject the content of the document in question and the positions taken by HRW which seek to discredit achievements in the field of democracy and human rights and welcome any responsible initiative to help strengthen the positive and honest proposals on the subject, to accumulate the achievements and to face the challenges related to the promotion of human rights in its various dimensions,” concludes the communiqué

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