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Mauritania, Tunisia and Morocco discuss steps against torture

September 26, 2017 at 1:08 pm

Moroccans protest and hold pictures of family members held in prison. They are also accusing security forces of torturing those in prison [Amnesty‏/Twitter]

Mauritania and Tunisia will meet today in the Moroccan capital Rabat to discuss steps to prevent torture in North Africa. The meeting has been organised by the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) and the National Council of Human Rights of Morocco (CNDH).

The Mauritanian delegation led by the president of the institution concerned, Mohamed Lemine Ould Haless, left the capital Nouakchott on Monday for Rabat. The Rabat meeting will bring together representatives from the prevention of torture committees in Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia with the aim of “creating cooperation and exchange links” between the participating countries as well as to uncovering the “main challenges facing these institutions,” a statement from the Mauritanian institution said.

It will also be a matter of “creating the conditions for a common understanding of the preventive mandate, with particular emphasis on preliminary visits to avoid torture.”

Torture has been prevalent in Tunisia and little has changed since the revolution in 2011 that ousted President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and his regime known for its widespread use of torture.

Despite steps to steer the country towards democracy, Tunisian security forces have been culpable of adopting torture as a tactic against terror suspects including arbitrary arrests, detentions and harassment of suspects’ family members.

Torture in Tunisia: ‘Their aim was to ensure prisoners were left mentally deranged’

This heavy-handed response has been the norm for the country’s ruling apparatus since armed attacks by militants in 2015 which prompted authorities to step up security measures and rely on emergency laws to justify responses which have often violated human rights obligations.

The cases of torture arising in reports from human rights observers in the last couple of years have often mirrored the numerous cases that were recorded under the despotic rule of Ben Ali. Late last year a number of victims came forward to give their accounts of abuses they faced in places as high as the interior ministry’s building and those who faced abhorrent torture conditions in prisons.

Morocco is just as guilty for its own wide usage of torture against suspects. Beatings, stress positions, asphyxiation, simulated drowning, psychological and sexual violence are some of the torture techniques used by Moroccan security forces to extract “confessions” to crimes or silence activists and crush dissent, according to Amnesty International.

The reports of torture contradict the liberal image the Kingdom hoped to adopt after widespread protests in 2011 demanding change was met with progressive reforms and a new constitution.

However this has not translated into humane security measures and instead over a hundred cases of torture and mistreatment of Moroccan men, women and children have been recorded since 2010.

Though Moroccan law prohibits torture, victims have included students, political activists with left wing or Islamist affiliations, supporters of self-determination for Western Sahara and terror suspects.  Like Tunisia, cases of torture are often denied by the government instead of being adequately or fairly investigated.

Read more: In Morocco, stopping the Rif mobilisation requires democratisation

The most recent claims of torture against Moroccan authorities have come from activists from the Hirak movement who were arrested during protests that have been regularly organised by the Popular Movement in the Rif region for better employment opportunities and development in the often neglected region.

Over 150 protesters have been arrested with a number of the Hirak activists claiming to have been tortured whilst in custody which Moroccan authorities have since denied by deploying medical examiners to investigate the claims.

Mauritania’s most recent case of abuse and torture was last year when 23 people were arrested following 29 June riots in Nouakchott against eviction by residents of a squatter camp in the capital.

According to reports, confessions were retrieved under torture despite Mauritania’s enshrined commitment against torture by characterising it as a crime against humanity in the 2012 revision of the Mauritanian Constitution.

In April 2016 the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture was founded however it has only been partially staffed and not fully funded and has therefore failed to implement solid change in the country.