Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king shares executive authority with Head of Government Aziz Akhannouch. According to the constitution, the king appoints the head of government from the political party with the most seats in parliament and approves members of the government nominated by the head of government. Parliamentary elections were held September 8, and observers characterized them as well organized and conducted without significant problems or irregularities.
The security apparatus includes several police and paramilitary organizations with overlapping authority. The National Police Force manages internal law enforcement in cities and reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Auxiliary Forces also report to the Ministry of Interior and support gendarmes and police. The Royal Gendarmerie, which reports to the Administration of National Defense, is responsible for law enforcement in rural regions and on national highways. The judicial police (investigative) branches of both the Royal Gendarmerie and the National Police report to the royal prosecutor and have the power to arrest individuals. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Morocco claims the territory of Western Sahara and administers the territory that it controls. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), an organization that seeks the territory’s independence, disputes Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the territory. Moroccan and POLISARIO forces fought intermittently from 1975, when Spain relinquished colonial authority over the territory, until a 1991 cease-fire and the establishment of a UN peacekeeping mission. On October 6, the UN secretary-general appointed Staffan de Mistura as the new personal envoy for Western Sahara. The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara mandate was renewed on October 29. The POLISARIO withdrew from the cease-fire in November 2020, and since then there have been reports of intermittent indirect fire between Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces and POLISARIO fighters across the 1,700-mile separation barriers (the “berm”).
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture or degrading treatment by some members of the security forces; allegations there were political prisoners; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including criminalization of libel and certain content that criticized Islam, the monarchy, and the government’s position regarding territorial integrity; substantial interference with the freedom of assembly and freedom of association, including surveillance and intimidation of political activists; serious government corruption; and criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex conduct.
The government took steps to investigate officials who allegedly committed human rights abuses and acts of corruption, but investigations into police, security force, and detention center abuses lacked transparency and frequently encountered long delays and procedural obstacles that contributed to impunity.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
While the constitution states an individual’s home is inviolable and that a search may take place only with a search warrant, authorities at times entered homes without judicial authorization, employed informers, and monitored, without legal process, personal movement, and private communications – including email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private.
Amnesty International and OHCHR reported in July that Sahrawi rights activist Sultana Khaya had been under de facto house arrest since November 2020. Although the government denied Khaya was under house arrest, security forces stationed at her house monitored her movements and interactions. Khaya stated that police have raided her house several times. During one of these raids in May, Khaya alleged that police officials physically assaulted her sister and mother. Amnesty International reported that Khaya and her sister said police raped them during the raid, a charge that authorities denied. Additionally, activist Babuizid Muhammed Saaed Labhi and two student activists who were staying in Khaya’s house were reportedly detained. The Regional Council on Human Rights (CRDH) in Laayoune attempted to meet with Khaya at her home on February 13 to discuss her allegations and facilitate access to medical care. Khaya declined CRDH’s assistance, citing her distrust of the authorities’ willingness to conduct an impartial investigation. According to the government, in May the Laayoune Court of Appeal opened an investigation into Khaya’s allegations of police brutality and sexual assault. There was no official investigation into these claims, which Khaya attributed to her distrust of the authorities’ willingness to conduct an impartial investigation and the government stated was a result of her unwillingness to cooperate.
In June 2020 Amnesty International published a report claiming authorities used spyware made by Israel-based company NSO Group to target journalist Omar Radi’s phone from January 2019 to January 2020. In July 2020 police arrested Radi on charges of “indecent assault with violence; rape; the receipt of foreign funds for the purpose of undermining state’s domestic security; and initiation of contacts with agents of foreign countries to harm the diplomatic situation of the country.” According to HRW, the rape and indecent assault charges against Radi were based on a complaint filed in July 2020 by one of Radi’s colleagues. After Radi refused in March to have his trial held in a virtual format during the COVID-19 pandemic, his trial was postponed to May 18. In April 2021 Radi carried out a 22-day hunger strike to protest his lengthy pretrial detention. He ended the strike on May 1. On May 5, a judge denied Radi’s request for provisional release. Radi’s trial was later postponed until June 1 by the criminal chamber of the Casablanca Court of Appeal due to his poor health. Media outlets reported Radi was weakened to the point of not being able to answer the questions. The trial was postponed three times in June due to an accusation by his attorneys of procedural irregularities and further delayed due to Radi’s poor health. On July 19, Radi was found guilty on charges of espionage and sexual assault and sentenced to six years in prison.
According to Amnesty International, academic Maati Monjib was additionally subjected to government surveillance through the NSO Group spyware technology.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law punishes individuals convicted of rape with prison terms of five to 10 years; when the conviction involves a minor, the prison sentence ranges from 10 to 20 years. Spousal rape is not a crime. A 2018 law provides a stronger legal framework to protect women from violence, sexual harassment, and abuse. Under the law a sexual assault conviction may result in a prison sentence of six months to five years and a fine. For insults and defamation based on gender, an individual may be fined up to 60,000 Moroccan dirhams for insults and up to 120,000 Moroccan dirhams for defamation ($6,300 to $12,600). General insult and defamation charges remain in the penal code. The law requires the DGSN, Prosecutor General’s Office, Supreme Judicial Court, and Ministries of Health, Youth, and Women to have specialized units that coordinate with one another on cases involving violence against women. These specialized units receive and process cases of gender-based violence and provide psychological support and other services to victims. In 440 precincts where gender-based violence response units have not been established, a regular police officer was designated to process the cases.
The COVID-19 pandemic saw a spike in domestic abuse because of isolation measures. The government and NGOs expanded programming and outreach that provided shelter, assistance, and guidance for survivors of domestic abuse. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the government adopted protective measures, such as shelters, for survivors of domestic violence in the first half of the year. On May 28, the government adopted a bill to create a national registry for social support programs for women and children. Several NGOs adapted services provided to survivors of domestic violence, providing hotlines, shelter, resources, guidance, and legal support.
There were reports, however, that these shelters were not accessible to persons with disabilities. Courts maintained “victims of abuse cells” that brought together prosecutors, lawyers, judges, women’s NGO representatives, and hospital personnel to review domestic and child abuse cases to provide for the best interests of women or children.
According to local NGOs, survivors did not report the vast majority of sexual assaults to police due to social pressure and the concern that society would most likely hold the survivors responsible. Some sexual assault survivors also reported police officers at times turned them away from filing a police report or coerced them to pay a bribe to file the report by threatening to charge them with consensual sex outside of marriage, a crime punishable with up to one year in prison. Police selectively investigated cases; among the minority brought to trial, successful prosecutions remained rare.
The law does not specifically define domestic violence against women and minors, but the general prohibitions of the criminal code address such violence. Legally, high-level misdemeanors occur when a survivor’s injuries result in 20 days of disability leave from work. Low-level misdemeanors occur when a survivor’s disability lasts for less than 20 days. According to NGOs, the courts rarely prosecuted perpetrators of low-level misdemeanors. Police were slow to act in domestic violence cases, and the government generally did not enforce the law and sometimes returned women against their will to abusive homes. Police generally treated domestic violence as a social rather than a criminal matter. Physical abuse was legal grounds for divorce, although few women reported such abuse to authorities.
In January 2020 media reported that 20 suspects kidnapped “Oumaima,” a 17-year-old girl, in the Moulay Rachid district (in Casablanca) and then gang raped and abused her for 25 days before she convinced a friend of the perpetrators to assist in her escape. According to the victim’s mother, during confinement, the perpetrators forced the girl to ingest toxic substances to try to kill her. The girl was hospitalized after her escape. The investigation continued.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine up to 10,000 Moroccan dirhams ($1,000) if the offense takes place in a public space or by insinuations through texts, audio recording, or pictures. In cases where the harasser is a coworker, supervisor, or security official, the sentence is doubled. Prison sentences and fines are also doubled in cases where a spouse, former spouse, fiance, or a family member commits harassment, physical violence, abuse, or mistreatment, or breaks a restraining order, or if the victim is a minor. Civil society leaders stated they did not observe efforts by the government to enforce the law or provide training on the new law for judicial or law enforcement officials.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Individuals and couples have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Authorities generally did not discriminate against women in accessing sexual and reproductive health care, including for sexually transmitted infections. Contraception is legal, and most forms were widely available. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the country has invested in increasing the availability of voluntary family planning services, expanding and improving maternal health care, and providing for access to obstetric care by eliminating fees.
The contraceptive pill was available over the counter, without a prescription. Skilled health attendance at delivery and postpartum care were available for women who could afford it, with approximately 75 percent of overall births attended by skilled health personnel.
The country’s maternal mortality rate between 1997 and 2018 declined by 68 percent according to the UN Population Fund. The most recent World Health Organization statistics showed there were approximately 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in the country in 2017 and that 37 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception in 2019. The major factors influencing maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence rates were female illiteracy, lack of knowledge about availability of services, cost of services, social pressure against contraceptive use, and limited availability of transportation to health centers and hospitals for those in rural areas. While a 2018 law strengthened penalties for violence against women (see Section 6, Women) and required certain government agencies establish units to provide psychological support and other services to victims of gender-based violence, Human Rights Watch assessed at the time of the law’s passage that it did not sufficiently define the government’s role in providing services to victims. The government responded that it provides services to survivors of sexual assault via the UN Population Fund.
Discrimination: While the constitution provides women equal rights with men in civil, political, economic, cultural, and environmental affairs, laws favor men in property and inheritance. Numerous problems related to discrimination against women remained, including inadequate enforcement of equal rights provided for by the laws and constitution.
According to the law, women are entitled to a share of inherited property, but a woman’s share of inheritance is less than that of a man. Women are generally entitled to receive one-half the inheritance a man would receive in the same circumstances. A sole male heir would receive the entire estate, while a sole female heir would receive one-half the estate with the rest going to other relatives.
Since 2019 the law allows female heirs to inherit, and be titled as owners of, those lands.
The family code places the family under the joint responsibility of both spouses, makes divorce available by mutual consent, and places legal limits on polygamy. Implementation of family law reforms remained a problem. The judiciary lacked willingness to enforce them, as many judges did not agree with their provisions. Corruption among working-level court clerks and lack of knowledge about the law’s provisions among lawyers were also obstacles to enforcing the law.
The law requires equal pay for equal work, although in practice this did not occur.
Section 7. Worker Rights
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The labor code prohibits discrimination against persons in employment and occupation based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, or disability, including physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disability. The law does not address age or pregnancy.
Discrimination occurred in all categories prohibited by law. Penalties were not commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. Women are prohibited from working in occupations that present a risk of excessive danger, exceeds their capacity or is likely to undermine their morality, such as jobs in quarries and underground in mines, or engaging in work that exposes them to the risk of falling or slipping as well as work in a constant squatting or leaning position, work or activities using asbestos and benzene and any other activity exposing them to dangerous chemical agents.
Migrant worker organizations reported that some migrants, particularly those from sub-Saharan African countries, experienced discrimination in hiring, wages, or conditions of employment. These workers often reported employer noncompliance with low or unpaid wages, excessive hours of work, restricted movement, dangerous and difficult work conditions. Even after obtaining a residence card, their vulnerability was reinforced by lack of access to the formal economy, pushing them to the margins of society. Most lived in crowded rooms in dilapidated neighborhoods, while others slept on the streets, in cemeteries, and forests.