Two days to discuss abolition in Morocco
On 11 and 12 October 2008 a seminar to discuss the death penalty took place in Rabat. It was organised by Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM) and the Conseil Consultatif des Droits de l’Homme (CCDH – Consultative Council for Human Rights).
Parliamentarians, judges, lawyers, academics, ulemas and human rights organisations gathered in thematic sessions linking capital punishment to five other concepts:
– human rights;
– Islamic beliefs;
– national legislation;
– international position.
Chaired by Ahmed Herzenni, the president of CCDH, the opening session was marked by a speech by Moroccan Minister for Justice Abdelwahed Radi. Reminding those present that Morocco has suspended executions since 1993, Mr Radi explained that the number of prisoners sentenced to death has fallen substantially from 146 to 125 since 2004.
Herzenni stated that the death penalty was only used in “rare circumstances”, recalling the royal pardon granted in July 1994 to all those sentenced to death in Morocco.
During two days of intense work, participants studied the ways and means to implement the recommendations of the Instance Equité et Réconciliation (Equity and Reconciliation Board), and in particular the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political rights.
The protocol, signed by 67 countries to date, binds states to “take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction”.
Morocco is in a position to abolish the death penalty
According to Richard Sédillot, an ECPM board member, “The international community considers that Morocco has abolished the death penalty in practice; it is a country that deserves abolition”. Each of the speakers then justified abolition providing objective and rational arguments. Statistics in hand, Driss El Yazami, President of the Conseil de la Communauté marocaine à l’étranger (Council of the Moroccan Community Abroad), refuted the deterrent effect on crime that is often cited by defenders of the death penalty. Using many concrete examples, Richard Sédillot highlighted the reality of countless judicial errors, arguing that no justice system is infallible.
Ahmed Abbadi, Secretary General of the Rabita Mohammédia des oulémas (Mohammédia Rabita of ulemas), brilliantly demonstrated that abolishing the death penalty was not contradictory to the principles of Islam. He argued that capital punishment is limited to a few specific circumstances, like apostasy, premeditated murder or high treason and explained that Islam “always empowers the iman to choose”.
His enthralling intervention provoked many reactions among the captive audience. “The religious frame of reference cannot be a pretext for maintaining the death penalty”, declared Amina Bouayach, President of the Organisation Marocaine des Droits Humains (OMDH – Morocco Human Rights Organisation) to the Aujourd’hui Le Maroc newspaper, one of the many media organisations present.
No consensus yet
Concerning that most basic of human rights, i.e. the right to life, the death penalty is still a very sensitive subject in Morocco. There is still no consensus on its abolition, as is proved by the country’s abstention from the vote on the resolution for a moratorium on executions at the United Nations’ General Assembly in 2007.
Claudius Fischbach, Germany’s ambassador’s minister to Morocco, believes that, by taking that plunge, Morocco would be sending a strong signal as the first Arab state in the Maghreb to achieve abolition. Germany and the Republic of Ireland cofinanced the seminar.
ECPM will publish a report on this seminar on 10 December 2008, marking the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.