Morocco: Activists launch campaign over human rights ‘sham’

morocco-sham-forum-graphics-0031Following rising protests against neoliberal austerity measures and a historic general strike on 29 October, the Moroccan government recently played host to the World Human Rights Forum prompting local activists to set up a campaign to expose the regime’s repression through the website and social media channels, ShameForumMaroc. We spoke to one of the campaign organisers about the campaign. Go to the bottom of the page for links to action you can take in solidarity with trade unionists and activists in Morocco.

What’s your position within ShameForumMaroc? What spurred you and your colleagues to set up this movement? What are your aims? 

Among many things, the fact that at this exact moment Morocco is witnessing a dramatic increase in human rights violations. We hope people will ask themselves — how is it possible that Morocco considers itself appropriate to organize just such a Forum on human rights? How is it possible that corrupt companies are sponsoring this? Ideally we would like to see boycotts and a major outcry against this Sham(e)Forum. But for this to be possible our first task is to create more awareness about the human rights violations in Morocco. We think its important that we not only unmask the Moroccan regime, which is easy since the examples are plenty and blatantly obvious, but also to expose the hand that is feeding it. We hope people abroad will question their own governments: Why is this ok by so-called liberal protectors of human rights, be it France, Britain or the US?

 – Who’s behind the World Human Rights Forum?

The #Sham(e)forum campaign started as a group of concerned friends outraged that the 2nd World Human Rights Forum would be held in Morocco. We are motivated by the fact that at this exact moment Morocco is witnessing a dramatic increase in human rights abuses. At first we were cynical and laughed it off whilst sharing information about the context. We then decided that all the information we were gathering should be used more effectively, i.e. to unmask the human rights violations by the Moroccan regime.

 – What would be your reading of the human rights situation in Morocco? Are there any specific cases of HR abuses that you’d like to highlight? 

We focus on all human rights Violations in Morocco. But the country is seeing a particular crackdown now. For example, hundreds of non-violent activists, many of whom were active in the 20Feb movement and in protests against cuts and austerity, are held in jail, journalists are being threatened while simply doing their job, yet the recent attacks on prominent Human Rights organizations such as the highly-respected AMDH was probably the last straw.

Morocco has seen a wide range of harsh neoliberal austerity measures that meant cuts in education and rise in basic needs such as water, gas and oil. This has lead to increasing poverty and a deploring reality for millions of working class people. But it also showed a growing trend of wild-strikes and economic-related protests. Just as the social and economic struggles began to converge the makhzan hit back hard. Many of the youth, the so-called ‘April-6’ group (including L’7a9ed) who snatched from the streets were for instance at a union protest. Others were under surveillance and later taken from their homes. People like Waffae Charraf in Tangier is locked merely for speaking out at the intimidation she suffered, she is now on hunger strike. We must not forget that despite all this people are taking inspiration from the empowering grassroots networks that many of them have helped build across the country since 2011, their determination in the quest for justice and equality demands support and solidarity. The all-out 24-hour general strike last month suggests that people are not giving up and neither should we.

The Western Sahara is also an issue that demands attention. It is incredible that Morocco would have the audacity to host a World Human Rights Forum at the same time as it was covering up many violations in this regard, the most recent taking place only a few days ago when two American citizens were forcibly expelled from Laayoune by dozens of Moroccan security forces and police, accusing them of violating the conditions of their visit by “talking to Western Sahara activists.” They were followed and photographed prior to being evicted. In any case, a ‘global’ HR conference where organizations like CODESA (Western Sahara) are not invited and their representatives not allowed to participate, does not have human rights at heart. It is rather a masquerade for the outside world, a political theatre. It s a SHAM and that’s why they are trying to cover up the violations.

 – There are those who argue that Morocco has a better HR track record than its neighbors, and that things have improved since the days of King Hassan II. What would be your response to that? Wouldn’t a global HR conference aid the advancement of HR in Morocco?

Maybe better than the neighboring countries in some affairs and worse in others, but we reject this opportunistic paradigm of comparing with the past or something worse. Why don’t we compare Morocco to those countries where so many Moroccans have fled. Should we compare Morocco to France? To Belgium? To the Netherlands? To the US? This is a non-argument mostly devised to deter attention.

 – A specific case that has been referenced is the Moroccan Equity and Reconciliation Commission. Have things improved because of this commission? 

First of all this has different explanations. First and foremost the makhzan knew that with the passing of H2 and a new political era it could no longer quell the anger that had accumulated after decades of extreme oppression in the so-called “Years of Lead’. The new King and his entourage had to build a support-base that was fairly genuine. Many people believed it was a new possibility to reckon with the past and focus on the future. Retrospectively we can say that commission was a big sham as well. All torturers went free and most of the victims got nothing. Its aim was twofold, to demobilize and emerging movement and to create division among existing similar sounding ones but grassroots lead. It was an attempt to empty Moroccan prisons from the anti Hassan II activists after his death so they have more space for the anti Mohamed VI activists.

 – Did you have any role in the Feb 20th movement? Would you say it contributed to the constitutional amendments of 2011? 

Yes, some of the SHAM(e) members were part of the movement on the ground, others were involved from abroad. It is a highly diverse group consisting of employees, students, academics and journalists. But everyone behind Sham(e) Forum is dedicated in his or her own way. Before we started shameforum we posted on our own Facebook pages or blogs, now we have made a platform which collect all this info in one place.

  Another of the SHAM amendments you mean? On the ground in Morocco nothing has changed, cosmetic changes in the constitution meant nothing. The people who made the amendments were appointed by the King himself — how could that possibly have been a democratic and fair amendment? The sole reason of the reforms was to quell the movement and/or coopt it. But if then some thought it was time to give change a chance, now we can say ‘we have been there before’ and chose to expose those rhetoric’s for what they are instead.

What you can do:

  • Follow ShameForumMaroc for more updates from human rights activists
  • Pass a resolution in solidarity with Moroccan trade unions, following the example of Oxford TUC which agreed this letter at its November 2014 meeting [moroccosolidarity_motion_oxford]

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