Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Legal immunity for Morocco’s armed forces rings alarm bells

                                               (Photo courtesy of Hespress)
By Mustapha Ajbaili

A Moroccan draft law that seeks to grant members of the armed forces legal immunity for “military operations” carried out inside the kingdom has sparked criticism by human rights organizations who say it violates the principle of equal justice under law.

The “basic guarantees for the military” draft law states that “criminal investigation shall not be applied to members of the Royal Armed Forces who are executing the orders of their commanders…during an operation inside the national territories.”
The proposed legislation also states that military members will be “entitled to state protection … against threats, prosecution, or abuse during or after their duty.”

The participation of military forces in the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in some Arab Spring countries like Libya, Yemen and currently Syria, has left many people in the region increasingly suspicious about their armed forces.

The Egyptian army, for instance, had noticeably sided with protesters in the early days of the country’s anti-regime uprising, but was later accused of violently cracking down on protests and of committing extra-judicial killings and imprisoning revolutionaries.

A coalition of 18 human rights organizations in Morocco last week sounded alarm bells by warning that the proposed legislation would “legitimize the rules of impunity” if passed.

In a joint statement, the rights groups dismissed the draft law – prepared and submitted by the minister delegate for defense in the Islamist-led government – as a “dangerous step that would jeopardize freedoms and threaten the safety and the lives of the citizens.”

The Moroccan Coalition for Human Rights Groups urged the parliament not to approve the draft legislation, which it said needed “substantial amendments to conform to basic principles of human rights and the state of law.”

“Issuing and executing military orders has to be in accordance with the rules of professionalism and responsibility attached to members of the armed forces in protecting civilians during states of war and peace,” the rights groups added.

The groups also said that the government should not allow human rights violations to take place under the pretexts of military discipline.

Families of victims who died in the Western Sahara War during 1975 -1991 also criticized the proposed legal immunity for members of the army, saying it “goes against the spirit of the new constitution and the recommendation of the Equity and Reconciliation Commission with regards to the questioning of security services and international treaties signed by Morocco.”

Ibrahim Asaidi, Arab world defense policies analyst, told Al Arabiya that Article 7 of the proposed legislation “clearly” violates Morocco’s new constitution, which states that all citizens, including members of the armed forces, are equal under the law.

Asaidi said the legislation is designed to protect high-ranking military officials, including powerful generals, from being questioned in high profile corruption cases nationally and internationally.

In February, Morocco’s King Mohammed pledged to improve the conditions of the serving and retired military personnel following small-scale protests by veterans and a few cases of soldiers burning themselves to death.

(Published on English.alarabiya.net May 28, 2012)

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