Moroccan police, prosecutors, judges, and other authorities often fail to prevent domestic abuse, punish the abusers, or assist survivors, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the Moroccan government. In part, that is because Moroccan laws don’t provide officials with guidance on responding effectively.
Human Rights Watch in September 2015, interviewed 20 women and girls who had suffered domestic abuse. They said that their husbands, partners, and other family members punched, kicked, burned, stabbed, and raped them, or subjected them to other abuse. Human Rights Watch also interviewed lawyers, women’s rights activists, and representatives of organizations providing shelter and services to survivors of domestic violence. Morocco should strengthen and adopt draft laws that would improve protection for victims of domestic violence.
“Many women and girls enduring domestic violence don’t get the help they need from Moroccan authorities,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East and North Africa women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Adopting and enforcing a strong domestic violence law would not only help victims, but also help the authorities do their jobs.”
A national survey of women aged 18 to 65 by the Moroccan High Commission for Planning in 2009 found that nearly two-thirds – 62.8 percent – had experienced physical, psychological, sexual, and economic violence. Of the sample interviewed, 55 percent reported “conjugal” violence and 13.5 percent reported “familial” violence. Only 3 percent of those who had experienced conjugal violence had reported it to the authorities.
Most of the domestic violence survivors Human Rights Watch interviewed said they had sought help from police, prosecutors, or courts. But many said police officers refused to record their statements, failed to investigate, and refused to arrest domestic abuse suspects even after prosecutors ordered them to. In some cases, police did nothing more than tell victims to return to their abusers.
In several cases, when women went to public prosecutors, the prosecutors did not file charges, nor directly communicate with the police but directed the victims to deliver documents to police, directing them to investigate or arrest the abusers. In some cases, police did not follow through, leaving women to go back and forth between the police and prosecutor.
Lawyers who handle domestic violence cases said they have seen judges require unrealistic evidence, such as witnesses, in domestic violence cases, often an impossibility since most abuse takes place behind closed doors.
“Women described turning up at police stations in their nightwear with bloody noses, broken bones, and bruised bodies but not getting the assistance they needed,” Begum said. “Police need to help these women, not dodge responsibility.”
Women and girls said they had few places to go to escape domestic violence. The small number of shelters that take in domestic violence survivors are run by nongovernmental organizations with little bed capacity and meager resources. Only a few get any government funding, and staff from one shelter said that the funding was not enough to cover even food costs.
Morocco has taken steps toward legal reform on domestic violence, and three bills are pending. A bill on violence against women, which includes provisions on domestic violence, was developed by the Ministry of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development and the Ministry of Justice and Liberties and sent to the council of government for review in 2013. An update of the bill is underway, but is not publicly available. The other bills would make adjustments related to violence against women in the penal and criminal procedure codes.
The revisions would clarify domestic violence crimes and rules of evidence pertaining to them. In its letter to the two ministries, Human Rights Watch noted both positive aspects of the bills as well as provisions that, if adopted, would set rights back.
Positive provisions in the main violence against women bill include protective measures, such as removing abusers from the home or barring contact with the victim. It also includes provisions to expand coordination of specialized units to serve the needs of women and children in government agencies, and committees to address women’s and children’s issues.
Human Rights Watch urged the Moroccan government to improve these pending bills, by including, for example, emergency and longer-term orders for protection – also known as restraining orders. The bills should include a specific definition of domestic violence, spell out the duties of police, prosecutors, judges, and other authorities in cases of domestic violence, and criminalize rape by a spouse. The government should provide or fund essential services – including shelters – for domestic violence victims.
Some proposed amendments to the penal code would make matters worse for women, including a change to the penal code which would extend the possibility for reduced sentences for murder and assault to any family member who catches a family member engaged in illicit sexual intercourse (such as adultery). The government should repeal such provisions.
The Moroccan government should also ensure meaningful participation by nongovernmental groups and domestic violence survivors in the reform process.
United Nations agencies and human rights expert bodies have repeatedly urged Morocco to enact domestic violence legislation. In 2013, the European Union agreed to provide financial support for such reforms, including through a €45 million grant for Morocco to implement the government’s Gender Equality Plan of 2012-16. However, the Moroccan authorities have yet to come through on all their objectives, including enacting legislation on violence against women.
Around the world, about 125 countries have laws on domestic violence. In the Middle East and North Africa, seven countries or autonomous regions have legislation or regulations on domestic violence: Algeria, Bahrain, Iraqi Kurdistan, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.
“Morocco should take a stronger stand for women’s safety and rights,” Begum said. “There is no better way to start than with a strong domestic violence law.”
Please see below for statements from domestic violence survivors and for further information on needed law reforms.