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U.N. Envoy Says Torture of Morocco Detainees Common

W460

The U.N. special rapporteur on torture said on Saturday that the inhumane treatment of Moroccan detainees appeared to be "very frequent," and deplored the rise in the use of excessive force to quell protests.

"In ordinary cases (of detainees we investigated) torture, or cruel and inhumane treatment, was very frequent. Whether it is systematic is hard to obtain from the number of samples we took," Juan Mendez told reporters in Rabat at the end of a week-long visit.

Such treatment has in recent cases included sexual assaults and threats of rape to the victim or family members, as well as beatings, electric shocks and cigarette burns, Mendez said, citing credible reports and allegations.

He said torture seemed to be "much more cruel and systematic" in cases of national security.

The U.N. envoy also warned of a "spike" in the use of excessive force by the police to disperse demonstrations, which have been common in Morocco since the Arab Spring, albeit on a smaller scale than in countries where they led to regime change.

Mendez, who was on his first trip to Morocco, said a culture of human rights was emerging, and praised the authorities for certain steps they have taken, notably the establishment of the National Council of Human Rights in 2010.

But he also said that during his visit, which took him to prisons in Rabat, and in the towns of Sale, Kenitra, Skirat and Morocco's largest city Casablanca, the authorities monitored meetings with civil society representatives.

"Regrettably... this created a climate of intimidation experienced by a number of individuals," he said.

Mendez also spent two days in Larayoun, in the disputed Western Sahara, where he said he was "overwhelmed with the vast number of requests" for meetings, but only managed to speak to a small number of the alleged victims of torture.

International rights groups have urged Morocco to probe claims that detained opposition activists have been convicted on the basis of confessions extracted under torture, including five protesters jailed last week for up to 10 months.

The U.N. envoy highlighted those concerns.

"I received numerous complaints about the use of torture by state officials to obtain evidence or confessions during the initial stages of interrogation, particularly in counter-terrorism or internal security cases," Mendez said.

"It appears to be the norm that prosecutors and investigative judges dismiss complaints of torture or fail to investigate such allegations," he added.

Moroccan officials were not immediately available for a response to the comments by the Argentine rights expert.

The official MAP news agency has said the visit had enabled Mendez "to get to know the services and support that the prisoners enjoy," and that "everything had been done to facilitate his mission."

Mendez said he will submit his report on Morocco to the U.N. Human Rights Council in March next year.

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