RABAT — The UN 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 assault 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 UN envoy also warned of a "spike" in the use of excessive force by the police to suppress 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 said a culture of human rights was emerging in Morocco, and praised the authorities for certain steps taken, notably the establishment of the National Council of Human Rights in 2010 and the new constitution introduced last year.
The changes were particularly impressive, he said, when compared with the so-called Years of Lead under the reign of the late King Hassan II, from the 1960s up to the 1990s, when the execution and disappearance of dissidents was widespread.
During his visit, the first to the country by a special rapporteur on torture, Mendez travelled to prisons and police stations in Rabat, and in the towns of Sale, Kenitra, Skirat and Casablanca.
He also met opposition and civil society representatives, and spent two days in Laayoune, in the disputed Western Sahara, where he said he was "overwhelmed with the vast number of requests" for meetings.
But he only managed to speak to a small number of the alleged victims of torture there, and he complained that the authorities monitored meetings with civil society groups in Morocco.
"Regrettably... this created a climate of intimidation experienced by a number of individuals," he said.
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 UN 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.
Another pressing human rights concern Mendez highlighted was Morocco's violent treatment of sub-Saharan migrants trying to get to Europe, hundreds of whom have been expelled from the north African country in recent weeks.
"I expressed my concern about the increase in violence by the authorities towards this particularly vulnerable group," he said, adding that instances of "severe beatings and sexual assault" appeared to be on the rise.
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" in the country, and that "everything had been done to facilitate his mission."
Mendez said he will submit his report on Morocco to the UN Human Rights Council in March next year.
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