4 October 2006

Morocco: Capital Punishment Could Be Killed

Casablanca — A bill that would abolish capital punishment in Morocco is scheduled to be presented to parliament within the few next months, a member of a leading Moroccan political party said.

Deputy of the opposition party Le Front des Forces Démocratiques (FFD) Bouchra Khiari, who is leading the project to end capital punishment, told IPS that the bill "is ready and has been submitted to the general secretariat of the government."

If approved by the government, the bill should then be present before a parliamentarian committee and brought later before parliament for a vote.

Other than her group, Khiari is expecting support from other parties such as l'Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires (USFP) and Le Parti du Progrès et du Socialisme (PPS).

The FFD was founded in 1997 by dissident members from the PPS. But this would not affect the position of the PPS towards the abolition project.

"The issue concerns the whole Moroccan society and the whole process of democratisation in the country. We support abolition on that ground, far away from any limited political view," Malika Oulialy, member of the central committee of the PPS, told IPS.

"Abolition goes in the same way with building a democratic society which respects freedom and rights, a society which first respects the right to life," Oulialy concluded.

The FFD will organise a conference about the death penalty in the last week of October. At that time, Khiari said she expected to learn more about which other parties than the USFP and the PPS will support the project or those which may oppose it.

If the abolition of the death penalty is adopted by parliament, Morocco will be a leader among North African states and the Arab Muslim world. Domestically, the law would be one of a number of reforms the country is undertaking.

Since the accession of King Mohamed VI to the throne in 1999, parliament has approved a series of changes, including a new family code that provides more rights for women and a new law of penal proceedings that gives suspects more judicial guarantees.

The abolition project in Morocco is backed by all human rights organisations and was recommended by the Board of Equity and Reconciliation (IER). IER was founded by King Mohamed VI to make reconciliation with victims of human rights violations during the reign of his father King Hassan II from 1961 to 1999.

Capital punishment seems to have no place in today's Morocco, Ahmed Kouza, a member of Amnesty International in Morocco, told IPS. "In the past, the death penalty used to be inflicted on political opponents."

The IER estimates 528 persons were killed during the reign of King Hassan II both in judicial and extra-judicial executions.

The Amnesty member said that criminals should be seen as "pathological cases who should be cured of aggressiveness and later reintegrated to society." The death penalty, Kouza added, "leaves no opportunities for correction and re-integration for inmates into society."

Resistance to the project is expected from some Islamist groups who believe that Shari'a law dictates the death penalty be used in crimes such as murder and adultery. In particular, Le Parti de la Justice et du Développement (PJD), the only government- recognised Islamic party, is expected to fight the bill.

PJD party officials refused several interview requests with IPS. Still, that party only has 42 members in a 325-seat parliament, so the PJD cannot block passage.

"I think that Islamists will oppose the project of death penalty abolition because such an opposition suits completely with their ideological fundamentals," PPS central committee member Oulialy said.

For the PPS central committee member, opposition to the abolition of the death penalty on religious grounds brings up a constitutional problem.

"The constitution says that Morocco is an Islamic country. Therefore, no political party can have a monopoly on religion," she said.

Oulialy, who is Muslim, added, "Islam has prohibited killing. Therefore, there is no contradiction between Islam and a human rights culture."

Abolition is a social claim and "concerns the whole Moroccan society. This is clear in the fact that the abolition demand itself had first emanated from a group of NGOs," Oulialy said.

At the same time as the involvement of political parties in the fight for abolition, civil action is also crucial for the issue to education society.

"It is necessary that civil society will carry on moving. Conferences and other activities should be held to increase public awareness of the issue," she said.

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